Between the Leninists and the Clowns: Avoiding recklessness and professionalism in revolutionary struggle


This piece reflects on the current strengths and weaknesses of the revolutionary networks that have emerged out of the Decolonize/ Occupy movement in Seattle.  In particular, I critique some of the problems that arise because of lack of organization, and suggest ways we can address these without falling into top-down, authoritarian models of  organization building.  I want to acknowledge that several friends in the movement here have raised some of these points over the past nine months, and in some cases their interventions were dismissed.  I am writing this to back up their arguments, and to share  my own.  I hope this piece can spark the kind of comradely, transparent, public debate that I call for in it – I welcome criticisms and responses.

I. Decolonize / Occupy Seattle today

Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle might be dead.  But if so, it has simply resurrected and transformed into something else: vibrant networks of people who are engaging in a variety of attractive struggles and projects that don’t seem to be losing any energy.

Weekly free barbecues in the Central District; a summer-long campaign against Prop.1, (the county’s attempt to fund a new juvenile detention center);  labor solidarity with port truckers and striking Davis Wire and Waste Management workers; study groups and discussions at the Free University and the Wildcat social space;  a new current of revolutionary queer organizing around the Grand Legion of Incindiary and Tenacious Unicorn Revolutionaries;  solidarity with the rebellion in Anaheim; struggles against police violence, raids, grand juries, and state repression here in the Northwest; guerilla gardening; weekly marches against student debt; the workers’ caucus’ organizing with precarious workers.  This is just a partial list of activities that gives a sense of the furious pace of political development going on here.

A lot of this is possible because several, relatively new revolutionary political tendencies emerged before or during Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle and figured out a way to work together with a minimum of sectarianism.  This created an attractive, open movement culture that many new activists from  Decolonize/ Occupy could shape and make their own.   In Seattle there is not the kind of intimidating “star system” of activists that you see in places like Oakland and New York.  None of us are famous and none of us are really trying to be.  We are not competing with each other to claim glory for the work we do.  We are just getting shit done, and having fun kickin’ it with each other while we do that.

At the same time, we are clear enough about our revolutionary commitments to know that we cannot subordinate our politics to liberals or social democrats who want us to shut up and behave in order to supposedly attract more people to the movement .  We’ve learned through difficult and exciting struggles this year that our militancy, more than anything, attracts us and other working class people toward each other.  We are part of a global working class upsurge that needs no condescending saviors.

(Note: when I say “working class” throughout this essay, I mean all people who do not own capital – whether we work for wages, whether we do unwaged housework, whether we’re unemployed,  whether we’re in prison, or whether we hustle to get by.  The “working class” is not the stereotypical blue collar white male that socialists of the past celebrated… the working class is majority people of color, it is people of all genders, and it is global).

II.  You can measure the success of a rupture by the working class consciousness it generates

An experienced revolutionary who used to be in the Sojourner Truth Organization recently suggested that we should measure success not in terms of  “winning” short term demands, but in terms of the development of revolutionary working class consciousness.  This consciousness often emerges through events that serve as ruptures from the status quo.   Something is a rupture if it is a beginning that ensures new beginnings – a reference point that builds our confidence as working class people to break with the legitimacy  of capitalist “business as usual”, including its forms of acceptable and easily dismissed protest.   So next time a crisis emerges, instead of reaching for the usual activist tools that involve pleading with government officials or bosses, we turn toward more disruptive and creative methods like unpermitted demonstrations, blockades, wildcat actions on the job, strikes and walkouts, etc.  All of these require a reasonable hope that we can get each other’s backs under intense pressure, and that hope is a lot more concrete when we know we did it before.

By this measure, the Occupy camp, the Dec. 12th port shutdown, and Seattle’s May Day were all successes because they’ve generated a range of ongoing struggles that break from the usual tame forms of protest.  These struggles are increasingly multiracial, with key leadership by working class people of color, women, gender nonconforming folks, and queer folks.

III: Occupy: the new WTO?

For a while, I worried that these direct actions might be mobilizations that don’t lead to deep organizing, just spectacles that are gone the next day as we return to the alienation and misery of our daily lives under this system.   I worried that both May Day and the Port Shutdown might simply be mobilizations of radicals that fail to expand beyond our small circles, that fail to invite the rest of the working class to participate, or fail to respect the independent self-activity of other layers of the working class.  However, if the past few months are any indication, these actions have encouraged participants to maintain an outward orientation toward the rest of the working class, especially in majority people of color neighborhoods like the Central District and the South End, and in majority people of color workplaces like the port truckers,  Dairy Gold farmworkers, or Davis Wire.  In my opinion, there is not enough outreach in these places, but at least t his kind of work has begun, and the center of gravity of the movement has shifted in a more multiracial, working class direction.

This is good so far.  From what I’ve read and heard, a lack of working class orientation,  a sense of “protest hopping” mobilization without organizing were problems that killed the anti-globalization movement.   However, the reaction to the death of that movement also helped delay its resurrection.  Many of its participants either dropped out of the movement, or turned toward slow patient base building, by which they sometimes meant becoming nonprofit leaders or union bureaucrats.   Their emphasis on outreach to a romanticized “community” meant they were unable to move when a militant minority within this “community” moved without them, in opposition to the will of established community leaders who claim to represent the silent, more conservative majority of the “community”.

I think this is one of the factors that explain the general weakness of the older Left formations in Seattle in the decade leading up to Occupy (and in this case, I don’t just mean socialist groups, I also mean various anarchist projects).

Many of the activists who had oriented toward community base building were unable to relate to the new energy that erupted around Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle, including the new energy coming from militant minorities of the very communities or workplaces they had entrenched themselves within.  While a few veterans of past movements saw what time it was and hit the streets, unfortunately many participants in the past movements were not there in the movement to share their wisdom and experience, and, worse, some spent their time sniping from the sidelines, cynically warning that Occupy would simply fail the way the WTO uprising supposedly “failed.”   Thankfully, the waves of new working class people who became active in the Decolonize/ Occupy movement did not pause too long to get demoralized by their snickering.  If they paid attention to the legacy of the WTO at all, it was to treat it as a rupture that ensured new ruptures in the present moment.

IV: Challenges we face if we want to survive and grow

Our willingness to embrace the movement and to move without reservations should not lead to cockiness.  How do we know for sure that we will not go down the same path that the anti-globalization movement went down?  There is a vibrant revolutionary network that is steadily growing in Seattle.   However, it is still largely younger folks without children, with some notable exceptions.   As more of us develop family responsibilities, how can we ensure that people don’t start dropping out of the movement over time?  How can we support comrades who already have these responsibilities?

The movement is hard to keep up with even if you don’t have kids. As  a full time teacher who is also taking certification classes for my job,  I’ve struggled with this.   I remember a couple of nights sleeping in a tent in my clothes ready to jump out in case the Neo-Nazis who entered the camp one night came back to attack us.   Drifting in and out of consciousness, I heard people addicted to meth or crack getting into fights with each other, followed by 2 AM mic checks and people debating how to handle those situations nonviolently, without coming to any conclusions.  Then I got up in the early morning, thankful there wasn’t a police raid so that I could take the bus to work, where my students were coping with losing friends to gang violence, and my coworkers and I would try to deescalate potential conflicts – which is hard to do on 4 hours of sleep.

Now consider that fact that I have a relatively privileged job.  If I’m sleep deprived I’m not likely to get into a physical accident at work without healthcare or time off to recover.  How do we expect folks to participate when they’re working 60-70 hours a week at dangerous jobs with kids at home and daily financial stress?

When I’ve raised these frustrations,  some comrades have told me to quit and help build the Commune.  While I respect people who choose to quit work and survive off of dumpster diving and guerilla gardening, this is not a sustainable option for the entire working class, especially folks with medical issues who need health insurance.

Things have gotten better, but this movement culture is still difficult for many people to participate in.  I have heard other full time workers express similar frustrations.   Because there is no public, central clearinghouse for movement information, it’s hard to find out what’s going on unless you know people active in the scene, and even then it takes a long time to figure out what’s at stake because many of the key debates happen in private, not in public.  There is no place like the GA anymore where the issues are hashed out for all to see, and few people are taking the time to write up their disagreements with each other in principled, respectful ways where these can be posted publicly for all to comment on. That means that those of us with little time have to spend way too much time trying to sort through facebook polemics and gossip to figure out what is at stake.

Many important, controversial discussions happen at midnight at a party over drinks and a lot of people have to miss it because we have to go to work the next day.     A lot of people complain about meetings or political emails, but I prefer them to nothing, because at least I can get the information I need to stay active without having to go to a bunch of informal meetings on different sides of the city, with half hour bus commutes between each, and no time to sleep or eat.  I’d rather get our political work done in efficient, well organized meetings and online discussions, so that we can spend the rest of our free time having fun and relaxing together.

Finally, although we are doing some good labor solidarity work,  most of us have not figured out a way to take the struggle into our own workplaces, which means that the place where we spend the vast majority of our time feels like a distraction from the movement instead of a place where the struggle could expand in ways that could help us challenge the stress, frustration, and dangers of our jobs.

All of these problems could easily lead to mass burnout if they are not addressed – especially considering that the state repression (raids, grand  juries, etc.) could intensify some of them if we are not careful.

V.  A Leaderless Movement? 

So how do we overcome this contradiction between the “activist scene” and our daily working class lives?

Some people suggest we need to stop calling ourselves “activists” or “organizers” because this separates us from everyday people, and implies we are some sort of vanguard of professional revolutionaries with specialized roles.   Others argue that we are a vanguard and we need to publicly declare ourselves to be one, and then go about leading the working class.  I think that both of these perspectives are flawed, and the rest of this essay will explain why.

One of the best parts of the Decolonize/ Occupy movement was its insistence that we do not need entrenched bureaucratic leadership roles, and that everyone can join the movement and lead, whether they are veterans of past movements, or whether they just became politically active yesterday.   This created a context in which all of us could assume serious responsibilities without reservations. We learned how to struggle by doing it.  For this reason, someone who has nine months of steady activity in the Decolonize/ Occupy movement probably has more real experience under their belt than someone who has five years of  professional activist experience  in some bureaucratic Leftist sect but has never organized a protest that goes beyond the limits of predictable and acceptable dissent.  This became very clear by the winter, when people who had just joined the movement were essentially defeating long-time self-proclaimed Leftist leaders in public debates over the strategy of the movement.

However, this strength was also a weakness.  We are fooling ourselves if we assume that everyone was able to simply walk into the movement and assume leadership with equal access and ability.   The general assemblies, the camp, and the rest of the movement spaces were not somehow separate from the capitalist world.  They may have pointed in the direction of the new society, of “everything for everyone”, but it’s not like we all somehow checked our capitalist, white supremacist, or patriarchal baggage at the door when we entered the movement.

The capitalist system does not prepare us all equally for the kinds of tasks that we want to do in the movement.  Capitalist education reproduces racial and gender divisions of labor – some of us are trained to speak publicly in front of crowds while others are trained to wash dishes and make coffee.  Some of us are trained to strategize in real time under pressure, and others are trained to listen and empathize.  Some of us are trained to defend ourselves and each other from physical attack, and others are trained to write about that sort of thing.  These skills are not always mutually exclusive, but few of us entered the movement well-rounded enough to do all of these crucial things, and all of them needed to be done.  Whether we like it or not, some people were better prepared to lead than others – whether this preparation came from a relatively privileged position in the capitalist division of labor, or whether it came from previous self-education in past movements or organizations.

All of this amounted to a fact that is uncomfortable for many of us to deal with: no matter how much we deny it, there was an unofficial leadership in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle.  In fact there were several.  Liberal leaders competed with radical leaders for influence in the movement.  They also competed with each other.  Radicals tended to work together, but as a bloc, the radical networks produced a wide array of leaders who helped shape the overall trajectory of the movement.

And this brings me to my main point: these leaders will not magically stop being leaders if we claim we are not leaders.    All of us anti-state communists and anarchists want to abolish the division between leaders and lead, activists and “everyday people”, or the “vanguard” and the working class.  But this cannot happen simply by claiming the leaders are not leaders when we really still are.  All this does is hide our power and make it less transparent and accountable.

The other popular solution to this problem is the common anti-oppression phrase: step up, step back.  This  is a good principle for group facilitation – if you’ve spoken a lot, step back and let others speak.  It is also good security culture – if someone makes themselves indispensable then an attack on them could destroy the movement.  But simply stepping back is not a foolproof solution to the problem of leadership.  Many people who realize they are becoming too indispensible as “key organizers” often have this impulse to step back, but when they try to do this, noone else steps up to take up the work, and it falls apart.   This is hard to deal with – it can lead to resentment and frustration on everyone’s part.

The only solution I can see to this problem is to prioritize the revolutionary education and development of everyone else so that they can become leaders too, replacing the current leaders, so that everyone can rotate in and out of various responsibilities without creating fixed bureaucratic roles.  Comrades in Advance the Struggle call this horizontalism, a term which I think originated in Latin American anarchism.   We need to create an underground proletarian university, an insurgent educational process that can challenge the division of labor created by capitalist education.  Those who have the skills and theoretical methods necessary to lead need to share these skills and methods with everyone else.  Those who do not have these skills and methods need to find the people who do and put pressure on them to share them.  We need to set a basic standard in the movement – if you have an education (whether you got it in college or in prison), and you are not sharing this with at least one other working class person, then you are failing as a revolutionary and you need to check your priorities.

I know some people will think this is too harsh.  I can just hear the reactions from those who are committed to the passive aggressive culture of “seattle nice”.  But consider this: the ruling class has standards for their own side of the social war against us, and they do a pretty damn good job of educating new generations of rulers at top colleges and universities.  They work their asses off figuring out how to oppress us.  We are simply not going to win unless we figure out collectively how to outsmart them.   As a comrade recently asked, “are we in this to win, or are we in this to simply be a social scene?”

Others might object that the process of mentoring and teaching fellow activists is inherently authoritarian because it implies a hierarchy of teacher over student.  In response, I would argue that this process of teaching can be done in a way that is not condescending.  Good teaching should also be a process of learning and collective discovery.  This is the pedagogy of the oppressed - where the person teaching becomes a student, and the person learning becomes a teacher.    Someone with movement experience can share this with someone who is new to the struggle, but in turn they should learn from the fresh analyses that the new person is making of their own activity.   Revolutionary education is not about an authoritarian classroom dynamic – it is about people constructing knowledge together based in practice.

Of course this happens best in struggle – I’m not suggesting we stop struggling and withdraw into quiet study.    But we can’t assume that the struggle will automatically teach us everything we need to equalize divisions among us.  That’s pure fantasy.  People learn through struggle but under capitalism they do not learn equally unless we work to share the tools necessary for everyone to educate themselves.  These are exactly the tools that the capitalist education system has withheld from working class people – especially working class people of color – knowing full well that if people got ahold of these tools, it would be dangerous for the slave masters and the economists who justify their rule.

VI.  But wait, isn’t that Leninism?

I admit that what I just argued for sounds a lot like What is to Be Done, by the Russian revolutionary VI Lenin.  Lenin advocated that revolutionary intellectuals have a responsibility to share Marxist theory with workers so that intellectuals will not dominate the party.   I know a lot of people justifiably do not like What is to Be Done because it is associated with a Leninist practice that has justified all sorts of authoritarian nightmares.  I don’t blame people for this.  There is no excuse for the flaws in Lenin’s practice.

But just because Lenin did something does not automatically make it wrong – or right.  To frame the argument that way is dogmatic.   After all, Lenin also advocated for small groups of revolutionaries to actively intervene in struggle to challenge the hegemony of reformists in the movement, to eliminate obstacles to the insurrectionary energy of the working class.   Some anarchists in Seattle today do exactly the same thing, basing their practice on Bonanno instead of Lenin.  Does that make these folks  secret anarcho-Leninists? Should we be suspicious of them because they have the self-organization necessary to put out well-made and timely leaflets that rip apart reformist arguments and encourage rebellion? Or because they publish and distribute attractive newspapers? Or because they intervene in demonstrations to back up the most militant people in motion and to prevent movement cops or peace police from holding back the upsurge?   Lenin did all of these things too at various points in his life.  All that means is that some anarchists happen to agree with him on these few points, while rejecting the more authoritarian aspects of his practice.  We need to stop getting stuck on what happened or didn’t happen in 1917 and focus on what is to be done now. Studying history is important, but only if it is used as a weapon to defeat oppression and authoritarianism today.

At the same time, I am definitely NOT advocating a return to authoritarian and outdated Leninist organization building.   The main problem with this approach is that it maintained a division between mental and manual labor.  Capitalism creates this division – academics, scientists, philosophers, inventors, and capitalists create new ideas, and then workers carry them out in production.  Historic Leninist parties reproduced this dynamic -  Party leaders claimed to have the correct “science” that could guide the  movement, and the workers in their orbit were the shock troops who would carry it out.

This completely corrupted the real, emancipatory aspects of science – constructing knowledge by experimenting in practice and learning from successes and failures.   It embraced the authoritarian aspects of bourgeois science – passing down the results of past experiments as dogma to be memorized and implemented in order to produce results – and in the case of Soviet of Chinese state capitalism, that meant producing profits.

I saw this at play the other day when I went to a socialist meeting about ongoing labor struggles in Seattle.  It was a really interesting meeting, with rank and file waterfront workers speaking out against racism on the job and highlighting the need to go beyond the limits of labor law.   The room was full of rank and file union activists, many of  them part of socialist parties.  I raised the suggestion that union workers could resist ruling class attacks on us if we opened up our struggles to the rest of the working class, welcoming nonunionized and unemployed workers to participate as equals.  In other words, when teachers are under attack, we could form rank and file groups of teachers  to fight back against these attacks, but could welcome our students and their parents and other working class people to join our labor struggle as equals, making it a struggle about working class control of education, not just about our narrow contractual issues.  When Longshore workers are under attack, they could form rank and file groups to fight back, but could welcome port truckers and other working class people to join them and to collectively plan actions to shut down the port to fight against the capitalists who are attacking all of us.  Some people in the room came up to me afterwards and said they agreed with what I was saying.

However, one particular activist came up and said that my proposal would not work because the union activists would not be able to trust that the rest of the working class people there would have the intelligence and training necessary to struggle in an effective way that would not put everyone at danger.  She mentioned Occupy Seattle as an example, saying that the movement was too uncoordinated and leaderless,  and that she didn’t want to march side by side with people who might get her killed because of reckless tactics. ( To be clear, she was simply representing her own view, not necessarily her party’s.)

In response, I kept trying to explain how people in the movement know what we are doing,  that we are developing increasingly sophisticated ways to organize, mobilize, and resist repression, and that we are teaching ourselves to do this without any condescending saviors.  She did not recognize any of this… to her, if we didn’t have decades of experience in party and union training, we were not equipped to even participate in labor struggles, let alone co-lead them.    This is a perfect example of condescending Leninism.

However, I’m worried that some people in the movement might just dismiss her as an old white socialist, instead of systematically defeating her arguments in both theory and practice.   One of the most obnoxious and dangerous effects of this kind of Leninism is that it can produce an ugly mirror reflection – a tendency to reject all organization, all leadership, and all education as authoritarian.

If we go down this route we will never learn from any past experience, and we’ll be doomed to reinvent the wheel each movement upsurge, because we will scatter when the burnout, internal movement drama and gossip, pressures of working class life, and repression drive us out of the movement.  We should not fetishize experience, but we should not dismiss it either – sometimes movement elders have learned it through a lot of painful mistakes, and even if they can’t always draw the necessary conclusions from those mistakes, we should learn from them so we don’t have to make them ourselves.   Avoiding past mistakes frees us up to make new mistakes instead, so we can focus on experimenting today with what works and what doesn’t, advancing our theory and practice.

In my  view, this socialist is right about one thing:  noone should march into battle with anyone they don’t trust.  And you should not trust anyone who you do not think is capable of thinking clearly under pressure.  In fact, I think I saw a poster making the same point in the Wildcat anarchist space.

Where she goes wrong is her top-down, party leadership-focused view on how to build these capacities for intelligent action under pressure.   She can’t see how people are learning how to do this through other forms of self-organization.

I reject the polemics thrown against the anarchists on May Day – that they are all privileged white boys, that they drove immigrant workers out of the struggle by putting people at risk, etc.  There were many economic refugees active in the downtown May Day “general strike” activities, especially youth who walked out of their schools that day.  However, it is a fact that the majority of the people down there were young.  There were relatively few people there with their children.   I think there is something to be said for the argument that oppressed people of all ages will only join a movement like this in large numbers if they are confident that the movement is organized enough to get their back if there are ICE raids, police violence, fascist attacks, etc.   It is not enough for us to say we will get people’s backs, we need to show and prove it, and that takes more serious organization that we have right now.  This is a point that several comrades have been trying to make for months, and I don’t think it’s being taken seriously enough.

Of course, we can’t push this  point too far  – working class economic refugees in Anaheim are rising up without any clear public organizational formation backing them (though this should not be seen as “spontaneity”, since there are probably deep networks in the community of self-organization that are hard for those of us on the outside to see).

Ultimately, people will struggle and will rise up without organizations or leaders initiating it.  They will learn through struggle.  But organization and working class leadership can help catalyze this process, which in turn makes this leadership no longer necessary because it becomes generalized throughout the working class, until the entire working class becomes “the vanguard”.   That would be a revolution.  Occupy claimed to be a “leaderfull, hence leaderless” movement.  It also claimed to be the 99%. Both are goals, not realities, and we are deluding ourselves if we think we’ve gotten there already.

VI. “Seattle to Oakland, we ain’t the Joker….”: Dealing with the limits of autonomy, and diversity of tactics

When people talk about this being a leaderless movement, they often emphasize the autonomy of small groups to determine their own tactics.  I agree that this autonomy is a strength of the movement, but at times it can also become a weakness.  What follows is an example of that.

While Latino workers in Anaheim were putting their lives on the line to challenge the police, activists associated with Decolonize/ Occupy called for a solidarity demonstration in Seattle the night of Friday July 27th.  For the most part, it went well.  We marched through the historically Black but gentrified Central District, and talked to many of the neighbors who were coming out of their homes to see what was happening.  Nearly everyone, of all ages, were down with what we were doing and were outraged at both the Anaheim and the Seattle police.

The problem was that we didn’t have enough signs, so a lot of people could not figure out what the march was about and were confused until we went up and talked to them.  Because of the lack of signs and banners, the most visible visual representation of the march were the clowns.  When I say clowns, I mean that literally – people who put on clown make up at protests: presumably from the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army

Now, I don’t have a problem with clowns, and I love rebels.  The problem is, this was happening a few days after the Aurora shootings in Colorado, where a white man wearing Joker-style clown makeup murdered people in a movie theater.  This kind of sociopathic behavior has more to do with how fucked up late capitalist culture has become, and less to do with anything remotely related to clowns or rebellion.  But as I was passing out flyers in both the Central District and Capitol Hill, people watching the march were telling me they were really scared of the rebel clowns, and at first they were thinking we were marching in solidarity with the Aurora shooter.   Apparently the media had been playing up this confusion by reporting that an “Occupy Seattle clown” had imitated shooting police and pedestrians with an umbrella prop gun at another rally earlier that week:

“As details emerge from the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the nation grieves and remains on edge towards sensitive topics relating to the crime. Knowing that the main Aurora-shooting suspect James Holmes allegedly behaved and disguised himself like “The Joker”clown villain from “The Dark Knight,” troubling new video has emerged of an apparent protester at Occupy Seattle dressed in clown garb pointing an umbrella at police and bystanders, and “shooting” them as if the umbrella were a gun.

Gateway Pundit, where the video is posted, reports that video was filmed Friday at the “Bring the Fight to the Banks” rally and march. In the video the clown is seen hurling the usually Occupy Wall Street “one percent” accusations at police and pedestrians, before aiming the umbrella at those he taunts while yelling “ba-bam, ba-bam!” When one police officier who the clown taunts appears to be getting unhinged by the shooting imitation, the clown brags to protesters “I’m getting to him. I really am.“ At one point a Seattle woman who was heckled by the clown while running to catch a bus yells back ”get a job.”

Certainly the media might be sensationalizing what they themselves acknowledge to be simply some Theater of the Oppressed style protest tactics. These kinds of media reports may not be completely accurate, but they have a real effect on people which we need to be aware 0f.

Isn’t it reasonable to ask whether the use of these clown tactics right now might be playing right into our opponents hands?  We need to be paying more attention to the right wing’s attempts to link our movement to the Aurora shooter, suggesting he was an anarchist and part of Occupy.  Could these right wing arguments be used as part of a counterinsurgency campaign that could justify more grand juries and raids against revolutionaries by turning the rest of the working class against us, criminalizing our rebellious political activity as “terrorism”?.   Why would we do anything that helps them develop that narrative against us?

Also, when people express criticisms, fears, or frustrations with our movement, we need to reach out to them, not dismiss them.  The people I talked to on the march that night could not easily be dismissed as reactionaries or yuppies – many of them told me they hate the police, but they were also really frightened by the clowns because of the recent shooting.

Now, to add to that problem, when Friday’s protest got to Capitol Hill, I heard that some people allegedly started escalating tactics in ways that were confrontational against people who felt inconvenienced by the protest.   I was really worried that some people might respond by attacking the crowd,  thinking that we are wannabe Aurora killers about to attack them.   I mean, some of these folks really looked terrified and on edge, and since this is an area full of bars on a Fri night, a lot of people were drunk.  This was one of many situations during the past 9 months that I’ve worried that someone in the movement was going to get hurt because of poor tactical choices and lack of awareness of the social context of their actions.

Should people generally have the autonomy to wear clown make up to protests? Of course.  Should we hold back militancy in a crowd? In most cases, no.  Our first priority should be to avoid falling into  the “Good protestor vs. bad protestor” dichotomy that the police try to create to neutralize the ruptures the movement has opened.  But in this particular situation, autonomy needed to be balanced with basic political effectiveness.

I am all for diversity of tactics.  I firmly argued against the people who wanted to impose mandatory pacifism on the movement.  People should have the autonomy to develop and choose a variety of tactics that can advance the overall struggle.  When we were organizing for the port shutdown, none of us collectively planned to build a barricade; some folks autonomously did that, and it helped solidify the overall strategy on that day that we had collectively planned. However, not every example of autonomy advances the overall strategy of an action or struggle in such a graceful way.  During the port shutdown we explicitly asked folks not to climb on top of the port truckers’ vehicles because this could cause us to loose their support, and also not to block longshoremen inside the port.  People respected both of these requests (it was the police, not the crowd, that blocked the exit from Terminal 18; protestors were routing the exit traffic around the barricade that was blocking the entrance).   This is an example of balancing autonomy with strategically chosen limits.

VII.  Democracy and consensus

I am for diversity of tactics, but I am also for very clearly and publicly criticizing foolish tactics that could get us killed.   I am for having some sort of direct democratic organizational formation where we can decide on a strategy together, and then implement it together – we can leave plenty of room for affinity groups to autonomously add tactics that further that overall strategy, but we should also be able to hinder tactics that are objectively reactionary, that could jeopardize the strategy we decided on.

Of course, we should have maximum transparency – people who are outvoted in the meetings that decide on the strategy should be able to publicly disagree with the overall strategy in cases where it is secure enough to do so.

I know this is an unpopular position in the current activist circles – a lot of folks feel we need to present a unified voice to the public because we are under so much attack and so many people want to divide and conquer us.  But if we cannot publicly debate strategy, and if we cannot publicly separate our own positions from positions that are foolish then we will not be trustworthy.   Working class people will not want to join because they will think we are no different than the clowns.

Also, it seems like bad security culture not to be able to debate stuff out publicly.  Tensions could just end up rising within the activist circles to the point where the state could manipulate these divisions.   It is better to air out some of these disagreements in a comradely way.   That being said, we need to maintain our general opposition to sectarianism, because that’s what has made the movement here so vibrant.  We should have some clear expectations in terms of making critiques in a respectful and thoughtful way.

Finally, public debate is a key part of the educational process I talked about earlier – it helps those engaged in the debate grow. This is a key part of preventing the kind of dogmatism that comes from never having your ideas challenged in front of other people.

VIII. Cadre Organization? 

To summarize, I’ve argued for an intentionally educational and organizational process of reflection on our struggles.  I’ve argued that we need to recognize when leadership exists instead of pretending it doesn’t.  I’ve argued that we need to create organizational contexts where new leaders can develop, so that we can overcome the capitalist division of labor.

These kinds of positions are often associated with the idea of cadre organization – building a relatively small, specific political organization with a coherent political program, which can prioritize high-level revolutionary education of its members, so that all of its members can take responsibility for difficult revolutionary work.   Black Orchid Collective is an example of an aspiring cadre organization.

Beyond some dogmatic anti-dogmatism, or knee jerk anti-Leninism, I have recently heard some very thoughtful anarchist criticisms of this idea.  In particular, an anarchist comrade argued that cadres tend to focus on developing their own members, at the expense of developing knowledge and leadership more broadly across the movement.

This is a good point, and it is a real risk.  With limited time and energy, do you do a study group with people in the cadre group, or with people in the movement as a whole?   I do think cadre groups are dangerous if they do internal educational work only because they aspire for control of the movement as a whole.  Not only will this mess up the dynamics in the movement, stifling its development and leading to possible sectarian competition among cadres, but it also can create a suffocating and overly professionalized atmosphere inside the cadre group by ratcheting up the membership standards to an unrealistic level.  People start walking around acting like they’re the shit because they’re in a functional organization.   Then they feel like they have no margin of error, no room to experiment and learn from their mistakes, because they have to somehow “represent” this awesome group.   That’s totally poisonous.

To prevent this, cadre groups need to have transparency and porous boundaries with the rest of the movement.  They should meet on their own to provide a space for people with similar politics to strategize and develop their perspectives, but the whole point of doing that should be to advance the overall movement, not to control it.  The cadre group should be publicly experimental – it should be clear it doesn’t have all the answers, and that the interventions it makes are provisional.   People in a cadre group should be constantly learning from discussions, debates, and struggles alongside people outside the group, including people from other tendencies. They should not lose their own individual voices or become simply representatives of the group.

Ultimately, I think we need to build a larger revolutionary network with multiple cadres with in it; that network will be healthier if these multiple cadres each offer their perspectives and suggestions for strategy, but then leave it up to the network as a whole to decide what to do.

The cadre should be outward focused in other ways as well.  The process of education in the cadre group should be “each one, tech one”….. group members study together not to horde that knowledge in order to maintain leadership in the movement, but instead to share it widely in the broader networks to make that leadership unnecessary.   The cadre should be a place where people learn how to most effectively share their skills and methods with others – how to practice a pedagogy of the oppressed.   And because the cadre group is public, it is more accountable and it can learn from criticisms directed against it by other tendencies.   Cadres and affinity groups have many things in common, but this is probably the biggest difference – the public nature of cadre groups mean that the can learn and grow from public critique.

IV.  Avoiding the Dinosaur Sponge model of revolutionary organization

The goal of the cadre group should NOT be to gradually recruit members until it grows into a vanguard party.  In Black Orchid Collective, we mock this idea by calling it the “dinosaur sponge method of revolutionary organization building.”   You know those dinosaur sponges you used play with when you were a kid?  They come in these little gel capsules that you throw in the bathtub, and as the capsule dissolves the  sponge expands into a dinosaur.  Many Leninist groups today operate that way.  They imagine that as long as you have the right social conditions, the right “bathwater”, purged of ultraleft impurities, then their small sect will somehow rapidly recruit until it becomes a huge dinosaur- I mean vanguard party.  Hal Draper criticized this idea decades ago in his famous piece “Anatomy of a microsect ”

Any small organization is purely delusional if it thinks that it alone is the vanguard.  The vanguard is simply whatever layer of the working class is moving fastest toward revolution at any given time – for example, a significant section of the Black working class acted like a vanguard during the 1960s.  A small cadre group may aim to become one small part of a much larger vanguard- but it can only do that by advocating for, supporting, merging with, and defending the autonomy of broad working class revolutionary self-activity.  In other words, it can only do this through generalized insurrection.  Any attempt to control this self-activity will either kill the self-activity – or, much more hopefully, will kill the parasitic cadre organization, or make it as irrelevant as a dinosaur.

Ultimately, what we need is an anti-vanguard vanguard.   We need a significant layer of the working class to take up all the things that small cadre organizations currently do, and more -  but at a mass scale, not just among a small exclusive group.  We need this mass layer of the working class to develop its capacity to reflect on its struggle and to lead the rest of the class, while generalizing its leadership abilities until the entire class becomes the vanguard and the concept of the vanguard becomes irrelevant.   This can only happen by challenging any self-proclaimed vanguards that act like condescending saviors.  Small cadre organizations are useful to the extent that they help catalyze this process, and are harmful to the extent that they hold it back.

Conclusion

I believe it is necessary and possible to avoid the problems of disorganization that lead to a situation where working class people think we are sociopathic clowns trying to attack them.   I also believe it is possible to do this without reverting to forms of Leninism that are as outdated as dinosaurs.   Many people are trying to figure out a third option. These debates are going on throughout the movement because these are not abstract questions, they are immediate, pressing issues that are coming up as the struggle sharpens and as repression becomes heavier.  For that reason, I hope we can have a thoughtful and eye-opening debate about the positions that I’ve proposed here, and I’m looking forward to hearing folks’ responses,  critiques, and counter-proposals.

note: This piece is influenced by a text on organization by Don Hamerquist called Lenin, Leninism, and some Leftovers.  While I don’t agree with every point he makes, I would highly recommend reading the text and thinking through the challenges  he poses.

About mamos206

Mamos is the pen name I use to write. Some of my thoughts can be found at these sites, along with the thoughts of friends and comrades I collaborate with: http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com http://creativitynotcontrol.wordpress.com http://overthrowingilluminati.wordpress.com http://spiritualdesert.blogspot.com
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49 Responses to Between the Leninists and the Clowns: Avoiding recklessness and professionalism in revolutionary struggle

  1. lakedesire says:

    CIRCA disbanded–Friday was their last action.

  2. Red Fox says:

    I found this in the piece by Hal Draper and thought it was pretty revealing:

    “Very few so-called or self-styled Marxists have understood the heart of Marx’s approach to proletarian socialism: The basic strategy for building a socialist movement lies in fusing two movements – the class movement for this-or-that step which gets a decisive sector of the class into collision with the established powers of state and bourgeoisie, a collision on whatever scale possible; and the work of permeating this class movement with educational propaganda for social revolution, which integrates the two.”

    My main reason for leaving the Social Democratic left (the ISO) years back was because they failed to understand what kind of relationship to the class would produce results. Their idea was that they would teach the class how to be revolutionary by pulling them into their organization, rather than listening to people, learning from their struggles, and fusing with them — not attempting to dominate them as know-it-all saviors.

    I’m still not completely clear as to the best methods of doing this, but I think it requires a lot of trial and error, humility, and ability really listen when necessary. No revolutionary struggle is the same, and we can’t simply transplant a strategy from a different time and location into our movement as a shortcut. Instead, it has to come organically from the real ideas that are around us.

  3. Reblogged this on karlitoweb and commented:
    The vanguardist Left seems to be hardwired for self-destruction. No COINTELPRO or other government counter-insurgency programs needed. Check your egos at the door for successful revolution…

  4. kloncke says:

    more to say later, but just want to thank you for putting this out there! incredibly helpful and timely for me. when a radical wing of anti-foreclosure work that i’m a part of proposed having an internal study group on class-struggle perspectives on the housing crisis, my heart sank — not because i didn’t want to learn that stuff, but because i’ve seen so many political study groups just keep developing the same people in their theoretical knowledge, rather than *also* teaching and practicing how to teach in pedagogy-of-the-oppressed kinds of ways. *that* kind of knowledge (learning how to teach), as well as practical organizing skills/literacy, is what i’ve been craving in my own political development. this piece gives me more language to explain why!

    okay, gotta run to work with a new (to our group) organizer to plot out maps for today’s doorknocking. timely, i tell you! :)

    hugs,

    katie

    • mamos206 says:

      You’re welcome, I’m really glad you’re finding it useful. I agree it can be dangerous to teach theory without also teaching the ability to teach that theory to other working class people. That can create a group that carries itself as the elite repository of knwoledge. Or, more charitably, it could create a group that is humble and outward oriented but just does not have the practical ability to communicate with other people and translate theoretical ideas into everyday langague.

      When we do internal study groups in BOC, or reading groups with friends we met in struggle, we often do mock debates, or will ask each participant in the study group to choose a key concept from the text and to explain it to the group the same way they would explain it to one of their coworkers, neighbors, friends, or family members. Taht way everyone takes responsibilty for teachign and for making the study group accessible to people of varying educational backrounds and levels of literacy. This helps develop an organic working class theoretical culture. Everyone learns from how each person puts their own style on how they present the ideas.

      Evening out teaching ability/ pedagogy is one of the most important things when it comes to detrhoning entrenched leadership. People often teach things like public speaking skills and theory when they try to develop new leaders. That’s good, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think that leadership is primarily about public speaking or theory. I’d say half of it at least is about caring work: building a team, teaching other people, resolving conflicts, being a listening ear, doing logistical work that makes it posible to bring people together, etc. These are the often silent, often unrecognized components of real leadership, and they all require skills that capitalism doesn’t share evenly.

      They are also relatively gendered tasks in this society. I’d like to have a further conversation about how these processes play out in terms of gender dynamcis in groups. Anyone have thoughts on that?

  5. eliumn says:

    Thanks for this very insightful piece! One question I’d like to tease out is on your view of education. I really like this quote: “We need to set a basic standard in the movement – if you have an education (whether you got it in college or in prison), and you are not sharing this with at least one other working class person, then you are failing as a revolutionary and you need to check your priorities.” But, I find one ambivalent part of it to be really interesting: where you say “whether you got [an education] in college or in prison,” aren’t those kinds of ‘education’ quite different things? Wouldn’t the sort of study for revolutionary purposes (e.g., learning how to organize a hunger strike) that happens in prisons be disqualified as ‘non-educational’ according to our society’s dominant understanding of education? Similarly, I think you say the same thing for the study within universities (and in spite of their normal education practices) that gives people revolutionary capacities (e.g., learning how to organize a student-worker movement). What is deemed legitimate ‘education’ within a university is usually a kind of disciplining that not only isn’t useful for revolutionary movements but is also what we’re organizing against (i.e., for its entwinement with capitalist reproduction and production).

    So, I guess I worry that, in your understanding of ‘education’ here, you might be importing some aspects of a conception of education from capitalist universities. I know that you make a distinction of ‘capitalist education’ from the kind of revolutionary education that you’re talking about. But, I wonder if that’s sufficient for extricating a view of revolutionary movement-embedded study from education and the history of capitalism, white supremacy, & colonialism that has been entwined with the history education. (In the back of my mind here, I’m thinking of a book called _Escaping Education_ by Esteva and Prakash that makes this historical argument.) Practically speaking, I wonder if this problem could play out in thinking of how revolutionary organizing (and teaching and learning within them) should relate with informal networks of cooperation in working class communities (and the teaching and learning that happens within them – both in normal times and in exceptional times such as the recent Anaheim uprisings). Particularly, I worry that privileging the kind of teaching and learning that happens within formal organizations as ‘revolutionary education’ could potentially create blinders against seeing and connecting with the teaching and learning already going on in those marginalized communities.

  6. mamos206 says:

    A few things I realized I didn’t emphasize enough. Comrades remidned me of these points in conversations today. I hope we can explore these together in the comments/ discussion:

    1) A lot of people that argue agianst formal public cadre groups often build informal, nontransparent cadre groups that play an unacknoweldged leadership roles in networks. Jo Freeman called it the Tyranny of Stucturelessness. Do folks have experience with this sort of thing? What kind of impact does it have on group dynamics? How can it be addressed?

    2) What are folks’ experiences with mentoring and or being mentored in movement circles? What are some problems to avoid with this? What are some good practices to share with each other? What are some race and gender dynamics that need to be dealt with?

    3) How much can theoretical and strategic knowledge allow us to predict future ruptures? it seems to me that a lot of orthodox Leninists thought their theory could predict everything, and were not prepared to deal with the new dynamics that Occupy created when these dynamics didnt’ follow their scripts. At the same time, how do we know when something actually is a rupture with capitalst legitimacy, and not just something that feels exciting? We want to avoid two pitfalls here: 1) saying there is nothign new under the sun, and dismissing struggle because you think it’s predictable and 2) calling everything a rupture, then escalating tactics based on sheer willpower when you think it’s leading to insurrection but it’s really not. The first makes you boring and irrelevant, the second can get you killed. To put it in Marxist terms, the frist pitfall leads to vulgar materialism (“the objective conditions are not right for us to rebell yet”) and the second pitfall leads to vulgar idealism and volutnarism (“ya’ll aren’t taking enough risks; if we all just believe we can do this, then we can do it”). Have folks seen exmaples of these pitfalls in the movement?

    4) One of the most imoprtant lessons we learned from Decolonize/ Occupy was that militancy can actually invite broad working class participation; it can resonate with people more than the boring tactics proposed by reformists who claim to be about “reaching the masses.” However, we’re fooling ourelves if we think that every form of miltiancy in every situation will always lead to mass participation. Under what conditions does militancy resonate and spread? How do we know when the “time is ripe”, and what do we have to do in situations like that to ensure that it spreads?

    • seattleradical says:

      A challenge with Cadres, Collectives or informal groups is that they often take on a cliquish in-group/out-group dynamic.

      Regarding Tactics: I think it’s important remember that tactics aren’t necessarily either radical or reformist (or moderate). Militant tactics can be reactionary (racist vigilantism) or revolutionary (militant self-defense). There is a tendency to confuse tactics with strategy, and fetishize a particular set of tactics – this includes both peaceful and violent tactics. As a movement, I think we should focus on tactics 1) that are effective 2)that people new to the movement can participate in 3) that build our power, confidence and skills 3) that can steadily escalate and train ourselves to defeat the enemy

      Like tactics, we need not have a fixed or wooden view of people. A lot of the cliquishness seems to involve a weird defeatist/cynical attitude that exclaims: everybody must arrive to the movement with a predetermined set of politics/analysis/strategy. People who don’t have this are rejected outright for not having a particular set of “correct” ideas or tactics. This is a form of dogmatism – it is also defeatist. Both the newly initiated and the veterans of struggles are constantly changing, learning, and growing within a system that is doing the same. People learn, grow and change. That is a good thing. We must change the world and change ourselves.

      If our attitudes and ways we relate to people (as well as tactics) do not help grow a radical movement that can be militant, then what we are left with is a small, self-isolating group of determined radicals demanding revolution by claiming the right ideas, strategy, tactics – and somehow think this will be accomplished by sheer determination of will and action. That is vanguardist.

      Occupy burst onto the scene – a truly mass movement – in ways that not many predicted or could immediately explain. Some radicals were able to see themselves as a part of that movement – others denigrated it for a particular perceived class composition – others got fatigued because they could not funnel the movement into some pre-existing program that relies on an outdated historical mode or organization – others yet were just simply confused about what to do because it actually WAS a mass movement; something we haven’t seen in decades; and something most most of us hadn’t experienced AT ALL in our short lives. And then: it disappeared about as quickly as it came. Millions of people fell away. I think we owe it to ourselves to try to analyze why that is: what were the internal and external factors? What lessons we can learn from our experience in such an important and unique historical development?

  7. Bob Beatie says:

    Thank you so much for this piece, it crystallizes many of my own thoughts on the overall movement that we are all a part of. Personally I do not follow any particular ideology beyond the belief that the system is so far broken that we need a real paradigm change to survive. While I am firmly committed to “Occupy”, it is to the much broader, worldwide movement than to any particular part of it.

  8. Nate says:

    This is a really thought provoking piece, Mamos, thanks very much.

    This is a great point: “Because there is no public, central clearinghouse for movement information, it’s hard to find out what’s going on unless you know people active in the scene, and even then it takes a long time to figure out what’s at stake because many of the key debates happen in private, not in public.” This seems to me like a call for one kind of movement institution, which is not the same as a cadre organization. I’m not sure what to do with that, and I’m curious if you have any thoughts on that.

    I really like all the stuff on organizers replacing themselves and mentorship and so on. My IWW branch put out a pamphlet called Weakening the Dam that talks about this, and that argues that our main goal should be mentorship/developing organizers more than winning other struggles. (It’s up on libcom, if you’re interested.) It also tries to be concrete about some kinds of skills and experiences we should aim for in mentoring and developing people. It’s really IWW and workplace specific, unfortunately. I liked your point, Mamos, in one of the comments here about how theory and public speaking are overrated as things to mentor people on. I agree. And I think we could use more concrete lists of skills and stuff that we aspire to help people (and ourselves) improve at.

    Also, I think the mentorship work is slow and moves at a different rythm than the mobilizations the peice discusses earlier. I think that the faster things are moving in the short term and the higher the stakes the more there will be pressures toward short term assessments of victory (win this struggle etc) in a way that pushes more toward a division of labor and the importance of current leaders and specialists. That’s in tension with the longer term aspects of mentoring and developing people – because less experienced people play key roles means risking mistakes. I don’t think there’s a magic answer to this, there’s no best mix for all situations, but I think it’s important to be clear on which one we’re prioritizing and when.

    I like the stuff on public debate, that’s really thought provoking.

    On the group stuff… I feel funny saying this because I like Black Orchid a lot, as a group and all the individuals from it that I’ve interacted with (hi Mamos!), but I have reservations about it too. I’m skeptical about the degree to which the inward-looking dynamics you mention can be avoided in favor of being outward looking so that membership doesn’t pull members (or pull certain kinds of activity, like intellectual stuff like writing and reflection and discussion) out of other projects. I think those dynamics are probably intensified when groups want to lead and/or want to grow numerically. I think the stuff opposing the dinosaur sponge theory (that’s great, by the way) works against that. And I really like the emphasis on building up parts of the class to take action and have deeper vision, rather than building up the organization.

    I like this: Against “the kind of intimidating “star system” of activists (…) None of us are famous and none of us are really trying to be.  We are not competing with each other to claim glory for the work we do.” That’s a really good point and I wish there was more writing on this ‘star system’. I also wonder if sometimes organizations can fall into a version of this star system, in trying to get cred as a group. Know what I mean? that’s not a veiled knock on BOC, I swear, I just think that since the piece is calling for cadre groups then it’s worth getting into ways that those groups can go wrong, and I think trying to have a group be a kind of star in as system of groups is one such way.

    “our militancy, more than anything, attracts us and other working class people toward each other.” I feel like a broken record here, my apologies, but I think it’s worth talking more about the relationships and differences between militancy and radicalism. You talk about stuff that “builds our confidence as working class people to break with the legitimacy  of capitalist “business as usual”, including its forms of acceptable and easily dismissed protest.   So next time a crisis emerges, instead of reaching for the usual activist tools that involve pleading with government officials or bosses, we turn toward more disruptive and creative methods.” I agree with this but I think that on this perspective here it’s very hard to tell the difference between a radical turn that points toward a new society and a militant turn that points toward new forms of negotiation. The two are clearly connected – the breakdown of mechanisms for channeling struggles offers opportunities for radicals – but they’re not identical, and I think as communists it’s important to talk about all this stuff. And I think there’s incentives that encourage us to talk more about and practice more of the militancy, and I think it’s different to advance as militants who get better at effectively advocating militancy than to advance as people who move others toward radical ideas. Both are important, of course.

    Not married to any of this, thinking out loud, because the piece is thought provoking. Thanks again.

    take care,
    Nate

  9. kloncke says:

    Damn, I have a million questions and not a lot of time but I’ll take a stab at a couple elements.

    autonomy, limits, and trust

    I am for having some sort of direct democratic organizational formation where we can decide on a strategy together, and then implement it together – we can leave plenty of room for affinity groups to autonomously add tactics that further that overall strategy, but we should also be able to hinder tactics that are objectively reactionary, that could jeopardize the strategy we decided on.

    I think this sounds great, and could do a lot to help weave together the strengths of different groups (some good at banner drops and graf murals, some positioned for wildcat strikes, some trained in street medic-ing), but at the same time, does blanket police repression make it somewhat harder to carve out areas for autonomous tactics? The line that seems to often come up in these democratic decision making processes is whether folks are willing to risk arrest. And at least down here, where OPD arrests up to 400 people at once, it’s not really possible to assume that cops will only go after the people who are doing “arrestable” stuff, rather than strategically terrorize people and grab up whoever they want. This is where your thoughts on building trust, and proving that we’re serious enough to handle “ICE raids, police violence, fascist attacks, etc.” (including offering resources for healing after traumatic attacks) make sense to me. We can’t control how fucked up cops or fascists (or fascist cops) will be, but we can control how we respond to it. How do we build up the strength and trust to do that? Group decisions about diversity of tactics and their limits make more sense to me in terms of teamwork, rather than each group trying to get its own way or limit its liability by staying lightweight quarantined from the others. Seems like the nonsectarian culture y’all are building in Seattle is key for this process.

    This is useful for me to think through as we get ready for neighborhood meetings for fighting evictions! Thanks again.

    Next point:

    leadership and gender

    People often teach things like public speaking skills and theory when they try to develop new leaders. That’s good, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think that leadership is primarily about public speaking or theory. I’d say half of it at least is about caring work: building a team, teaching other people, resolving conflicts, being a listening ear, doing logistical work that makes it posible to bring people together, etc. These are the often silent, often unrecognized components of real leadership, and they all require skills that capitalism doesn’t share evenly.

    They are also relatively gendered tasks in this society.

    To speak from my own experience and observations in the group I’ve been organizing with for a year and a half, I’ve struggled with what you named (i almost cheered out loud with relief to read it!) about the difficulty of “stepping back”:

    Many people who realize they are becoming too indispensible as “key organizers” often have this impulse to step back, but when they try to do this, noone else steps up to take up the work, and it falls apart. This is hard to deal with – it can lead to resentment and frustration on everyone’s part.

    As a woman trying to hold things together on the logistical tip in my organization (as in, not only do what i say i’ll do but also try to plan 3 steps ahead and try to help others with their work), I know that I’ve not only shied away from further theoretical development (except with other women-of-color marxist organizers, outside my organization) but kind of come to be suspicious of it among my fellow organizers, because i feel like if i stepped away too long from the logistical work, no one else would step up to that in a sustainable way, and people would either burn out or things would fall apart completely. This may be a false understanding on my part or an overestimation of my own role, but regardless the feeling itself is tough. And psychologically taxing because I really do sometimes feel like I’m “stuck” doing reproductive work which, if we were all well trained (shit — if i were trained on how to train!), could be more easily shared. Of course, though, there’s often a cycle of reinforcement where others thank and praise you for doing a certain type of work, so that’s the type you want to keep doing, to maintain that validation…takes some sophisticated feminist organizing to counteract this tendency and encourage ourselves and others to become well-rounded. Especially with pretty specialized tasks like visual art, mathematics/research, public debating, or bulk cooking, where it can take a long time or longer to get the hang of it.

    On the other hand, one of the main people continuing to push the political development within the group has been a man, and I’m sure he feels the same way I do: that if he stepped back from his role, that crucial political side of things just wouldn’t get done at all. I sympathize in some ways: organizers are as plentiful as monsoon frogs, but what radicals and revolutionaries need to add is the consciousness-raising, rupture, and class struggle elements. Problem is, it’s hard to ‘add’ to anything when the group is lurching along on the brink of breaking down.

    I hesitate to say that the rift between the caring / reproductive / logistical / non-cliquey cultural work and the “political” work is gendered in a rigid way. Masculine-identifying people have sometimes taken on the caring ‘half’ in our organization, and women and gendernonconforming folks have stepped up with political leadership. But at the end of the day, the divide is still noticeable.

    One metaphor I’ve been toying with for a while is that instead of ‘step up step back,’ or reinforcing binarism when we think of gendered work (mental/manual, public/private, conspicuous/caring), maybe we can imagine and encourage a kind of “crop rotation.” I am a total a sucker for chore wheels and charts, so this might not float everyone’s boat, but I wonder whether having folks rotate in pairs (one knowledgeable enough to really teach/guide/bottomline) among (1) theoretical/pedagogical, (2) logistical, (3) cultural, and (4) communications work, for instance, might help in acknowledging all the different types of work necessary to keep a group healthy, and encouraging more well-roundedness and less specialization among individuals.

    I think I am rambling and long comments suck so I’ll leave it at that for now! I love the idea of an underground proletarian university and would be among the first to sign up.

    love,

    katie

  10. jomo206 says:

    theres a lot of stuff in this piece and the comments that are worth responding to.one thing that sticks out to me that is actually the title. i dont think the value and work that the clowns have put in in the past are being acknowledged. i have felt safer in some marches BECAUSE of their presence. i wasnt present at the march where there was reckless behavior, but there are other moments when they have played a good role. i think we need a culture in the scene where just cos one group makes a mistake, it doesnt discount all the previous good work they had done. this too creates stress and overly high expectations for individuals and groups in the moevment

    • mamos206 says:

      @Jomo, thanks for the critique, I agree that was a mistake on my part, and I don’t want to contribute to creating a culture of random public denunciation; it’s good that we’ve avoided this recently in Seattle. I like the clowns, I think they have done a lot of positive things. I am not arguing that the clowns should be prevented from participating in marches. I should have made that clearer. Also, I want to make it clear, I am not exactly accusing the clowns of reckless behavior in this piece, I’m saying that the reckless behavior that happened worsened the tensions caused by people’s reactions to the clowns, creating a potentially dangerous situation. That’s a subtle but important distinction.

      Anyway, my piece is more of a critique of all of us than it is of the clowns – but the title doesn’t really make that clear. I am arguing that none of us, myself included, was prepared enough for that march; because we had no banners, all some people saw were the clowns and they were afraid of us because they thought we were imitating the Aurora shooter. I’m saying we should have had a meeting to make banners and flyers and should have also talked with the clowns ahead of time to ask them if they had considered how people might view them given the cultural context. My main point is that we need to spend less time reacting and more time strategizing, and we also need to be paying more attention to the cultural context of our actions.

      Everyone else , I really appreciate the comments, and I’m excited to respond. I’ll be out of town for the weekend so I might not be able to get back to ya’ll for a while, but I encourage people to keep discussing, and to use this as a forum to talk about how we can all develop as revolutionaries.

    • Love you guys! Salish Clowns learn from their successes AND their failures, we read nothing into this critique. We would love to work more cohesively w/ external organization at marches and we are working on internal organization as well. Cheers, I thought it was insightful and I’ve noted similar observations!

  11. Bennie says:

    Well said brother (or sister)

  12. mamos206 says:

    @ Everyone, I really appreciate the comments, and I’m excited to respond. I’ll be out of town for the weekend so I might not be able to get back to ya’ll for a while, but I encourage people to keep discussing, and to use this as a forum to talk about how we can all develop as revolutionaries.

  13. Colette says:

    I appreciate some of the criticism in this piece as well as the comments. I’ll also repeat Nate in saying that I am friends with folks in Black Orchid and also feel some political kinship or overlap.

    A couple of things. The Wildcat has absolutely nothing to do with the Occupy movement, either in origins or form. The space has been happy to host many events and provide space for Decolonize/Occupy discussions and community organizing, but it is incorrect to attach it to this swath of activity you mention. It’s actually pretty frustrating and makes me feel dismissed and invisible.

    Wildcat did not manifest by some kind of zeitgeist fevered imagining of the newly uprising 99% . The space was started and is collectively run by people from anarchist spaces and infoshops like Autonomia, M11 and L@s Quixotes. We knew the last space would likely be shut down as early as June and at least a couple of us committed to reopen somewhere else. I mention this seemingly minor point because it takes a fair amount of time, money and work to start a space and keep it open. I feel like anarchists and anarchist projects (including participation in Occupy) are continually the recipients of dysfunctional love: one minute we are the darlings and everyone loves our 10th & Union / [insert other liberated space], or our crazy GA hand gestures and anti-authoritarian processes (it was anarchists who introduced these things), or our propaganda/ posters or spaces or whatever, but the next minute we have to be denounced for being too unorganized, being bad/violent protesters, etc etc, the usual things anarchists are accused of doing.

    I think criticism is crucial and welcome useful critiques. That said, I feel like anarchist projects and organizers have a lot of fair weather friends. When we are the darlings, our ideas and work is frequently co-opted or everybody and their brother is attaching themselves to our projects and temporarily redefining their own work and organizations, even when our anarchist principles and organizing style directly contradicts their own formations and theoretical background. Temporarily being the key word there. I have seen some interesting changes in tune from people over the past couple of years as far as different individuals’ and organizations’ support for Seasol. I personally attribute this to solidarity networks or this particular group being more in vogue or novel at a particular time, because while we have grown and improved in some respects, our basic model and activity has not changed at all.

    Also I think there is more fluidity and flexibility in the prevailing anarchist tendencies and more political overlap than outside organizations and critics realize. For instance, I know anarchist bookworms who spend most of their time on radical bookstores/infoshops who also like to go nuts in the streets every once in a while and who also come out to picket lines or Seasol actions. I can think of others who spend time on co-operative housing or guerrilla gardening who also support militant anti-prison organizing. I can think of several people who may or may not describe themselves as insurrectionists who have worked as union organizers. (Not to give the wrong impression, they would very likely denounce this now.) I could go on and name dozens of supposedly “outlier” examples of people who don’t fit neatly into these political boxes. My point is that anarchists come from a lot of different backgrounds and theoretical trajectories and most of us are still actively developing as people and political (or anti-political) actors. Mistakes are commonly made and outside oppressive dynamics of capitalism and civilization are of course frequently being reproduced.

    What we do have in common is rejection of authoritarian structures, would-be leaders and elite castes of political or cultural experts. Just because one can spot informal cliques or elitist tendencies in what appears to be an insurrectionist action or temporary formation, does not mean that was everyone’s goal or that some people don’t actively fight it. I would also argue that there is a difference between secrecy and exclusive selection of comrades/insurgents/whateever as temporary tactic to plan more risky actions and is much more fluid than some would give credit. I can’t speak for others, but I’d be surprised if anyone else self-identifying in this tendency would state that this kind of exclusiveness is the goal rather than a temporary or one-time formation because of a particular strategy. Some would probably not have any criticism of elitism and actively pursue it, either in late night actions or isolated commune-building but I and others disagree with that as a sole activity. So what? There is no finished product or perfected methodology, a mythological uniform one, especially. I’ve seen so many people change and evolve their ideology or organizing the past couple of years and I have no desire to lock somebody into a tight theoretical box. I appreciate the different tactics and strategies being employed and am not looking to any one person or group for guidance or dogmatic adherence to one form. Hopefully others can say the same.

    Really the caricaturization of anti-organizational anarchists including insurrectionists is inaccurate, as many people who participate in temporarily elitist or secretive actions are also doing a ton of organizing and propaganda alongside all kinds of other people. Painting in such broad strokes renders people invisible who actually did a lot of outreach at Occupy and are currently doing community building type work and frequently support everyone else’s projects. The tight knit nature of some people’s crews is also just a byproduct of less active times when not a lot of organizing was going on and people had to stick together. It’s served useful in that there is very strong loyalty and trust between a lot of us and we’ve set up very solid ways of handling emergencies like jail and court solidarity that are extremely effective and that we’ve shared broadly with Occupy and other folks over the years. It’s nice to know you can make a phonecall or two and mobilize several dozen people at 7am or can come up with money to support arrestees or projects pretty quickly. This doesn’t mean people favor a cadre model but rather that there are strong bonds among a fluid network of equals who all have varying levels of activity at different times. The leaderless social network is very useful and also makes us completely incomprehensible to the pigs and state who just don’t understand how we work.

    If someone doesn’t want to pass out their amazing beyond-revolutionary insurrecto flyers to the “mouth breathing masses” or do some other thing I think is useful, whatever, maybe they will next year, or maybe not. (Ridiculous exaggerated caricature intentional as example of most obnoxiously elitist nihilist you or others may be trying to invoke as a strawman.) I’m okay with that because I am for autonomous, non-coercive action and organizing. I don’t want to pressure or trick someone into working on a project or planning an action with me by pretending to be more open or flexible about things I actually feel strongly about but then force them to only do things one way.

    For instance, The Wildcat is explicitly anarchist and anti-authoritarian. We don’t pretend to be all things to all people in order to get more financial or social support. However we also actively encourage people to come to events regardless of their politics as long as they can respect the space. I think this is a good example of honest open organization which avoids sectarianism.

    Another example of your claim of anarchists secretly embracing unofficial leadership I’d like to refute would be in Seasol. There have definitely been issues with unintentional concentration of power and unofficial leaders but it has never been some nefarious plot but rather, in my opinion, the usual reproduction of outside oppressive forces. 100% anti-authoritarian anti-oppressive organizing is currently impossible. That doesn’t change the fact that that should be our goal, in fact it’s even more important to keep that aim in mind, no matter how far off we are from achieving it. Just because there are examples of unofficial leadership or power dynamics in Seasol doesn’t mean that the most people in the group are fundamentally opposed to that or are trying to beat it back, even in themselves sometimes.

    Spotting examples of oppressive authoritarian behavior in anarchist circles or organizations is a terrible argument for encouraging more of the same, except better or more expertly formed.

    The fact is, I will never want any number of leaders, no matter how friendly or how many anti-oppression statements they put out. I just want anyone confused about this to understand: I am opposed to all authority and hierarchy. I am opposed to cadres because they further these things by focusing on a group of would-be experts who have the right analysis that needs to be shared with me and the rest of the beaten down masses. Direct experience and participation with struggle in your own life fought by you (and hopefully your friends, coworkers, other tenants or busriders or farmers or rape survivors etc alongside you) is much more meaningful than participation in cadres or even worse passive reception of unidirectional cadre transmission of the one true theory or methodology.

    Let’s look at who most often forms and joins cadres and study groups: mostly college educated middle class white people. Having people of color and working class people join doesn’t change the inherently oppressive dynamic of such formations which rely on the expertise of academics past and present, the vast majority of whom are white men of bourgeois privilege and education with little real life understanding of struggle. What’s worse is the way people outside the cadre are viewed and treated, even processed to test how ready or receptive they are to these amazing new ideas (sarcasm) that said geniuses have come up with and how useful each person may or may not be in furthering the aims that these self-appointed revolution experts have come up with. Why continue to follow in these fuckers’ footsteps? I am always going to be distrustful of such a model, no matter how much I like the people involved or how well intentioned I believe them to be.

    That sounded pretty harsh and I know that these worst examples of cadre style organizing are not indicative of the Black Orchid folks I know, in that I realize you guys do try to listen to others and take differing viewpoints into account. That said, that manipulative dynamic of viewing the masses as revolutionary resources or “rev units” and being opportunistic or disingenuous in how cadres join other struggles or groups is part and parcel of the cadre model. Both history and personal experience has taught me and many other people, anarchists or not, this eventuality.

    Lastly, there is no “anti-vanguard” vanguard. That doesn’t make sense linguistically or historically. Reclaiming vanguard is a worthless and destructive undertaking. Arguments for a vanguard would make more sense if we were in the middle of an actual armed uprising, although I would still argue against it. As it stands, it makes no sense to be advocating for this.

    All that aside, I am in the camp of wishing there was more organization. I am used to working on anarchist projects that though totally decentralized and leaderless are much more organized than Occupy endeavors have been, with members more ideologically committed. However, this is where we are at consciousness-wise right now. There are too many newly radicalized people to expect too much more at the moment. I feel like some patience and long term relationship building is in order. I wouldn’t be where I was if different people and circles hadn’t been patient with me and tried to help me in a non-judgemental and (mostly – I’m a woman and patriarchal dudes abound) non-creepy/authoritarian way. We can help other people develop but still learn from them and do it in a way that brings them up to speed and equalizes the playing field as quickly and transparently as possible. It’s hard and all of us including myself do it wrong constantly, but fighting oppression in our organizing is hard and will be a lifelong battle which we must recommit to fighting every day. If we aren’t constantly replacing ourselves, we won’t survive. That’s kind of Nature 101.

    I hope we are all learning from mistakes and get better and better at bringing in new people and sharing skills and ideas in a non-authoritarian way. I hope our spaces get better over time and are more inclusive. I hope more solidarity networks and similar models pop up that do it more successfully than those existing today. I hope something like Occupy continues and evolves into something more powerful with more sophisticated ideology and a strong anarchist practice. I hope we really do see an insurrection in our lifetimes in this country. I hope we figure out how to become truly international and organize in solidarity with people the world over to destroy nations and borders and end genocide and petty inequalities that oppress people.

    Seeing these things manifest will take work and flexibility and humility and limitless patience. I view this as not only a lifetime but a multi-generational endeavor. I don’t think we can afford to take any shortcuts or make compromises and should avoid embracing authoritarian models and practices every step of the way. The things worth doing in life are often the most difficult and frustrating or scary but ultimately most satisfying. The things most of us want: personal freedom, true intimacy / love (*both individually and communally), and creative expression currently are out of reach and one must jump hurdle after hurdle of capitalist bullshit and socially and class constructed walls to reclaim our basic humanity and express these parts of ourselves. When the ends are so necessary and so critical not only for our happiness but for our survival, we can’t compromise them with the wrong means.

    I guess this is a request to non-anarchists to just take us or leave us, at least when it comes to the question of leadership and authority. Ongoing debates and discussion are healthy and anarchists definitely need to hear outside criticism. However no anarchist worth their salt is going to being convinced to embrace hierarchy or authoritarian tactics, no matter how dulcet the tones, and by virtue of this, I would question and encourage you to question anyone who does. I am by the way including in this people who don’t really call themselves anarchists (good for you, anarchism as identity is worthless) but subscribe to anarchist ideals.

    I can’t speak for anyone else but I don’t need any leaders and I don’t want to join any cadres. (If anything I am doing resembles those things, please tell me, though chances are I am already fighting against those tendencies.) If it is frustrating to organize with anarchists, I’m sorry but it’s messy trying to organize in a non-authoritarian manner when the capitalist, racist, sexist environment around you is so oppressive and hierarchical. It’s all the more important that we keep trying. The only power I’m interested in is collective power formed by those affected by whatever common condition in a non-coercive, flexible and decentralized way.

    My analysis of people advocating cadres or leadership in the current time here in Seattle, not historically, is that they are not evil power hungry megalomaniacs but rather they are being impatient, not being honest about current potential for revolution or militancy and/or looking for shortcuts or methods that will make them feel like they are being productive or successful. Unless we master time travel, we are kind of forced to acknowledge current conditions and work with what we have. Seattle in 2012 is just not going to be as sexy as Spain in the 30′s, Paris 1792, 1968 everywhere, or Egypt last year. Maybe there will be a crazy transformation tomorrow, you can never tell, but for now we should be real about current material realities and work with those. We just have to keep on trucking and be ready when conditions are right. Part of being ready for me is making sure we aren’t allowing ourselves to unwittingly develop into this new world’s authorities. I might be in a minority in that I actually believe revolution is possible and that capitalism’s days are numbered and there are a million ways to live other than this one. The last thing I want is to develop a select group of people into experts or leaders who are going to spring into positions of power after the revolution. The new world doesn’t need them.

    Power to the people,
    ~ c

  14. nomadredowl says:

    Peace

    Thanks for writing this….sooooo many conversation will be had surrounding this one piece.For that reason I will apologize in advance for my method of commenting but there is just so much in this piece so please bear with me…..
    I am curious to who you target audience is in this piece. Due to my being in Seattle a lot of my response is gonna be for clarification purposes. So much of this piece I am not sure what you mean or what you getting at. I also apologize if i come as to harsh or overly critical, this piece is kind of triggered me in some places.

    To start with I was confused by the tittle.
    …”Between the Leninists and the Clowns: Avoiding recklessness and professionalism in revolutionary struggle”””
    …This makes me feel like you’re calling the Leninist reckless and the Clowns professionals. I wouldn’t disagree. But then I felt that most people wouldn’t take it that way (I am making an assumption but I will assume most people would, auto-pilot like, place the judgement of reckless on the clowns and professionals on the leninist). Then I thought maybe the whole thing was a joke….Clowns=Leninist, both are reckless and professional…..
    : D

    to move on in the first paragraph I would only maybe offer some commentary about the subtle but pervasive underlying theme of community and community building in seattle area…..

    For the whole of Part one you used:
    Community 0 times
    Network 1 times
    Working Class 4 times

    I feel this stat is a little misleading in regards to “Decolonize / Occupy Seattle today”….
    I may find this misleading because I personally rather frame the work we are doing as building a revolutionary Community as well as building a community of multi-tendency Revolutionaries. I would however love to have a conversation on the word/term/idea of class. I personally feel that class needs to be attacked, but thats a conversation for another day.

    As I travel down (on to part 2) I run into a problem…You lose me at:

    “in terms of the development of revolutionary working class consciousness”….

    What is revolutionary working class consciousness? Is this measured in black orchids?….As I read further It seems you explain where it often comes from (rupture), and then you go onto define rupture..

    ..So ruptures are often the reason for the development of revolutionary working class consciousness?.. If this is the case shouldn’t we be pushing for ruptures? Is this an arguement for insurrection? or do you mean something different?

    I may have missed something but I am at the beginning of part three and I still have the question
    “What is revolutionary working class consciousness? and how do we measure it’s development?”

    On to part three

    interesting analysis….

    That poster was my favorite poster from mayday. It spoke in so many ways. It invoked the radical history of the town, and it re-manifested. The same court house was damaged in the 70′s in solidarity with the Chicago 7, nike town was attacked in 99 and 2012, american appearal (also attacked on may day) used to be levi’s (attacked wto 99)….

    But what your describing is interesting….I think in Seattle the idea of community building was lost (or never existed), and the relations between the these entrenched Veterans and the community have become an relationship of disillusionment. Hence why they were left on the sidelines. Right now some of the more legit local elders are reaching out and offering advice and mentorship. ….Also alot of these “Community Leaders” sold out the community. I attribute this to the fact that they were not active in the Community except to build their base….I also separate this movement from the Anti-globalization movement. I feel the anti-globalization movement centered around the riotous protest and making a spectacle and preventing meetings. This movement (the current one), I feel was about building outside of the system (or building the commune as some call it). I feel this led to the theme of building community in Seattle. I feel this also helps explain why these entrenched Veterans had no idea what to do, except react and talk shit but ultimately get left behind…

    I was with you in part four til….

    “When I’ve raised these frustrations, some comrades have told me to quit and help build the Commune. While I respect people who choose to quit work and survive off of dumpster diving and guerrilla gardening, this is not a sustainable option for the entire working class, especially folks with medical issues who need health insurance.”.

    ….I will not comment on weather or not dumpster diving can sustain a whole working class just cus the idea makes me laugh too much, but I will say is does help sustain a sizable portion of the working class and could sustain even more. In regards to Guerrilla Gardening projects, we must take into account that projects are underway all over the WORLD, right now, before we say its not sustainable for the whole working class. If every household maintained a gardening project there would be more than enough food for each household and all those without houses…Guerrilla Gardening is a major key to sustainability in any urban environment….I also should comment that I don’t think people should just start quitting their jobs to build the commune (getting fired is a different story altogether) but if they want to I will support them in any way I can……Also i feel it would be very powerful if everyone did quit at once…. a Super General Strike!!!

    In the next two paragraphs it seems your beginning your argument for a centralized clearing house of info….I don’t disagree with this but I have personally witnessed how this makes us open to targeting form the state….More social centers, maybe a website or two I think would be helpful but I really enjoy that websites get developed for each cause and movement and how each struggle has it’s own security culture to fit the conditions of that struggle. If we attempt to centralize all the projects and struggles taking place in the region it just make political repression easier. one of our strengths has been our ability to cross pollinate all these different struggles while maintaining/respecting autonomy (of the struggles and individuals) as well as showing/exhibiting solidarity with different struggles/individuals. In my eyes the more diverse the pollination the more juicier the fruit and the more fragrant a flower.

    I feel the online communication is extremely similar to the planning that occurs at parties. I feel like facebook/emails/ or whatever create a dynamic where people who are more comfortable communicating that way excel and have more sway in decision making (what about those with no or very little internet access?). We do need to work on both of these types of communications and work to develop more efficient ways to communicate (internally and externally)

    In regards to the workplace I can only speak for myself but I find it rather easy to bring my work into my work place. Flyering, Discussions (with co-workers and customers), postering. I have also helped people bring it into their workspace(by volunteering to talk to a class of students)…But for me the difficulty I have had is using the workplace as a distraction, it’s a place where I can relax and not worry about organizing because when i get home I have to answer emails and respond to essays, etc..So sometimes work is where I relax (and I realize that I have a privileged job where I can do that) but I would love to continue this dialogue about the workplace and how it relates to our work……

    Leadership…..this will be a long conversation….I been asking for help and assistance and guidance as a rookie for last nine months. Only a few comrades have pushed me to learn by doing and helped me as I stumbled and as an environment I feel it has been extremely helpful in developing my skills (I still have a lot to learn and a long way to grow). With the step back step up model, I personally feel uncomfortable because of lack of confidence. It’s hard to step up and take responsibility for work you never done especially when you unsure your able to do it. I feel like this is where support fails…

    Now onto education…..
    “We need to create an underground proletarian university, an insurgent educational process that can challenge the division of labor created by capitalist education. Those who have the skills and theoretical methods necessary to lead need to share these skills and methods with everyone else. Those who do not have these skills and methods need to find the people who do and put pressure on them to share them.”

    Are you purposely ignoring Free U or not going into how that can be more of your “ideal proletarian university”…..What is a Proletarian University? would that be different then Free U? How? What are “the skills and theoretical methods necessary to lead”? Can you only get an Education from College/Prison? What if you never been to either? Can you go into more what “horizontalism” means? and just for my sake can you included community and the role a healthy sustainable community would play in this? and how a community can challenge the capitalist education system?

    “These are exactly the tools that the capitalist education system has withheld from working class people – especially working class people of color – knowing full well that if people got a hold of these tools, it would be dangerous for the slave masters and the economists who justify their rule.”

    What tools are you talking about? Tools capitalists use? and if so what to we keep what do we avoid? Are there dangers to using capitalist tools?

    Leninism….my first question is why is this dude talked about so much???

    any ways….

    “Of course, we can’t push this point too far – working class economic refugees in Anaheim are rising up without any clear public organizational formation backing them (though this should not be seen as “spontaneity”, since there are probably deep networks in the community of self-organization that are hard for those of us on the outside to see).”

    This bothers me…..I feel like the reason this maybe hard to see for those of us from the “outside” is because people tend not to respect the POWER OF COMMUNITY!!! If I see a healthy community I assume that their are deep deep self organization with in it. This is again why I believe COMMUNITY should be a central focus. So far the only arguments (i have seen) for Organization is Education (indoctrination? sorry but i have a hard time seeing the difference) to develop leaders and Expand( recruit new cadres? or cadre orgs?)….maybe I missed something or maybe there is still more to come….

    You don’t mention the protection the clowns have given marches or the support they provided to the ninjas with sticks on the “workers holiday.” And this was done against direct state repression.
    Does solidarity play any part in Direct Actions? and if so what? Does solidarity have any relationship with autonomy? If so what how does that effect the theory of DoT?

    In part VII I am confused…. you say

    “I am for having some sort of direct democratic organizational formation where we can decide on a strategy together, and then implement it together – we can leave plenty of room for affinity groups to autonomously add tactics that further that overall strategy, but we should also be able to hinder tactics that are objectively reactionary, that could jeopardize the strategy we decided on.”

    How do we determine what is “objectively reactionary”? using the science of Dialectical Materialism??? How does this relate to solidarity actions in which multiple tendencies participate, and how do they get deal with the the different ideas of what solidarity looks like?

    “Of course, we should have maximum transparency – people who are outvoted in the meetings that decide on the strategy should be able to publicly disagree with the overall strategy in cases where it is secure enough to do so.”

    it seems like this is how we do things…..So I am curious as to why you say this:

    “I know this is an unpopular position in the current activist circles – a lot of folks feel we need to present a unified voice to the public because we are under so much attack and so many people want to divide and conquer us. But if we cannot publicly debate strategy, and if we cannot publicly separate our own positions from positions that are foolish then we will not be trustworthy. Working class people will not want to join because they will think we are no different than the clowns.”

    I feel in this piece you publicly debate the strategy of the Clowns. I also feel that if working class people can’t tell us apart from some clowns….well it will be time for me to retire…
    And you follow this up with

    “Also, it seems like bad security culture not to be able to debate stuff out publicly. Tensions could just end up rising within the activist circles to the point where the state could manipulate these divisions. It is better to air out some of these disagreements in a comradely way. That being said, we need to maintain our general opposition to sectarianism, because that’s what has made the movement here so vibrant. We should have some clear expectations in terms of making critiques in a respectful and thoughtful way.”

    and…

    “Finally, public debate is a key part of the educational process I talked about earlier – it helps those engaged in the debate grow. This is a key part of preventing the kind of dogmatism that comes from never having your ideas challenged in front of other people.”

    I am confused….I seen at least 3 public debates occur within this region and know of at least three occurring next month….I may have misread that whole section but I feel like it read as if we need to do this stuff as opposed to we need to continue doing this stuff or do it more often….

    VIII THE CADRE ORG!!!!

    This section triggered something in me….maybe I am offended, I am not quite sure….I feel all of the critiques you present were given in a PUBLIC DEBATE months ago in Seattle….
    but anyways

    “Ultimately, I think we need to build a larger revolutionary network with multiple cadres with in it; that network will be healthier if these multiple cadres each offer their perspectives and suggestions for strategy, but then leave it up to the network as a whole to decide what to do.”

    How does the working class choose which cadre to join? How do you deal with cadre orgs competing to grow? What seperates the cadres? Will ones that share more affinity join and out power the lesser ones? I understand these questions can be asked of any style of organizing (formal or informal and/or communal and non communal), I am just curious to you brainstorming of your proposal…
    Another question
    how does the cadre get over the contradiction of being removed from the working class?
    I will more then likely have more questions, but I must admit my favorite part about BOC is it’s an aspiring cadre org and not quite one yet but I am curious to where the line gets drawn. What is making BOC a aspiring cadre org and not a fully functioning cadre org?

    IV ; }
    I like the idea you presented about the dinosaur sponge but this is confusing:

    “Ultimately, what we need is an anti-vanguard vanguard. We need a significant layer of the working class to take up all the things that small cadre organizations currently do, and more – but at a mass scale, not just among a small exclusive group. We need this mass layer of the working class to develop its capacity to reflect on its struggle and to lead the rest of the class, while generalizing its leadership abilities until the entire class becomes the vanguard and the concept of the vanguard becomes irrelevant. This can only happen by challenging any self-proclaimed vanguards that act like condescending saviors. Small cadre organizations are useful to the extent that they help catalyze this process, and are harmful to the extent that they hold it back.”

    What do small cadre organizations do? can you speak about local cadre orgs? What does “Generalizing it’s leadership” mean? Do you create a lowest common denominator? I feel like the best way to make the term vanguard irrelevant is to not use it in your approach to changing society except in direct opposition when it appears…

    well I finished…The above are my thoughts and questions. I am happy you wrote this, extremely frustrated but happy…

    “I hope this piece can spark the kind of comradely, transparent, public debate that I call for in it – I welcome criticisms and responses.”

    I find this a very brave act. I will support you with this.

    Peace….may the force be with you

    Nomad Red Owl

  15. As ever, this is interesting. Personally, I come from a political background where I’ve always been fairly sympathetic to cadre organisation (even if I wouldn’t necessarily use that word), and have only fairly recently re-assessed and realised that I think that, a lot of the time, cadre organisations aren’t that useful. Specifically, I think that, like you say, cadre groups are well-suited to certain tasks, like “actively interven[ing] in struggle to challenge the hegemony of reformists in the movement”. But the problem is that, after the defeats of the last three decades, a lot of us are in places where there aren’t really any social movements worthy of the name to intervene in, and in those places, it doesn’t make sense for cadre organisation to be the default form of activity. From everything I hear, it sounds like things are pretty different in Seattle, and I really respect the awesome work that people have put in to building the movement there.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is, does it make sense that my opposition to cadre organisation in the UK in 2012 and your support for cadre organisation in Seattle in 2012 are moments of the same process? Going back to your point about the dinosaur sponge, if we don’t want to set up tiny groups with “the right politics” that will then grow into the vanguard party in a revolutionary situation, does it also make sense to say that those of us living in places and times where we don’t have the kind of large revolutionary networks you talk about should concentrate on trying to build the foundations of those networks in the first place, rather than proto-cadre groups?
    To take all this back to a more practical, less abstract plane: Black Orchid are a pretty new group – do you think it’s fair to say that you wouldn’t exist, at least not in any recognisable form, without the upsurges of 2011-2? Following on from that, is it fair to say that your existence kind of confirms some “spontaneist” ideas about how the organisations we need for certain situations can and will arise out of those situations, and can’t be built outside of them? Again, I think this kind of fits in with your dinosaur sponge stuff. Do you think that, if you had been formed a few years earlier, you’d have ended up playing a role – or non-role – similar to the other older groups you talk about who stood on the sidelines?

    • Also, wow, that ended up a lot longer and more involved than I expected, since my actual initial reaction when I read this article was just “huh, do people still dress up as clowns nowadays? If I saw someone in clown paint, I’d probably be more likely to assume they were a juggalo than CIRCA.”

  16. Fray says:

    Hi foks,

    First off, apologies if comments aren’t getting approved or responded to super fast. Everyone in boc is traveling right now and we all have limited Internet access for the next few days.

    Similarly, I don’t have the time or technology to write a lengthy response, but I do wanttoweigh in on the notion of education and developing militants. I disagree with the framework that says that theory and speechifying is overemphasized. For developed revolutionaries who are trying to share our skills and perspectives and methods with new people, what we focus on depends on theindividual. Don’t tell me that Proletarians of color with no college education, who throw their heart and soul into organizing and trying to broaden and deepen struggle, that learning theory (if they want to, of course) isn’t absolutely essential. That doesn’t mean indoctrination — I get that concern because that’s what so many so-called Marxist groups do. What revolutionaries need to do instead is share the intellectual tools as broadly as possible so that proletarians have the tools to develop the theory and practice to be able to push struggle forward. Our capitalist enemies have a lot of intellectual tools at their disposal and if we dismiss theoretical development and education then we concede that to them. How will we possibly get free if we continue to let them outsmart us?

    To be clear, I agree that there’s a lot about formal education that is not beneficial for revolutionary struggle. School teaches most of us to be obedient workers, and even a liberal arts college education that is supposedly teaching critical thinking, analytical, and artistic skills (all of which are useful for revolutionaries) also are individualistic, isolating experiences geared ultimately toward maintaining or ideologically justifying capitalism. Revolutionary educational practices should not be like this. They should be geared toward sharing the tools we need in order to destroy capitalism, the state, white supremacy, and patriarchy and to create something new in their place.

    As for the inward looking tendency of cadre organization ( for the record, I’d say that boc aspires to be a cadre group rather than say that it is one), can anyone offer a reason why this form of organization has this inherent tendency? It seems to me that whether a group of political people are inward or outward in a orientation has a lot more to do with their politics, their commitments to revolution, the broader social, political, geographic etc characteristics of their environment, and, if the group is small, the personalities of individual members, rather than a consequence of their organizational form.

  17. Fray says:

    A couple brief more comments:

    I left the comment above before I had time to carefully read all the responses, so I think my comment above didn’t adequately respond to some of the really thoughtful things that folks have been saying. Katie, I really appreciate your point about the way that gendered divisions of labor have played out in your organizing projects. That’s kind of what I was getting at above: folks who do a lot of logistical etc work deserve training in giving speeches and developing theoretically. Like you, I myself really crave some solid pedagogical training.

    NomadRedOwl, you ask some really great questions and the crank in my neck is not gonna let me address them right now, but I wanna say I really appreciate your questions and comments. I think it’s interesting that you find work to be a break from the rest of your life. Now, I also have a pretty cush job but I don’t feel this way at all…do you think this is because of the way you’re able to bring the organizing you do to your workplace? I ask because sometimes workplace organizing can make jobs a lot more tolerable and meaningful. I also think that developing ways to support and encourage workplace organizing is a major way that revolutionaries can make the struggle more accessible to full time workers who can’t necessarily participate in mid-day rallies, late night parties, or epic Facebook debates.

    Nothingiseverlost, black orchid actually formed out of the worker and student struggles at university of Washington in 2009-10, but some of our founding members have been part of similar revolutionary orgs in the past. Rather than say that the group resulted from this struggle, I’d say that members of the group were able to more effectively bring our revolutionary perspectives and strategize –not only or even primarily with each other, but within a broader radical/revolutionary milieu– because of what we had already learned in our group. ( e.g., the readings we did were really useful in articulating critiques of the ISO and other social democratic strategies while our reflections on the anti-budget cuts struggle and anti-police brutality struggle helped us with strategy.)

    however, since occupy our group has nearly doubled in size, and that is clearly a result of the higher level of struggle this past year.

    Finally, I want to make the point that this piece is published under mamos’s name alone, and that’s because boc as a group did not discuss or approve it, and in fact another boc member has already publicly critiqued it. We do not require complete agreement in the group, we have no desire to feed people the “party line” and call that education. When mamos and I describe the group as an aspiring cadre group, I would hope that people who have organized with us will recognize that these and other anti-authoritarian practices are fundamental to us and not assume that we aspire to become the caricature of a cadre group that Colette describes.

  18. Ben Seattle says:

    Hi Mamos (and other readers),

    First, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful essay.
    Your essay helps me not only to understand your own thinking,
    but also the thinking of sections of your readership, which,
    at this time, includes many of the best activists in the city.
    As the movement develops, activists who want to strengthen
    its militant and independent character are learning how to
    recognize one another, and are beginning to develop a _common
    language_ that goes across the ideological taboos that have,
    traditionally, divided us.

    ============================================================
    Language and “Leninism”
    ============================================================

    I will make a side note on the use of language, since your
    thoughtful essay is directed (in part) against (what you call)
    “Leninism” and “professionalism” while I consider myself to be
    both a Leninist and a professional revolutionary.

    All language involves the use of words (and associated
    generalizations) that segregate the infinite experiences of
    life into various kinds of buckets. This is a problem we will
    always have, because we cannot think without using words (and
    generalizations) but these words (and generalizations) often
    turn out to be clumsy instruments (ie: since truth is always
    concrete, and no two phenomena are identical, there will always
    come a point where the system we use to categorize things into
    buckets breaks down and no longer corresponds to the imperative
    of life).

    I am familiar enough with your trend and milieu to understand
    what you really mean when you refer to “Leninism” and
    “professionalism”. The overwhelming majority of activists who
    describe themselves as “Leninists” are actually what I would
    call “social democrats”. This includes groups like the ISO and
    SA. Groups like this use “professionalism” (and every other
    trick in the book) in order to help the ruling bourgeoisie tame
    and liquidate the movement. (I will add that, when I speak
    this way, many activists believe I am exaggerating. I am not.
    I am simply describing, in a concise and accurate way, how our
    society works–where the ruling class is able to routinely
    “capture” and make use of groups like this, which include
    activists who have no idea that their group has been captured
    by and serves the class enemy.) These (so-called) “Leninists”
    play for the other team (ie: team imperialism) and the movement
    is correct to reject them and brand them as the flunkies of the
    ruling class that they are.

    And then, _in addition to_ the “Leninists” who are actually
    social-democrats, there are _also_ activists who I call
    “cargo-cult Leninists” who oppose social-democracy but who
    attempt to implement what you (accurately) call the delusional
    “dinosaur sponge method” of building revolutionary organization
    (ie: they have an organizational model that does not _scale_,
    that could never grow to embrace a real, living movement). These
    kinds of groups maintain their “purity” by limiting their ranks
    to those who are willing to drink their special brand of kool
    aid. My formerly close comrades in the CVO/SAIC are examples
    of this kind of “Leninist”. The movement is also correct to
    reject this kind of “Leninist professionalism” but it is
    important, at the same time, to understand the distinction
    between:

    (a) the “Leninists” who are social democrats and serve the
    class enemy and

    (b) the cargo-cult Leninists who are on _our side_ of
    the movement (ie: who work to strengthen the militant and
    independent character of the movement) but which have also
    attempted to construct a _religion_ to provide _shelter_
    from the bewildering and intimidating complexity of life.

    (Note: the impulse to create a religion to help us deal with
    the complexity of life is quite common, and no section of our
    movement has immunity from this.)

    Our use of language shapes our ability to think.

    For example, a recent essay (that was actually quite
    thoughtful) on the main local anarchist website argued
    (among other things) that anarchists should not work with
    “anti-capitalist statists” by noting that, in the past,
    this has led to “the guillotine”. The history is accurate
    (except that bullets were used, not the guillotine).

    In this case, the conclusion (ie: that activists should not
    work with groups like the ISO, SA and RCP) is correct–but
    the reasoning used (ie: because this could lead to “the
    guillotine”) is screwball and will lead to other kinds of
    errors. The ISO, SA and RCP will never be able to send
    activists to the guillotine–because these groups will split
    or _disintegrate_ as the class struggle deepens and their
    fundamental nature (ie: as cults which serve social democracy
    and the bourgeoisie) becomes more clear to ever larger numbers
    of activists.

    An example of how the reasoning (and associated language)
    used can cause errors–is that this kind of reasoning would
    mean that activists would not want to ever work with _me_
    because I have come to the conclusion that humanity will
    still need a _state_ for a period of time (probably lasting
    several decades) _beginning_ with the overthrow of the class
    rule of the bourgeoisie and extending to the point where the
    “gift economy” (ie: based on unpaid, volunteer labor and
    operating on the principle of “pay it forward” rather than
    “pay it back”) has developed the ability to create and
    distribute the overwhelming majority of the goods and services
    that everyone needs.

    Furthermore, this same reasoning (ie: that activists should
    not work with “anti-capitalist statists”) would mean that
    activists should not work with _you_ if you came to the same
    conclusion as I have concerning the need, following the
    overthrow of bourgeois rule, for a _commodity economy_ (and
    a _state_, without which a commodity economy cannot exist)
    for a period of time during which hundreds of millions of
    people gain experience as they experiment with radical new
    ways of creating and distributing goods and services. Of
    course, this is a theoretical conclusion to which you have
    not (yet) come. But you may–because this conclusion is
    based on the careful study of the material world.

    As activists, we tend to choose our words with care. We
    (from time to time) drop the use of some words and begin
    to use other words which we find are more powerful in
    helping us understand the nature of the world in which we
    struggle.

    I would like to suggest to activist readers that phrases such
    as “Leninist professional” are becoming less useful (even when
    they are used in a positive sense, as when Frank-CVO attempts
    to describe the virtues of “Leninism”). The words or phrases
    that are more powerful are those like “social democracy”
    (ie: to describe the political trend, within our movement, that
    represents the influence of our class enemy) and “political
    transparency” (ie: the principle that appears destined to
    become our most powerful weapon in building a movement with
    the ability to mobilize millions and overthrow the class rule
    of the bourgeoisie).

    ============================================================
    We need to better understand social democracy
    ============================================================

    Popularization (in an accurate and comprehensive way) of
    the term “social democracy” will help us better understand
    everything. There are only two sides in our movement:

    (a) social democracy, and

    (b) the militant, independent core.

    Everything else is a side story in one way or another.

    Let me illustrate this by making a comment about the recent
    Anaheim solidarity demo. The main problem with this (as you
    noted) was not the clowns or even the (unfortunately
    widespread) views or practices that sometimes tend to
    alienate us from ordinary people. The problem was that we
    did not have the banners or picket signs (or well-written
    leaflets) that would have made the purpose of our action
    more clear to working class people who watched it.

    Why did we lack those things? The main reason was simple:
    our movement is (still) relatively inexperienced (ie: we
    learn best about the need for banners, pickets and leaflets
    when we need them but don’t have them).

    But then we can ask–why is our movement so inexperienced?
    The class struggle has been developing in this country since
    the period following the civil war. Why do we have no
    organization with the institutional memory and practice to
    have made sure that we had banners and pickets and leaflets?

    We have had a lot of organizations in this country over the
    last 150 years. But they are all dead. We have close to
    nothing today. The only good organizations we have today are
    relatively young and local. The powerful national
    organizations we had in the past were all destroyed. And
    they were not destroyed by the police (despite numerous police
    attacks, murders, grand juries and prison terms). For the
    most part, they were destroyed by an enemy that specializes
    in hiding its nature: social democracy.

    (More on this, and other topics, as time allows …)

    Ben Seattle
    Index of work: http://struggle.net/Ben/
    Old blog: http://www.revleft.com/vb/blog.php?u=15414
    New blog: (coming soon, watch this space)

  19. Profound exclusion prevails in realities where those who have privilege to be in the city can go to protests and have somewhere to go at night. Voices of mothers are so not part of theories and dominating voice of radicalness that claims to shape what is said and done in these times. If it isn’t hierarchal white males running the show, then it is dogmatic male based philosophies that are. I am steeped in the experiences of frontline mothering that has also been witness to frontline nursing mothers of Dine defense of sacred land, Mayan defense of ancient culture and many other struggles where mothers, grandmothers and newborns take on the hired thugs of corporate rape and pillage. What those who are most saddled with the care of others must do before leaving in this warped country to go protest is not even remotely considered. I find the exclusionary dogmatism that has most influence, or seeming influence, is very clever at excluding those they do not wish to consider or bother with. How revolutionary is that? Same old male dominance in another convoluted form is nothing new. Nothing at all. Even if i do continue to struggle all too often alone to participate, you will NOT erase me or my hard earned perspective.

  20. This piece is one of the better ones to come out on BOC’s site.

    It is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and strikes a generally hopeful tone for this movement and for the anti-kkkapitalist movement in amerikkka generally.

    Now, I must ‘pee’, tremendously, on Mamos’ roaring campfire of positivity, while singing out of tune from the rest of the campers (Lol).

    A few points, in no particular order, taken from my blog, with additional comments:

    A. Who, or What, is The Vanguard Party? Many Of You Operate This Way And Don’t Even Know It. Even More of You Know You Do And Shamefully Lack A Coherent Analysis Around This Living Phenomenon And/Or Attempt To Lie About It, Even As We Watch You Work. Be Consistent! Be Honest! Be REAL!

    1. The vanguard party is an intentional organization that attracts and groups together “the vanguard”: those who are the most directly and disproportionately effected by the negative effects of global capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy, who are acutely and openly aware of this fact, and who are the most ready and willing to see this system of global capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy end in their lifetime…and are willing to DIE in the pursuit of real freedom, justice, and equality, if necessary.

    2. The vanguard party is a specific and particular instrument of struggle, a headquarters of the worldwide anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist revolution. One does not become a member by purchasing a membership card or by having someone offer them one (as is the case with Republicans, Democrats, other ‘mainstream’ imperialist parties, religious organizations, or sectarian “Marxist-Leninist” cults).

    3. Genuine revolutionary vanguard leadership means:

    Taking personal responsibility for the political and tactical direction of a particular struggle, grassroots organization, the party, and the revolution generally.

    Taking criticism and making criticism of the party and others.

    Being fair, friendly, firm, and patient with all proven allies and potential allies…and absolutely ruthless and uncompromising with all proven enemies.

    Maximizing collective democracy and the ‘hands-on’ participation of those who are the most directly and disproportionately effected by the negative effects of global capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy; both generally and in the context of a particular struggle.

    Take careful note: Far too many on BOTH sides of the ‘vanguard party’ argument fall horrifically short when it comes these ‘best practices’ for any type of activism.

    Further, if your word is NOT bond, regardless to whom or what, you’re a counter-revolutionary. Period. Over time, NO ONE will trust you, with GOOD reason. The world has more snakes than people already. Don’t be a snake.

    The majority of those who claim to be the revolutionary “vanguard” leadership in the U.S. today are NOT the real proletariat (as defined in point #1): they are the radicalized petit-bourgeois/labor aristocrat descendants of those whose current wealth as a nation was obtained by the free labor of our ancestors on the stolen land of our fellow oppressed nations in the 3rd world and internal colonies in amerikkka. Based upon the real-world implications of this fact alone, the most directly effected have every right (and in fact a duty) to sharply interrogate and criticize any and all who proclaim themselves to be “the vanguard”, “the leader of the revolution”, “the messiah”, “the madhi”, “our lord and savior”, or otherwise claim to be in sole possession of “the truth”!

    4. To be a member of the party, one must be an involved and committed activist and advocate, be active in a local grassroots organization, take part in the discussions, study groups, and internal life of the party, contribute to the financing and realization of its short-term and long-term goals of the party, including and especially the expansion of the party to the point where objectively the party and the whole of the people may be separate in name, but are in fact one and the same.

    B. It’s LESS About What You Claim, It’s MORE About What You Actually DO.

    If anarchism really (in practice) means, ” I do what I want, when I want, to whoever I want, as much as I want, without and regardless of consequences”, then it is NOT anarchism, it is a form of sociopathy.

    Likewise, if “activism” or any variant of “Marxism” means “just impose your will and ideals upon others by deception (opportunism) and/or armed force”, with zero regard for the very “workers”, “community members”, or “proletarians”, or “comrades” you claim to represent, protect, defend, have affinity with, or come from amongst, then that too is is a form of sociopathy. Both tendencies often first display themselves as a form of political zealotry (possibly as a result of religiosity) in character and practice.

    C. Organization and Ideas As Crypto-Religion is The Opium Of The Movement.

    Cultism, rooted in religiousity, is near the top of the list of rightist errors that cripple the left (including anarchists) in amerikkkka. Few want to admit they belong to a cult, let alone admit that their [formal or informal] leadership is not only fallible, but often wrong.

    If “religion is the opium of the masses (Marx)”, as in providing a cathartic effect, then the left (especially in amerikkka) is a network of opium dens serving a synthetic, watered-down version of the drug, cut with personal prejudices, trauma, drama, and hidden agendas; and promising a cure-all when all it can really do at this time is temporarily dull the pain…barely. And only for the most ardent “defenders of the faith”, regardless of whatever sect, branch, tendency, trend, tribe, crew, firm, church, mosque, temple, party, or ideology they ‘belong’ to.

    And what do we do when were ‘high’? We study our ‘scriptures’, go to fellowship, go out and proselytize to the sinners/unbelievers, and occasionally (but not often enough) go out and punish the wicked; while at the same time being called ‘heretics’, ‘heathens’, ‘sinners’, ‘unbelievers’, and ‘the wicked’ ourselves by both the established order ( the genuinely wicked themselves) and by those ‘vanguard elements’ who seek to become the new order.

    Can I get an “Amen!” or an “Allah-u-akbar!”, somebody? Lol. How about a “This is what democracy looks like!” or a “Si Se Puede!” ? Lol.

    Question: have you accepted Chairman Avakian as your ‘lord and savior’? How about Sergi Nechayev? Or primitivism? Or workers’ councils? Lol.

    Better question: do you have ideas, or do ideas HAVE you? Praying to an idea is just as much a type of ‘spook-worship’ as is praying to an invisible ‘being’ or ‘thing’ in the sky, or a rock at your feet. The Avakianoids pray to a living man; while the 57 varieties of Trotskyists pray to men (and a few women) who once lived, much like the Christians do with Christ and the various Saints.

  21. godlesshopelessliberty says:

    I think we need less posts on the internet and less psuedo-critical analysis and more face to face dialogue and more actions. We have F4E why can’t we have a weekly party or better yet spur-of-the-moment parties where we feed and commune with people. It’s seems like the Commies and the Anarchos that don’t get along just post on the internet and never talk to each-other. Even when the Anarchists and Autonomists gather there’s always cliques that never separate. How great it is to have so many people online…but no one is listening. We have all gone deaf.
    For mutual aid.
    For for total freedom.
    Death to the spectacle!

  22. Colette says:

    @godlesshopelessliberty

    Sorry, but that’s bullshit. Most of the various anarchists and communists are communicating pretty frequently. A lot of what I wrote was referencing tons of conversations I’ve had with a couple people in BoC over the past few years, including while they worked in other organizations. Actually really appreciate the conversations I’ve had with BoC folks as I feel they are stronger in some areas than other groups I am active in, including having a stronger race and gender analysis. Different groups have different strengths and weaknesses and hopefully we are cross-pollinating.

    Anyway, I’m not sure which people or circles you are referring to or in what context but there are quite a few of us who are regularly discussing, decompressing and debating this stuff, at meetings, actions and social functions for 2-4 years at least. Maybe you are referencing F4E only? Be happy to discuss in person. You probably know who I am but if not, ask around.

    However, I wholeheartedly agree there should be more face to face discussion and less facebook trolling passing as engaged debate.

    @Nomadredowl

    Really like your response. Made me wish I’d done a better job quoting specific parts and addressing those. My critique is unfair for new or recently radicalize people in that it is referencing some history and sort of insider-y knowledge as well as historical criticisms of cadre model and leninist practice.

    – “How do we determine what is “objectively reactionary”? using the science of Dialectical Materialism??? ”
    Exactly one of my problems with Marxist-Leninist perspective. Theory delusionally divorced from actual political climate or personal experience with struggle attempting to force conditions to fit into some perfect theory. Again before people jump on me, that is a broad critique of this tendency not specifically of BoC who I know have shown a commitment to being involved in lots of things locally.

    - “Leninism….my first question is why is this dude talked about so much???”
    Yeah, great fucking question. I find it massively frustrating that people I find to be so solid and who I respect a great deal seem to be pimping or attempting to resurrect that hack’s ideas. I do feel like picking and choosing ideas or lessons from different political traditions is worthwhile but I take issue with at least two of the solidly bad ones they reference, including cadre groups and the so called vanguard.

    @Fray

    I hope it was abundantly clear that my comments were about a political tendency and the cadre model more broadly, rather than specifically about BoC. My concern lies with the inevitable outcome of BoC further advocating a cadre model, stronger leadership, a vanguard, etc. Yes, that was a caricature for sure but certainly a possible future if you choose to embrace these uncritically and adopt them in any official capacity. I find nothing redeeming in the cadre model and I think that it is dangerous to attempt to redefine words or disregard history in an attempt to reinvent or resurrect this concept. My criticism (of the leninist crap not of BoC – again, I hope people are able to distinguish the difference!) is harsh for a reason, because I think it is toxic to open, autonomous organizing and organic development of both individuals and movements.

    @Mamos

    I realize I didn’t comment on quite a few things in that piece mostly because you know my opinion and/or we both know we agree. For instance, we’ve had a couple discussions about how excluded people with families can be and are both struggling to solve that in our different organizations. Obviously I agree. Also, the focus on workplace organizing and class struggle is something I would like to see more of but didn’t mention because anybody who knows me, including you, knows this. I do agree with NomadRedOwl that community building is important so if you were writing that off (which I don’t think you were), I disagree that class struggle has no place for community organizing and commune building.

    @Mamos & Fray

    I never said there was no place for political education or study. Not once. If it reads like I implied that, I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear. I am against this happening in a closed system with only certain people. The comment about a person of color desperately in need of political education (of whose theories? Lenin?) actually read as a bit patronizing, though I’m sure you didn’t mean it to sound that way.

    I take issue with the exclusive nature of the education in respect to 1) who is invited and focused on, 2) who is doing the teaching or feels they have the answers, and 3) the things being studied which if recent postings and conversations are any indication are strongly Leninist and advocating for cadres and vanguards. I think that’s a pretty fair leap to make logically.

    @BoC

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion. We obviously disagree about some things but I am always open to continuing the dialogue as much or as little as people would like.

    ~ Colette

    • Fray says:

      Just to clarify, I can see how what I wrote could be misread. Obviously it is patronizing to just go up to someone and decide/declare that “I have the truth” and that they are “desperately in need of political education”, but like you say, I didn’t mean it that way.

      I was responding to the notion that theory is over-emphasized in political/organizing relationships that have a teaching or mentorship component to them. My general thought is, yeah, if you’re mentoring a college student who will read all day but doesn’t have some basic organizing skills, then focusing on theory probably isn’t important. But if you’re working with someone who is already a skilled, consistent, and devoted organizer, who never went to college or somewhere else where one learns the kind of history and theoretical tools and skills that all of us are using right now in this debate, and who WANTS to learn that stuff, then focusing on theory is the right thing to do, and not at all patronizing.

      I agree it would be good for us all (or rather, all of us who live in the same city) to talk about this face to face. I will not be able to participate in that in the next week or so due to family issues, but I’m sure we’ll be able to discuss and debate this stuff more.

  23. Matt says:

    The revolutionary theory for the current epoch does not exist yet and will be developed through whatever revolutionary mass struggles are able to emerge. This is one of the reason why I think specific political groups are secondary to revolutionary mass “economic” or “political-economic” organizations at the current time.

    I like what nothingiseverlost said on their own blog:
    “What I don’t understand is how they got from that starting point to the conclusion that what’s needed is a “specific anarchist [or other] organisation” – a political group made up of people united by a high level of shared theoretical agreement. I think that these kinds of political groups are quite well-suited to the task of intervening in mass movements to promote their ideas, but I don’t think they’re that suited to trying to construct mass movements from scratch in a situation where there aren’t really any.”

    I think very few of those who are opposed to cadre organizing are in favour of letting informal cliques develop in their stead, and in fact attempt to actively fight against that.

    There’s a lot more to say and others have put a lot of it well already.

  24. Frank Arango says:

    Mamos, since your piece covers a large amount of territory, I’ll restrict myself to critical comments on what I think are some key issues, and pass over things I agree with or like.

    1) While you correctly stand for militant tactics, and paying special attention to the situation of national minorities and others who are super-exploited and oppressed by capitalism, I think you generally err in separating politics from scheming on how to better organize the movement overall. (And don’t get me wrong, I do think we need such scheming!) Some examples:

    a) When you write of recklessness you’re writing of a political issue: how to approach the masses in the C.D., Broadway, etc., in the conditions after the Aurora shootings. But professionalism—whether the clowns arrived on time in good uniforms, whether they engaged with all possible groups of people on the streets, etc., is a different question. Thus, I think you’re wrong to contrast recklessness to professionalism, and that we NEED professionalism!

    When Lenin wrote of building a party of professional revolutionaries his overriding concern was dealing with the political police: revolutionary groups all over the country were continually being arrested or exiled because of amateurish organizing methods. But I think professionalism can also be broadened to include groups having the technical ability to quickly produce readable leaflets; or to organize meetings that everyone knows what are about, that start on time, and are business-like (for lack of a better way of putting it); or to responsibly deal with correspondence; etc.

    Moreover, I think professionalism just as much applies to demonstrations and other political actions. For example, in my opinion the port shutdown was professionally organized: a well worked out plan; contingency plans; people delegated to constantly keep the crowd updated as to what was going on; more. In contrast to this, last October’s anti-war demonstration was amateurishly organized, with ANSWER/PSL and WCW even showing up late to the event they controlled the platform of.

    b) If our program is to organize a proletarian socialist revolution then the good name socialism has to be dragged from the mud where it’s been cast by the pseudo-socialists (revisionists). And I mean mud! The vast majority of groups in this country who call themselves socialist and Marxist-Leninist portray oppressive state capitalism as socialism; they support the squashing of mass uprisings like that in Syria by dictators; they either strive to chain the workers to the reformist politics and tactics of the trade union bureaucrats and national-minority “community leaders” arrayed around the Democratic Party…or they belittle the immediate struggles of the masses with sideline shouts that “what we really need is revolution!”; and they act as big bureaucrats in trying to enforce their politics on the rest of the movement.

    But you refuse to deal with this. To you they’re all socialists without quotation marks. Doesn’t matter if the majority of people are going to say, “if that’s socialism, you can keep it.” If I hadn’t studied Marx, Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and others, and history, I would say the same!

    “The ‘working class’ is not the stereotypical blue collar white male that socialists of the past celebrated.”

    But wait a minute, it was the liberals, social-democrats, New Leftists, and revisionists of the past who promoted that view, and it was fiercely OPPOSED by the anti-revisionist movement that developed out of the 1960s.

    And you follow the same method when dealing with Lenin and Leninism as you do with socialism: condescending Leninism is Leninism to you; Leninist organization building is “authoritarian and outdated (doesn’t matter if it’s actually being done by Stalinists, Trotskyists or other anti-Leninists);” historic “Leninist parties reproduced this dynamic – Party leaders claimed to have the correct ‘science’ that could guide the movement, and the workers in their orbit were the shock troops who would carry it out” (doesn’t matter if that was actually done by Stalinists, Trotskyists or other anti-Leninists); and you have the nerve to suggest that “Leninist parties” were responsible for the rising of the state-capitalist tyrannies in the USSR and China,” which is the line of the bourgeoisie. (You know where to look in order to see how this is not true, but you choose to ignore it.)

    Meanwhile, you contrast Leninism to “experimenting in practice and learning from successes and failures,” when the real Lenin repeatedly emphasized those very things: experiment, “investigate, study, seek, divine, grasp;” and practiced them.

    More, while (in my opinion) you correctly uphold that “public debate is a key part of the educational process,” that’s simply the style of real Leninist parties, and it was certainly the practice of Lenin himself. (“What is to be done?” is just a small pamphlet in his many volumes of articles, pamphlets and books devoted to debating controversial issues in the movement of his time, both in Russia and internationally.) Another thing about the style of Leninist parties is that Lenin many times publicly disagreed with the overall strategy when he was in the minority.

    Another simple thing is that for a hundred years Marxist-Leninist have held that the way we sum up struggles is based upon how they’ve increased the level of class consciousness and organization of the proletariat or not, and the anti-revisionist movement that came out of the 60s was schooled in this. But you present some former Sojourner Truth Organization member telling you this as some kind of revelation. Makes one wonder how much you’ve been paying attention to what anti-revisionists in Seattle have long said.

    2) I agree that networks should be expanded; but also with the realization that there will be many of them, i.e., political trends or groups that are politically closest to each other will have their independent networks while also, perhaps, being part of city-wide or larger networks. Further, that’s something which must be solved in the concrete, e.g., I’m “networked” with BOC, we both expand our networks, etc.

    But when we get to what you call cadres groups, no matter how many truly good things you or I may suggest to them regarding how they should organize and operate in the overall movement, the main thing that is going to determine those is their politics, and those politics are not all going to be the same. Indeed, in many cases those politics will act to harm the movement, and will have to be actively opposed.

    So from that standpoint I agree that “self-proclaimed vanguards that act like condescending saviors” should be “challenged,” e.g., by exposing the errors in their politics during the course of building an alternative politics and organization in the various mass movements. But this means I must disagree that what you call cadres organizations should remain small or “exclusive.” If they have good politics we should want them to unite and grow into a powerful force that can really influence and unite the working class for revolution, and we should work to help them toward that end! Jeesus, the bourgeosie has many cadres organizations it uses to politically hold down the working class, and so does the petty-bourgeoisie, e.g., the opportunists and revisionists. Taken together, this is a huge political machinery used to enforce capitalist exploitation and every immaginable kind of oppression. But we proletarians aren’t supposed to build our own political machine around our own politics and party with which to liberate ourselves at home and internationally?

    If you believe, “We need this mass layer of the working class to develop its capacity to reflect on its struggle and to lead the rest of the class, while generalizing its leadership abilities until the entire class becomes the vanguard” (AS I DO!…with the proviso below), then how is this going to come about? Do we just wait for it to spontaneously happen?

    Well, no, in the final analysis you don’t take that stand; but in my opinion you’re weak in opposing it.

    When the working class is in big motion domestically or internationally it’s often fairly easy to see which contingents are out front (in the vanguard), and that vanguard often changes. But the working class—including its vanguard—is also split between parties: bourgeois, petty-bourgois, and those speaking in the name of the working class. Even today the latter is true, e.g., handfuls of U.S. workers follow the lead of (or are members of) parties calling themselves socialist, whereas this is true for thousands or tens of thousands (or more) workers in Iran, Egypt, and numerous other countries. And if one of those parties above the others is in fact solving theoretical and organizational problems and devising and implementing tactics that are moving the class struggle forward, then it is in fact the vanguard proletarian party in that country.

    So not being one who worries over having popularity in anarchist and revisionist circles, I say we need such a party, and that we shouldn’t mince words about so, or try to find some third path! Moreover, while its actual formation is many years in the future, all the present networking, building small groups, gaining and sharing experiences in organizing struggles, theoretical study and analysis, paying attention to what others in the movement are saying and doing, etc., should be conducted in the party spirit…and we should spread that spirit!

    * My proviso is that when you say

    “We need this mass layer of the working class to develop its capacity to reflect on its struggle and to lead the rest of the class, while generalizing its leadership abilities until the entire class becomes the vanguard and the concept of the vanguard becomes irrelevant.”

    we should be clear that the concept vanguard will only become irrevant many years after the proletarian seizure of power.

    Indeed, insofar as socialist theory in concerned, the primary lesson of the 20th Century is that not only are classes and class struggle (hence, politics) going to continue during the transitional era between proletarian seizure of power and the achievment of communism, and not only is this struggle going to be against the old bourgeoisie, but that it must also be against a new bourgeoisie that will inevitably arise based on private interests in enterprises and institutions. (You just can’t get away from this. It’s going to take time to overcome the difference between mental and manual labor; richer and poorer industries, enterprises, or collectives; money; scarcities; and the brutal marks left upon personalities by capitalist society.) Thus, the class will continue to have a vanguard, and there will remain need for a vanguard party. But with victory, the elimination of classes, both will have become irrelevant: historical curiosites.

  25. Frank Arango says:

    Briefly on an issue not central to the discussion:

    Ben Seattle says that it’s correct that “activists should not work with groups like the ISO, SA and RCP,” but if he really means this (which I tend to think he doesn’t) it would be sectarian. For example, these groups are often heavily involved in organizing various struggles or events (e.g.., the O-22 marches), and advancing the interests of the overall movement often requires that we in various ways collaborate with them.

  26. Ben Seattle says:

    Hi Frank (and readers)

    Frank is correct, of course, that there will always be
    instances where we work with all kinds of groups (including
    both open and disguised social democrats) in various ways.

    The issue here is context. The Puget Sound Anarchist
    web site article I was describing talked about a closer
    kind of work than the typical “united front” horsetrading
    coalition involved in the O-22 march. The article was
    describing a real investment of your time and energy with
    organizations like the ISO, SA or RCP that “play for the
    other team” (ie: are social democrats who work to pacify
    the movement) or have become irrelevant cults without real
    commitment to developing an independent movement. The
    issue is that we must make the decision on which activists
    and organizations are deserving of our time on a deeper
    basis than the “ism” (ie: leninISM, trotskyISM, socialISM,
    statISM, authoritarianISM, anarchISM, whateverISM) that is
    often used (ie: in a superficial way) to describe a group.

    Our movement has a fault line, with social democracy on
    one side and militance and independence on the other side.
    All other distinctions are minor compared to this one.

  27. davidA. says:

    http://signalfire.org/?p=20110

    a response to you clowns.

    “The Party must be, first of all, the advanced detachment of the working class. The Party must absorb all the best elements of the working class, their experience, their revolutionary spirit, their selfless devotion to the cause of the proletariat.

    But in order that it may really be the armed detachment, the Party must be armed with revolutionary theory, with a knowledge of the laws of the movement, with a knowledge of the laws of revolution. Without this it will be incapable of directing the struggle of the proletariat, of leading the proletariat.

    The Party cannot be a real party if it limits itself to registering what the masses of the working class feel and think, if it drags at the tail of the spontaneous movement, if it is unable to overcome the inertia and the political indifference of the spontaneous movement, if it is unable to rise above the momentary interests of the proletariat, if it is unable to raise the masses to the level of understanding the class interests of the proletariat.”
    -Stalin

    Black Orchid Collective’s recent piece “Between the Leninists and the Clowns: Avoiding recklessness and professionalism in revolutionary struggle” highlights the disingenuous inconsistency of the entire workerist and movementist tendency it originates from.
    It asserts the necessity of construction of cadre organizations as an alternative to the swamp of amorphous informality while denying the centrality of the party form to the effective constitution of the class as a revolutionary subject.

    The small and fragmented cadre collectives are advised to remain as such-abandoning the perspective of developing into the strategic nerve center of the diverse movements of the proletariat and popular masses-integrating the spontaneous activity of the masses into a single coherent strategy for the imposition of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the political superstructure required for the transitional process of abolition of capitalist production relations.

    Instead they are advised to tail the spontaneous activity of the masses:
    “The vanguard is simply whatever layer of the working class is moving fastest toward revolution at any given time – for example, a significant section of the Black working class acted like a vanguard during the 1960s. A small cadre group may aim to become one small part of a much larger vanguard- but it can only do that by advocating for, supporting, merging with, and defending the autonomy of broad working class revolutionary self-activity. In other words, it can only do this through generalized insurrection. Any attempt to control this self-activity will either kill the self-activity – or, much more hopefully, will kill the parasitic cadre organization, or make it as irrelevant as a dinosaur.”

    The identification of whatever element of the masses is developing the leading edge of practices of confrontation with the vanguard is an economist deviation which denies the centrality of political line and strategic centralization and coordination.

    The Party is the coalescence of the most advanced and conscious elements of the class and the masses-it is not a parasitic excrescence of the self-activity of the working class but the cohesion of this activity into a subject capable of coherently developing a strategic process.
    “We need a significant layer of the working class to take up all the things that small cadre organizations currently do, and more but at a mass scale, not just among a small exclusive group.”

    This is precisely the development of the hegemony of a revolutionary political line among the masses-the merger of the concentrated experience of the class struggle of the proletariat with the activity of the class on a broad scale.
    What is this if not the application of the mass line? The integration of a revolutionary line with the activity of the masses is precisely what can be seen with the people’s wars developing in India and the Philippines in the experience of the Chinese revolution and the Peruvian communist party.

    The cohesion of a “significant layer” of the working class and the masses around the development of a revolutionary process requires and involves inherently the emergence of an advance detachment from the masses and out of the experience of the mass struggles and organization of this advance detachment as a party around the communist program and the articulation of a strategic line for the implementation of this program.

    BOC’s article attempts to obscure this through the regurgitation of the classic anti-communist line of the international communist movement as an elitist conspiracy of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia employing the workers as cannon fodder.

    The metal worker and poor peasant cadre of the Russian and Chinese revolutionary movements would have been surprised by such a simplistic and misleading smear against the largest and most effective popular movements in history.

    We are compelled to ask what is in fact “outdated”?
    The living tradition of MLM which generated the first successful proletarian seizure of power in history, which organized a mass movement of unprecedented size against the transformation of the proletarian dictatorship into its opposite and carried out the most comprehensive critique in practice of the division between mental and manual labor which the comrades of BOC justly pinpoint as problematic or the sectarian workerists like Draper and James whose idolization of the spontaneity of the masses has never contributed significantly to any actually mass revolutionary movements?

    One may also wonder if the first worker’s state in history which developed a non-market economy in the midst of imperialist encirclement, provided the most comprehensive social guarantees in the world at the time and was a beacon of inspiration to anti-imperialist struggles globally was an “authoritarian nightmare” perhaps another such “nightmare” on an even more extensive scale is precisely what we need.

    We also note in passing and without the least surprise that the opportunistic “post-Maoists” of the Kasama affiliate Red Spark have reposted this unabashed liquadationism without substantive comment.

  28. conatz says:

    Yo, I put this up on libcom: http://libcom.org/library/between-leninists-clowns-avoiding-recklessness-professionalism-revolutionary-struggle

    I don’t have a whole lot to say on the particulars of what the situation of various movements are in Seattle. Sounds like there’s a lot going on that would create the need to think about quite a bit, including how BOC relates to them or how others do as well.

    I also don’t have much to say about the seemingly neverending quest for formal political organizations trying to find the correct (or correct as possible) way of structuring their formal political organization. That’s a conversation that I’m exhausted on and now see as pretty much just for those who find use in those sorts of formations.

    But there are a couple points I wanted to raise.

    It seems there’s quite a few people who are understandably confused or turned off by BOC’s eclectic politics. This has expressed itself publicly with the ISO attacking them as ‘ultraleft’ and anonymous anarchos labeling them authoritarian Marxist-Leninists. Privately, it seems this is the first and most common thing said about them, followed by ‘What they write is really interesting.’

    Sometimes BOC confuses me, but its worth remembering the traditions they come out of. The Johnson-Forest Tendency and STO both had similar mixtures of politics people normally ascribe to Leninism, Maoism, Trotskyism, libertarian socialism and/or left communism. With STO you could also throw in anarchism and Wobblyism, too. This is sort of a 60s-70s U.S. thing that you might not understand if you’re younger and/or are not from the States.

    For example, there is a very real tendency of BOC to often relate things back to parts of Lenin that they like, and then use that to back up their opinions of what organization is neccesary. That’s fine, obviously some members of BOC came out of or were influenced by Lenin and they try to make sense of things by looking to something they’re familiar with. Italian operaismo/autonomia, JFT and STO did the same.

    But I think it kind of gets in the way of things and make stuff they’re advocating more about people and traditions rather than actual ideas and action. Some of the stuff in this piece that they say ‘That’s the parts of Leninism we like’ or ‘That’s pretty much cadre organization’ are things I first encountered in columns by IWW members talking about workplace organizing like ‘Replace Yourself’ or in the Organizer Training 101 that we do. However, none of this is in justification for cadre political organizations, but for revolutionary industrial unionism. So, in reality, these things can be used to justify multiple forms of organization, the thing they have in common is that we see them as building working class leaders and self-activity…that’s the first thing we should look at to see if what we advocate encourages, not the specific organizational structure we see as vital.

  29. Fray says:

    Thanks all for the replies. I want to reiterate that this piece was not written by BOC and does not represent a BOC position; it was written by one member.

    For what it’s worth, I too wonder what all the fuss about Lenin is. I’ve only read What Is to be Done, and while I thought there were some useful ideas in there, it mostly came off to me as an example of persuasion by repetition and belittling one’s opponents. I’m not opposed to studying Lenin and taking aspects of his method that we think are useful. I also think we should do that with a lot of other historical revolutionaries and organizations that we have as examples. We need to do this in such a way that we’re synthesizing what we learn so that our methods are consistent and make sense. Some might still accuse me of eclecticism, but I can think of worse things to be called. It’s pretty clear to me that much about organizational forms and practice are still open questions, and I see no reason why drawing on multiple traditions — again, as long as care is taken to synthesize the theory and practice so that it’s self-consistent — would be harmful and not helpful.

    I appreciate the spirit of Matt’s comment about theory being developed right now. And it was in a similar spirit to Conatz’s reply that I took this essay — Mamos’s main stated goals are set of practices that they think are important for revolutionaries to take up, primarily around helping newer, less experienced revolutionaries and militants develop theoretically, as organizers and agitators, and as people with the social and emotional capacity to handle this work. Mamos puts forth the thesis that cadtre organization is necessary to do this, but obviously this isn’t some eternal Truth — it’s a hypothesis of sorts. For those of us who agree — or who at least are interested in testing the hypothesis — we should work to show that cadre organization can do this in practice and keep that healthy outward orientation and not get cultish. For those who oppose it, they should either explain/show why the goals themselves are incorrect or show why other organizational forms can also meet those goals, in which case we’ll be happy to acknowledge we were wrong.

    Back to Conatz’s point, I think that the IWW’s practices are really good for developing the organizing skills and confidence of workers in their own shops, but I haven’t seen if/how that can extend beyond the shopfloor and am interested to know your thoughts. How can the IWW’s practice reach unemployed folks, temp workers, housewives, etc? How can it train folks to not just do the slow, patient base-building work (which I think is important) but to also recognize, participate, and intervene in moments of mass upsurge? Or do you not consider those important things to teach new people? I’m not writing this as a challenge, genuinely interested in your thoughts. I’m also not saying that BOC has perfected the methods for this type of education, but we are very much interested in learning and developing pedagogy around that, which is part of why I’m quite curious to know what you think.

    @DavidA: addressing us as “you clowns” is heading towards violating our house rules. Please respect everyone here and keep a comradely tone in your responses.

  30. Jeremy says:

    I really appreciate this piece and the discussion it’s generated.

    As a revolutionary-minded person with tremendous family responsibilities, I’m so very eager for new formations that would allow me to participate and stay informed without having to make the rounds to a dozen informal gatherings. Have there been efforts to call for a new type of GAs? That seems like it could do the trick, no?

    Also, as someone who has been lost in teacher-education land for the last year, and who has missed almost all of the incredible activity that’s blossomed in Seattle in that time, I’ve been really struggling with how to get back into the swing of things. This is why I’m especially interested in Mamos’ exploration of educational possibilities. I think there’s a lot of potential for a vibrant network of grassroots educational and debate projects in Seattle, and the initiatives that have already started seem quite promising.

    I also really like the discussion of how differently education and “being educated” can look. While I’m mostly self educated around political stuff, over time I have now formally gotten myself to the master’s degree level, and I certainly see how that kind of education can be as much of a hindrance as a help in building anti-authoritarian spaces for education. However–and I’m actually working on a piece about this now–in teacher school I feel like I did learn a ton about how to more effectively facilitate student-centered learning, and I would love to contribute to sharing some tips and practices that I think could be useful to the movement. Teaching isn’t all about capitalist indoctrination and control of students, it turns out.

    Honestly, I think our energy is much better spent there, on building an ecosystem of revolutionary educational projects, than in the efforts and debates of cadre work. When we boil things down, I see cadre groups doing three main things:

    1) Building and promoting a unified political analysis, vision, and strategy
    2) Developing the skills of their members
    3) Intervening in struggles in ways that are specifically designed to forward the groups’ strategies

    I believe that all three of these things can happen in ways that aren’t tied to a cadre organization or fixed affinity group model…but it requires us letting go of the fixation on having to do these things all in one group. We can meet these needs with different formations, with different life spans.

    Both skill and theoretical development can be an open process that happens within a network of educational projects…no cadre group needs to own it. Sure, cadre groups ensure a certain stability, intimacy, and quality control in their educational work…but there’s no reason that can’t happen with initiatives that are open to all. For example, cadre groups often form because they don’t want to be stuck in theory 101 for every single conversation. Well, you can also form study groups or workshops that have suggested prior experiences with certain theories or skills. You can also post your expected prior assumptions/agreements as part of the announcement for each study group or workshop.

    As for strategic interventions in struggles, these can happen using case-specific formations that have clear, detailed points of unity. Given a specific situation, people join up based on their agreement with the points of unity for that particular struggle, and if conditions or struggles change, new opportunities for new formations emerge. This way, even if people aren’t all on the same page with every last 100-year-revolutionary-plan detail, they still get to organize together in close quarters around immediately agreed upon strategic and tactical objectives. After all, the specific, unique theoretical issues that cadre orgs tend to close themselves around usually don’t even apply to 95% of actual struggle situations, so why limit the concrete organizing work to those parameters?

    While there is a place for permanent formations with memberships and such, I don’t think that place is for tactical/strategic intervention. I think we should save our work building permanent formations for neighborhood work, workplace work, and alternative institution building. That’s where our long-term group building energy should go, in my view….not toward cadre organizations.

    Thanks again for all the food for thought, everyone.

  31. Frank Arango says:

    Throughout their history, the proletariat and oppressed masses have time and again spontaneously risen in mass struggles and self organized. Marxist-Leninist and other revolutionaries encourage such self-organization, of course. But we don’t endlessly chew the cud over the need for it, much less fawn upon it, and pose it against the specific tasks of class-conscious revolutionaries. That’s what the economists of Lenin’s time did, and still do today. Moreover, one of the most attractive things to me about Lenin’s “What is to be done?” is its standpoint that it was the backwardness of the self-identified revolutionaries that was the problem, not the spontaneous activity of the working class at the time.

    And we continue to have plenty of the same backwardnes displayed in this thread written by self-identified revolutionaries, e.g., Matt’s proclamation that

    “The revolutionary theory for the current epoch does not exist yet and will be developed through whatever revolutionary mass struggles are able to emerge. This is one of the reason why I think specific political groups are secondary to revolutionary mass ‘economic’ or ‘political-economic’ organizations at the current time.”

    Well, it’s one thing to say that revolutionary theory must be constantly enriched and advanced through application to the mass movements of our time—and indeed, it has been the work of many generations of scientific socialist organizers that has given us the great store of revolutionary theory we presently have. But Matt’s talk of no theory existing is a call for reinventing the wheel, or better, inventing a wheel he likes better. More, it’s a step backward from even the old economists, who at least SAID their theory was Marxist. And his theory that revolutionary theory “will be developed through whatever revolutionary mass struggles are able to emerge” is the kind of economist, tailist/bowing-to-spontaneous-development/belittlement-of-the-specific-tasks-of-revolutionaries theorizing that Lenin attacked more than a century ago.

    Sad.

  32. Frank Arango says:

    Sneakingly promoting the theory that “great men” make history, shortly after Lenin’s death, J.V. Stalin began a campaign to glorify Lenin which he soon used to glorify himself, i.e., the infamous cult of the personality of Stalin. During the 1920s such bourgeois political theories and methods swamped the party as it came up against intractable problems in mobilizing the majority-peasant masses to effect the transition to socialism. And within a short time the once-revolutionary CPSU(B) gave up the proletarian class struggle to become the political representative of a new, state-capitalist bourgeoisie. That’s the economic basis upon which the repressive apparatus today known as Stalinist tyranny was constructed.

    But DavidA begins his piece by quoting from Stalin’s April 1924 “Foundations of Leninism” about the proletarian party as if that were the last word on the subject because Stalin said it. I happen to think that the quotation has some nice passages, e.g., that “the party must be armed with revolutionary theory” (which I think is decisive), but I also think there’s something bureaucratic peeking through when Stalin talks of “directing the struggle of the proletariat, of leading the proletariat.” Why doesn’t he just say “lead?” (Also, for DavidA and anyone else interested, in this same work Stalin tears the heart out of the Leninist stand on the colonial question by separating anti-imperialism from the class struggle–with a very revolutionary phraseology, which is often the method of revisionists. For more on that see http://communistvoice.org29cEmir.html.)

    I’ll return to DavidA’s promotion of Stalin in just a minute.

    In my first comment I said I thought Mamos generally erred by separating politics from his ideas about how to better organize the movement, including organizing what he calls cadres groups. And I later took Matt to task for saying the revolutionary theory for the current epoch does not yet exist: it will be developed through whatever revolutionary mass struggles are able to emerge.

    But it should be obvious to all that Matt’s practice in various struggles is certainly premised on theories he already has, as is BOC’s practice. More, he and his comrades have not been waiting for revolutionary mass struggles to emerge in order to develop their theory either. No, at least some of them have read things from Rosa Luxemburg, Nelson Peery, the Johnson-Forrest Tendency, STO and others who are often anti-Leninists in order to take and apply theories from them. Now those may be an eclectic mish-mash of theories that aren’t too helpful (or helpful at all), but Matt holds them and fights for them. And in this thread he fights for the line that in the current epoch we don’t yet have a revolutionary theory, which obviously means that Matt doesn’t have a revolutionary theory either.

    Matt’s a good guy, and I’m not going to let him off that easily, however.

    The “current epoch,” which began around the beginning of the last century, remains the epoch of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. The old colonial system may be 99.5% gone, but all the basic features of imperialism outlined by Lenin and others remain in full force. http://communistvoice.org/38cImperialism.html. And while the first major proletarian revolution was ultimately defeated, millions of workers globally have continued to see the necessity for new attempts simply because that fact is materially grounded, as Marxism-Leninism shows. It’s not some utopian dream of petty-bourgeois do-gooders. Moreover, even though the class-conscious bourgeoisie proclaims “there is no alternative!,” in its heart of hearts it knows there is an alternative. That’s why it shouts “there is no alternative” so much…while at the same time it builds huge police state appartuses in every region of the world in order to seek out and crush the revolutionary shoots that are constantly growing up.

    But Mamos actually fortifies the bourgeoisie’s there-is-no-alternative propaganda by failing to distinguish between repressive state-capitalist tyranny (which only some kind of demoralized lesser-evilist or would-be bureaucrat could possibly want) and a society ruled by a liberated working class that is effecting a transition to socialism.

    And DavidA does the same!

    He starts with a quote from Stalin, but never gives a hint that Stalin went on to lead in building a state-capitalist system that was a nightmare for the working class, and which discredited revolutionary socialism everywhere. The implication is that we uphold Stalinist tyranny as socialism—what an alternative! More, DavidA blurts out that the first worker’s state in history “developed a non-market economy,” but he doesn’t tell us that under the veneer of planning anarchy of production wreaked havoc in that economy, the law of value still took its revenge (which led to“grey” and black markets), and rather than controlling it the workers were again reduced to being wage slaves. Really something to be fighting for, that! (For those interested in these subjects, see http://communistvoice.org/12cSovAnarchy.html and http://communistvoice.org/18cPreo2.html.)

    And DavidA goes on to extoll Maoism, even claiming that MLM generated the first successful proletarian seizure of power in history…which is some feat since in 1917 Mao was 24 years old and looking for a job as a school teacher, the CCP wasn’t founded until 1921, and Mao and Mao Tse-tung Thought only gained predominance in the CCP in the mid-1930s.

    True, Mao and the CCP successfully mobilized the masses for a great revolution under the banner of socialism, but beneath their phraseology was an utopian, petty-bourgeois (peasant) outlook that sought—after 1949—to march hand in hand with the “good and patriotic” national bourgeoisie all the way to socialism. (Ludicrous.) More, in the anti-Marxist-Leninist fashion of Stalin and Trotsky, Mao simply equated the nationalized sectors of the economy with socialism, while in fact building a state-capitalist system. (About 1/2 way through, starting with the paragraph that begins, “In 1949 the CPC achieved power but there was no way it could have immediately organized socialist production…”, check this out for more: http://communistvoice.org/AMaoPPW00Dec.html#PPW.)

    But by the 60s factional disagreements among the revisionist leaders on how to build such a system had sharpened, while mass discontent with the system had also risen. Mao and his faction called the masses into the streets to topple their factional rivals during the GPCR, but within less than two years they were working overtime to defend 99.9% of the old bureacracy, and to suppress the masses who’d seized the opportunity to begin fighting for their independent demands. See http://communistvoice.org/20cChinaLeft.html for more.
    Moreover, the question of Maoism has definite relevancy to the question of forming new cadres groups in Seattle, and to conducting all our work with a proletarian party building spirit: that is, what are their politics going to be? Or, as DavidA would put it, centrality of political line is key or determinant.
    But Maoism is notorious for sacrificing the interests of the working class in order to form alliances with sections of the bourgeoisie. Thus, in the poorer and more imperialistically oppressed countries it has repeatedly prettified sections of the national bourgeoisie in order to accomplish this—and, as in the Philippines, often quite reactionary sections. And in the imperialist countries it has worked against proletarian independence in seeking to make alliances with sections of the liberals, with RCP’s NION and WCW projects this century being prime examples.
    In the name of opposing economism, RCP abandoned work-place organizing in the early 80s. But what it should have actually said was that figuring out revolutionary tactics to use in the workplaces was too much for it, and that it was going to reproduce economism on a higher scale: leave the workers’ economic struggles under the thumbs of the trade union bureaucrats; unite with the liberals ala NION and WCW for mass politics.
    Sure, RCP still sells Revolution, but that’s from angle of sect building, the proof of which is that RCP disdains patient, detailed tactical work to move the mass movements and struggles that repeatedly arise in a revolutionary direction step by step. It really doesn’t think that’s possible. So it relies on scare tactics: “If we don’t meet [racial profiling, police brutality and murder] with determined, mass resistance, the masses will be ground down so far, they’ll never be able to do anything about all they do to us” (remember WCW’s scare talk about how Christian fascism was going to be your worse nightmare meeting your worse nightmare if you didn’t join their anti-Bush campaign?); “you have to be part of making this happen!…These actions MUST involve the active participation of thousands and thousands of people.” And like the Stalinist and Maoist revisionists of yesteryear, the RCP resorts to the bourgeois method of father-figure building with its hoseannas to Chairman Bob.

  33. Frank Arango says:

    Colette, since I think you lay out views which are the concentrated expression of one side of this discussion, I’ll directly address a few things you raise with the hope that this will give food for thought to everyone still paying attention.

    You want an insurrection in your lifetime (if possible), and you speak favorably of an “actual armed uprising.” But at the same time you say you’re opposed to all authority, which you CAN’T BE if you stand for a proletarian revolution. After all, an armed uprising is an attempt by one part of society, the oppressed, to impose its will upon the oppressors through violence and other most authoritarian means!

    Taking up another issue you raise, an armed uprising is a struggle for power. Most fundamentally, the choice is either the collective political power of the bourgeoisie that we presently have, or the collective political power of the proletariat and other oppressed people united around it who must hold down the exploiters they’ve just overthrown as well as prevent new exploiters from gaining power as they effect the transition to communist society and the end of politics. Thus, in the real world of classes and the struggle between them, such a revolutionary power means there’s going to be coercion.

    But you say “the only power [you're] interested in is collective power formed by those affected by whatever common condition in a non-coercive, flexible and decentralized way,” which seems to leave out the class struggle, i.e., who is the power directed against? what is its aim? And, as a matter of fact, I think there are anarchists who seek to avoid the class struggle by trying to perfect groups that plant gardens, build communes, etc. But if you’re talking about even such a simple thing as a strike, coercion is often necessarily used against scabs.

    And insofar as decentralization is concerned, to actually defeat the armed forces of the bourgeoisie, centralization—the closing of the fingers into a fist—is needed to deal with wiping out its large enemy units or bases. Thus, even though the present uprising in Syria, for example, is a movement for democratic liberalization and not a revolution, it has had to achieve coordination through centralization in order to attack airbases in recent days, while at the same time maintaining footholds in Damascus and Aleppo. Even moving armed fighters and supplies into Damascus and Aleppo themselves required a good deal of coordination achieved through centralization, however bourgeois in this case it was.

    —–
    Moving to where we now are, I think the task is to raise a proletarian political army—an on-going task that is going to stretch far into the future. This requires mountains of mass work (agitation and propaganda) during the course of the struggles that periodically break out, and it requires devoting lots of attention to tactics for moving the mass consciousness and organization forward step by step—which requires lots of study of/learning from the movements through participation in them. Moreover, we have to deal with the theoretical crisis on the left, which is very real, and is a task in its own right.*

    This requires starting from where we are in building organization, of course; and you place yourself in the camp of those wishing there was more organization. But at the same time you’re opposed to what’s called “cadres groups” in this thread (or even just called “cadres”), and you impute various things that are supposedly inherent about such groups. So I would like to say a couple things about that.

    First of all, I find the terminology rather strange because all that seems to be being talked about are organized revolutionary—or not so revolutionary—groups that are determined to do political work on a sustained basis, i.e., they’re not some kind of episodic action groups. Aren’t there anarchist groups who have a certain level of political unity; who study anarchist writings; who sometimes work out agitation and plans of action and hash out agreement on what they think is correct to say or do in various movements or struggles, etc.? They may have a higher or lower degree of ideological unity; they may be tightly organized or more loosely organized; but it seems to me that’s all a so-called “cadres group” is, and it’s not very frightening.

    Secondly, it’s the class standpoint and POLITICS of a group that is going to determine who it is going to appeal to among the masses, and how; what its attitude toward the masses of people is; as well as its internal structure, relations between members, whether it pays special attention to raising the literacy or technical skills of members (and those around it) who suffer the effects of racial or sexual discrimination, whether childcare is left as the responsibility of women only, and other issues raised in Mamos’ piece. (BTW, I think somewhere above—maybe not in the piece—having a college education is really over-rated. Most often one is schooled in elitism and a non-class outlook, and I think teachers’ colleges train one in how to slough over contradictions…no? Thus, having a college education is often something that must be OVERCOME!)

    But Colette, you ignore politics in order to rail against “cadres groups” in the abstract, and none of it stands up:

    You say “mostly college educated middle class white people”… “joins cadres and study groups,” when for over a century in just this country many, many “cadres groups” and study groups have been formed by national minorities on their own, and they’ve also been part of many multi-national political groups, often forming the most proletarian core of them. Also, it’s a historical fact that in this country and globally there have often been parties (cadres groups) composed mostly of working-class people, and they often adopted policies to ensure they were. However, their class composition didn’t prevent many from abandoning revolutionism for reformism.

    You then say if national minorities are in a group it doesn’t matter because of the “inherently oppressive dynamic of such formations which rely on the expertise of academics past and present, the vast majority of whom are white men of bourgeois privilege and education with little real life understanding of struggle.”

    Well, there may be groups who have that dynamic, and relying on academics for “expertise”—no matter what their skin color—would certainly be oppressive. But there’s nothing that says if you form a revolutionary group it’s inherently going to be that way…or have those dynamics. Indeed, while the group I belong to is based on Marxism-Leninism, we’ve on our own developed a whole body of theory on many questions through study and summing up our own practice as well as the practice of the masses in many struggles (currently and historically). In other words, we’ve relied on OURSELVES and the class struggle, which also happens to be what Marxism-Leninism teaches.

    You curse “the way people outside the cadre are viewed and treated, even processed to test how ready or receptive they are to these amazing new ideas (sarcasm) that said geniuses have come up with and how useful each person may or may not be in furthering the aims that these self-appointed revolution experts have come up with.”

    But again, how the group viewed and treated the masses of people would depend on its class standpoint and politics. Moreover, if you’re going to be a revolutionary rather than a dogmatist and conservative, the continually developing world requires continually developing analyses: “new ideas.” That’s the basis for the group’s political line, it’s tactics and agitation. Furthermore, an organized group—especially a large one that stresses the need for scientific analysis of world developments and of the on-going class struggle—is more capable of coming up with such analyses than an individual is. The issue is whether the analysis is correct.

    You contrast “cadres groups” to “direct experience and participation with struggle in your own life fought by you (and hopefully your friends, coworkers, other tenants or busriders or farmers or rape survivors etc alongside you)…”

    Geez, even members of the most petty-bourgeois and opportunist political groups often have those things to varying extents; and if it’s a group of proletarian revolutionaries its individual members are going to have much more direct experiences with harsher infamies of capitalism and personally fighting back against them. Members of disciplined revolutionary groups don’t come from the moon! But the entire reason for forming a revolutionary political group in the first place is to help organize the only effective struggle, collective struggle of the workers and other oppressed people.

    So your contrast doesn’t hold up. And, overall, I would suggest your attack on “cadres groups” is conservative. You want more organization in the movement, yet you don’t seriously consider the fact that “cadres groups” can play an important and sometimes decisive role in bringing that about. But whether that better organization is around more revolutionary politics or reformist politics depends upon the politics of the groups involved, as well as the objective conditions.

    —–
    This theoretical crisis on the left comes up on the most elementary questions, even the fight for democratic rights. Some examples:

    even though they should have been talking about anti-imperialist struggles since there are barely any colonies left, the speakers at the anti-capitalist smack down either outright opposed supporting anti-colonial struggles, a democratic struggle, or they displayed a lot of confusion in giving what seemed to be half-hearted support to them;

    while there are Syrian anarchists (probably a small number) who have taken up arms to fight alongside the other democratic insurgents against the murderous Assad tyranny, many anarchist in this country are silent when it comes to supporting them, while others oppose them;

    while Marxism-Leninism and common sense teach that winning freedom from tyrannies like those of North Africa and the Middle East gives the workers and poor better conditions under which to organize for their immediate interests as well as for their ultimate class liberation, the revisionist (pseudo-Marxist) parties have supported the likes of Qadaffi and Assad in their battles to crush the democratic uprisings. In fact, in Syria there are reportedly three revisionist parties which have given support to the bloody Ba’athist dictatorship.

    Meanwhile, in December the Kazakhstan authorities massacred 17 people and wounded 100 or more during a major strike of oil workers around Janaozen. But rather than condemn this, the revisionist “Communist” Party of Ukraine supported the gunning down of the worker protestors. (These scoundrels also attack the Russian protests against Putin.)

    And that’s not the only graphic example of the revisionists being on the side of our class enemy. The treasonous ANC/COSATU-allied South African “Communist” Party has worked to defend the shooting down of 34 miners, mostly in the back, at the notorious Marikana mine massacre.

    Thus, the struggle against revisionism is not some abstract, academic fight at all. It’s very much a question of which side are you on in the class struggle, and often life or death. Additionally, there can be no winning struggle for Marxism without an open and bitter fight against revisionism (including Trotskyism) that has mass involvement, and which most often revolves around theoretical questions, not just tactical ones. Silence about this issue, abstention from it, publicly pretending that everyone is a socialist or Leninist just because they claim to be a la Mamos, strengthens the hand of the revisionists, and behind them, strengthens the hand of the ruling class.

    So I would like to very firmly say to my Marxist friends (or would-be Marxist friends) on this page that they’re doing something harmful to the movement by sloughing over the question of revisionism. It’s going to come to no good in their mass work, and it’s going to undermine their efforts to build a group that’s truly revolutionary and non-sectarian.

  34. SDS says:

    Great essay mamos!

    Also, I liked the comments from everyone. However, reading some of the more critical comments from people claiming to be anarchists reminded me of what Bakunin had to say about revolutionary organization.

    Bakunin was a complicated figure and often contradictory. For instance, Bakunin was enthralled by the conspiratorialism of Philippe Buonarroti (who in turn was the main influence on the August Blanqui), but revolutionaries can obviously learn a lot from him and his works. So I wanted to provide a quote from a pamphlet on Bakunin by a British Anarchist-communist organization. This is from “Basic Bakunin” :

    “Bakunin then, saw revolutionary organization in terms of offering assistance to the revolution, not as a substitute. It is in this context that we should interpret Bakunin’s call for a “secret revolutionary vanguard” and “invisible dictatorship” of that vanguard. The vanguard it should be said, has nothing in common with that of the Leninist model which seeks actual, direct leadership over the working class… The vanguard was, however, to influence the revolutionary movement on an informal basis, relying on the talents of it’s members to achieve results….The vanguard would act as a catalyst to the working classes’ own revolutionary activity and was expected to fully immerse itself in the movement. Bakunin’s vanguard then, was concerned with education and propaganda, and…was not to be a body separate from the class, but an active agent within it.”

    So my question is: do people think that the Bakuninist conception of a revolutionary organization is at all similar to BOC’s idea of a cadre group? Leaving aside the issue of secrecy or “invisibility” that Bakunin always insisted on.

    here is the full text for those who want to read it http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/bakunin/sp001862.html

  35. Frank Arango says:

    Only BOC comrades can really answer SDS’ question, but I would offer some thoughts that might be pertinent.

    1) Again, organization is being discussed pretty abstractly, i.e., separated from politics. But I’ve probably said enough about that above.

    2) “revolutionary organization in terms of offering assistance to the revolution, not as a substitute…relying on the talents of it’s members to achieve results…[an organization that] was expected to fully immerse itself in the movement…was concerned with education and propaganda, and was not to be a body separate from the class, but an active agent within it.”

    Actually, genuine Marxist-Leninists struggle to build organization of that type; and they seek to influence the revolutionary movement through scientific analysis and convincing argument, and through devising or popularizing TACTICS that help the masses learn the nature of various political forces as well as helping them to achieve concrete victories. And they employ their organization (a quite formal thing that they want to be as widely known as possible, with its program and tactics as widely known as possible) as a political instrument for doing this.

    So it seems strange (to the point of being incomprehensible) to speak of influencing the revolutionary movement on an “informal basis.” If all that meant were that you have to oppose bureaucracy, manipulation, and so on, those methods are the opposite of politically influencing anyway. Moreover, how can there be leadership that is not actual and direct?

    Bakunin had an answer that was certainly contradictory: a super-elitist leadership by an secret organization that operated behind the scenes, and was accountable to no one besides itself. And, according to Bakunin, this secret organization would go on “direct(ing) popular movements” even after “the state and with it all forms of social and political organization had been demolished!”

    Although some readers here are familiar with it, others may be unaware of this critique of Bakunin’s ideas: http://communistvoice.org/06cBakunin.html. Most relevant are the sections beginning with “A theory of duplicity.”

  36. mamos206 says:

    I’m sorry I haven’t been able to repsond to the ongoing debates abouto this peice here or elsewhere. I’ve been involved in anti-repression, anti-deportation organizing, and was travelling for family reasons. Here is a comment I just posted over on the Kasama blog, where my article was being discussed in response to Boots Riley’s criticism of the Black Block. This does address some of the points folks raised above, especially Collette’s points.

    http://kasamaproject.org/2012/10/09/boots-riley-on-blac-bloc-tactics-in-bay-area/#comment-63215

    I’m frusrated to see that Kasama published Boots’ critqiue of the Black Block but did not publish any statement of solidarity with the people arrested in the San Fransico decolonize event the same weekend as the actions Boots criticizes.

    The media published their mug shots and it seems there is a police-media campaign to demonize them and black bait them, saying they are part of “The Black Bloc” and claiming this is a “criminal street gang”. What do ya’ll have to say about that? Are you not concerned that publishing this critqiue could sew divisions and could help play into the state’s “good protestor vs. bad protestor” divide? Aren’t you for a united front agianst repression?

    I wrote the peice someone referenced above: http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/between-the-leninists-and-the-clowns-avoiding-recklessness-and-professionalism-in-revolutionary-struggle/

    I want to clarify that my peice was NOT a criticism of anarchists, nor of the Black Block. When I wrote “clowns” I was not trying to call anarchists clowns as the poster above implies. I didn’t say anything about the Black Bloc in the peice, so it should not be used as ammunition against anyone who engages in Black Bloc tactics.

    My peice was a self-critqiue of the post-Occupy networks, from the point of view of someone who is a participant in those networks. As the poster above correctly pointed out, I was calling for unity in strategy and diversity in tactics. By strategy, I mean a set of goals and an anlyasis of how these goals relate to a broader social context. Examples of strategies: trying to convince white workers that it is in their interst to support the most militant anti-racist deamnds of Black workers, or interevening in an anti-police march to make it less about “justice” for a victim of police brutlaity and more about a critique of police in general. By tactics, I mean specific actions like flyering, holding general assemblies, or setting up a barricade. Ideally these are grouped together into a coherent ensemble of actions that execute an overall strategy. I think that can best be done through autonomous and diverse experimentation in practice, unrestrained by red tape or parlaimentatry procedure, coupled with rigorous collective discussion and evalaution of what works and what doesn’t.

    In other words, I am not for dogmatically applying old tactics or strategies from the past if they don’t work in the present. Instead, let’s get to the point where a critical mass of working class/ oppressed people are democratically deciding on a broad strategy, but allowing small groups within that mass to have the autonomy to choose tactics that build on that strategy.

    In my opinion, we are ALL spending way too much time rushing into tactics then defending them afterwards (myself included). Instead, I think we should discuss strategy beforehand and develop a way to go on the offensive instead of constantly reacting and getting defensive.

    So, given all that, people who reduce my peice to an anarchist vs. Marixst debate or a debate about Black Bloc tactics are completley missing the point.

    I’m not trying to shut down the discussion. We can’t say “well, radicals are under attack so we can’t critique the strategies they employ and everyone who critiuqes them is a traitor”. That would also play right into the hands of the state. One of the purposes of the state repression might be to make activsts brittle, unable to debate amongst each other, unable to clearly identify failures in our practice, unable to overcome these. If I were the state, I would be perfectly happy to see revolutionaries get stuck in the Chris Hedges vs. Crimethinc debate mode for the next 10 years instead of thinking of 3, 4, 5, 100, 500 other strategies, testing them out in practice until something works.

    So yea, we need to be critical and self-critical. But I don’t think Boots’ article really opens up the strategic dsicussions that need to happen. It risks distracting from that conversation and from immediately necessary solidarity work with arrested comrades, by just creating another round of back and forth accusations and debates about specific, narrow tactics.

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