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Proletarian Organization in the Information Age

Posted 4th March 2012 at 16:24 by Ben Seattle
Updated 4th March 2012 at 20:16 by Ben Seattle

This is a continuation of the threads at:
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[FONT=Arial]http://www.revleft.com/vb/blog.php?bt=9566[/FONT]

Proletarian Organization in the Information Age

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

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

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

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

Some activists understand this. Some do not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearing up confusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I mean by the phrase "open network"?

I mean two things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(please see the graphic below)

A message to readers:

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

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

Ben Seattle



In the first comment (below) I include 6 related graphics I have created in the past:
(1) How the party of the working class may emerge
.... from a polarized mass organization
(2) Kasama: Paternalistic vs. Open Community (part 1)
(3) Kasama: Paternalistic vs. Open Community (part 2)
(4) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 1)
(5) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 2)
(6) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 3)
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Comments

  1. Old Comment
    Ben Seattle's Avatar

    6 more graphics related to proletarian organization

    Below are 6 related graphics I have created in the past:
    (1) How the party of the working class may emerge
    .... from a polarized mass organization
    (2) Kasama: Paternalistic vs. Open Community (part 1)
    (3) Kasama: Paternalistic vs. Open Community (part 2)
    (4) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 1)
    (5) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 2)
    (6) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 3)
    (1) How the party of the working class may emerge
    ..... from a polarized mass organization

    (from How to Build the Party of the Working Class, 2008)




    (2) Kasama: Paternalistic vs. Open Community (part 1)

    (from: Kasama and the Contradictions of the Movement, part 2,
    and Ben replies to Mike Ely re: Moderation on the Kasama blog)



    (3) Kasama: Paternalistic vs. Open Community (part 2)



    (4) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 1)

    (from: Letter to Red Spark Collective, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)



    (5) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 2)



    (6) The Fortress vs. the Network (part 3)



    --[]--
    Posted 4th March 2012 at 19:34 by Ben Seattle Ben Seattle is offline
    Updated 4th March 2012 at 20:12 by Ben Seattle
  2. Old Comment
    First on Ben's ridiculous charges about my views:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ben's network proposal (which he's been making for 20 years in various forms) simply skips over such "mundane" issues as these.[FONT=Times New Roman][FONT=Times New Roman]
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    Posted 5th March 2012 at 22:56 by Frank Arango
 
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