Fragments Of Comprehension

(semi-internal) Our consciousness and humility must reflect, refine and redeem every scattered fragment of the material world

►We Are Here for A Reason (reply to Red Fox, part 1) [FoC.12.10.4]

Posted by Ben Seattle on October 4, 2012

Hi Red Fox,

First, thanks for your email.  It took time for you to think this through and put a letter together.  And I appreciate, in particular, your calm tone.

Also, I would like to thank you for your other email supporting my assertion that the ISO is basically a social democratic group.  I quoted your email when I replied on the BOC blog, and the BOC folks turned your YouTube link into an embedded object, so that readers could view the video by clicking start.  The video was quite effective.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good video is worth ten or a hundred thousand.

You and I have different views concerning how the Kasama community can develop the revolutionary side of its character.  It can be awkward, sometimes, to talk about disagreements, for several reasons.  There are often powerful emotions involved.  As activists we invest a considerable amount of our life energy and aspirations in certain ideas and certain organizations.  When these ideas or organizations are criticized, we may, because we are human, feel frustration and anxiety.

At the same time, in my view, there is no alternative to learning how to talk about our disagreements and to do so in public forums.  At a certain point in the development of our movement, events will be taking place quite rapidly, and there will not be time for activists to establish and build private channels of communication.  There is also a more important reason that we need to learn how to discuss our disagreements in public: if we keep things private–then other activists are kept in the dark concerning the contradictions in our movement.  But we need the help of these activists to help us resolve these contradictions–so it would be a terrible mistake for us to keep them in the dark.

Our disagreements, as I see them, concern two issues:

(1) How we can help the Kasama community develop the revolutionary side of its character, and

(2) The nature of revolutionary conduct at public meetings, online forums and within political organizations

It is not my view that you and I will necessarily resolve our disagreements and develop a common view on these topics in a short period of time.  That is not how things tend to work.  I believe it is likely that we will eventually develop a common view on these topics, but this will take time.  The truth about everything becomes more clear with time.  Five years from now, for example, I believe our views on these topics will be closer than they are today.

What is possible, today, is that we can explore and better understand one anothers’ views, and possibly draw the interest or attention of one or two other activists to these important questions.

What is “the topic at hand” ?

I would like to start with the 2nd issue I listed above (ie: the nature of revolutionary conduct).

At a recent talk given by Loren Goldner at UW that we both attended, you were called on. Rather than speak about the topic at hand (Loren’s theories of Fictitious Capital) – you attempted to redirect the conversation into one about your own theories, and were quickly dismissed.

Were my actions at this forum correct or incorrect?  How do we decide?  And what was “the topic at hand”?  (That phrase is so rich in meaning.)

The key principle that applies here is simple: What serves the interest of the development of the revolutionary movement?

If my actions were useful in serving the development of the revolutionary movement, then they were correct.  If they we not, then they were wrong.

But how do we decide what serves the interest of the revolutionary movement?  Obviously, activists will disagree concerning what serves the interest of the movement.  So, when disagreements exist, who decides?

Do the people who host a forum decide?  My view is that every activist must decide for himself what serves the interest of the movement.  Our primary responsibility is to think things through for ourselves, and not allow anyone else (no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, no matter how much prestige they have) to do our thinking for us.  It follows from this that the only authority that should matter to us–is the authority of our own conscience.

Activists came to the Goldner meeting because it is becoming clear that the bourgeoisie made terrible mistakes in how they managed the flow of capital and plunged many millions into misery.  Activists want to understand this better (which is what Goldner’s talk was about).  But activists also want (and need) something else: activists want to know what alternatives exist to the present mismanagement of capital (and society as a whole) by the ruling bourgeoisie.

There are two competing views on this question:

(1) The social democratic view is that the bourgeoisie must be forced, pressured or persuaded to manage capital better.

(2) The revolutionary view is that the class rule of the bourgeoisie must be brought to an end (ie: overthrown) and replaced by the rule of the proletariat (understood to be the working class and oppressed) which will then create an economy which is not based on commodity production (ie: as commodity production inevitably leads to the rule of capital and the class rule of the bourgeoisie).

If there is no realistic alternative to an economy based on commodity production–then the only view that can be considered realistic will be the social democratic view.

This is the view that the Stranger’s news editor, Dominic Holden, expressed January 10, when he said that the militant core of the Occupy movement had “become introverted and distracted from an agenda to reform Wall Street”.  But Wall Street has been reformed many times, going back I think more than a century–and the reforms have always turned out to be illusions.  Don’t we need something deeper than this?

The entire culture of our society is based on the idea that there is no realistic alternative to the class rule of the bourgeoisie–and everyone must accommodate themselves to this eternal reality.

But many activists know, instinctively, that some alternative to bourgeois rule must exist, they just don’t know what this alternative is–and how it would work.  And this is something they need to know.  (If they don’t know this–then how in the hell can they work with confidence for the creation of a world that is not ruled by the bourgeoisie?)

My work has led me to the conclusion that the fundamental alternative to an economy based on commodity production (ie: production for the purpose of sale or exchange) is what I call the “gift economy”, where goods and services are created for use, and given to where they will be most useful–with zero expectation of getting something back (ie: “pay it forward” instead of “pay it back”).

So, during the question period, I asked Goldner (who had just described the recent problems that were the inevitable result of an economy based on commodity prodution) if he had ever considered an alternative to an economy based on commodity production.  And I described this alternative as the “gift economy”.

You describe this (above) as my attempting to redirect the conversation to one of my theories.  But does it make any difference whose theory it is?  For the record, I do not claim “ownership” of any of the theories or principles for which I fight.  I work for these theories because I have come to the conclusion that they serve the interests of the development of the revolutionary movement.  Nor is it necessarily the case that any of these theories originated with me.  The gift economy was practiced by early humans for probably more than two hundred thousand years, so I can hardly be the originator of this idea.  And as far as the idea that the gift economy can and will replace the commodity economy in modern society, it would be pretty damn unlikely that this idea originated with me.

Yes, it is true that Goldner dismissed the idea, and did not seem to have any interest in talking about an alternative to an economy based on commodity production.  So what?  What conclusions can we draw from this?  Goldner gave a good talk that was useful to activists and the movement, and we recognize and respect his contribution.  But Goldner is not the movement, and his views of what is (or is not) relevant to the needs of activists and the needs of our time cannot represent some kind of substitute for our responsibility as activists to independently sort these things out for ourselves.

Again: as revolutionary activists–the only authority that determines our actions is the authority of our revolutionary conscience and consciousness.  If this is not the basis of our action–then, in the long run, our action will never be more than dust in the wind.

The activists who attended Goldner’s lecture did not go there only to learn about fictitious capital.  They attended because they want to understand the world better.  And they want to understand the world better so that they will have the ability to change it.  That is the whole point.  If we overlook this–we lose everything.  Our movement must confront our need for an alternative to an economy based on commodity production–that is realistic.  And our actions must be based on the needs of the movement.

Coming soon: Part 2 of Ben Seattle’s reply to Red Fox

—–Original Message—–
To:     Ben
Sent: Thursday, March 22, 2012 4:30 PM


[I want to preface this reply by giving you permission to post this publicly.]

I don’t reply to most of your posts, though I do read most all of them and would like to respond more — you often have very insightful things to say (I particularly find your arguments about sect-like model vs. open networks and cargo-cult Leninism to be useful, and have often argued them myself).

That being said, I want to reply to this one because you are criticizing my organization in a few ways that I very seriously disagree with. I’ve heard you make these claims before on a number of occasions, but haven’t previously responded.

You say:

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

I’ve talked with Mike and others in Kasama about your posts, and my feeling is that Mike’s analysis of your participation is correct.

Your assertion is that because you were either warned, or your posts were deleted, that this means that Kasama is “social-democratic”.

You’ve talked before about the need to have sober discussions with people about serious personal problems — i.e., your old friend’s alcoholism — and that without having serious and often difficult discussions, people will often continue to act in a way that hurts or alienates them from others. In a similar way, I think there are some very incorrect ways in which you often engage with comrades in other organizations that alienates you from them, and as hard as it is to say, I think this is a personal problem of yours that needs to confronted. For the positives of your work to be seen, I think some of these issues need to be directly confronted.

Mike’s criticisms of your participation on the Kasama website were that you were posting things off-topic, that they were overly long, and the responses were often used as a way to pull people off of the forum and onto your own site; you were promoting yourself rather than joining in discussion. Though I haven’t seen your specific replies, my previous participation with you in a study group a couple of years ago was indicative of very similar issues, issues that directly led to the collapse of that group.

In our study group, we read a couple of books, one of which was State and Revolution by Lenin. Though you often participated in very thoughtful and positive ways, you would also often come to some study groups and attempt to hijack them by giving presentations on your own work, rather than the book at hand. I don’t doubt that you saw it as related, but these interjections were often seen by every other person in the group as off-topic and a diversion to promote your own theories. Though we never talked at length about what led to the demise of the group, I will tell you now that this behavior is what eventually lead 4 different people to quit, and I was chastised for inviting you without getting permission from the rest of the group, first.

At a recent talk given by Loren Goldner at UW that we both attended, you were called on. Rather than speak about the topic at hand (Loren’s theories of Fictitious Capital) – you attempted to redirect the conversation into one about your own theories, and were quickly dismissed.

Here’s the thing: I do think that your ideas are valuable and worth discussion, but I think that you often are not conscientious of the context in which you are presenting them. From what Mike has told me, you aren’t barred from discussion on Kasama, but replies that go off topic, are self-promotional, or graphic-heavy or overly-long, will be deleted. In all honesty, I do not think that this is because your ideas are dangerous to Kasama (as I believe you have asserted), but that they are seen as spamming and trolling, and I think this is true. I think that you should attempt to engage more with Kasama, but stick to the topic as much as possible, shorten your responses (and/or make multiple small responses), and leave graphics and links to your site off. Couldn’t you communicate your ideas without doing this?

So if this sole issue is why you are claiming Kasama is social-democratic, I think that you should reconsider. Especially considering that much of our current political work both as a group (Red Spark) and nationally (Kasama) and within the framework of Occupy with various tendencies, I believe, has a lot to do with how you see an open-network of revolutionaries (rather than a sect) operating. And, I think we could use your input.

I’ve had this criticism about your engagement for a while. You’ve often encouraged me to communicate my criticism, but like with your old friend, this has been something difficult for me to say, so I hope that you will put some serious consideration into my criticism, as I’m aware that it is shared by others.

If you reply, I’d be interested in continuing this discussion as time permits.

Red Fox


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