Fragments Of Comprehension

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

► Draft [FoC.12.11.25]

Posted by Ben Seattle on November 25, 2012

Hi Art,

I have not written anything yesterday or today, except for a few sentences at the top of Appendix A and B (below) that introduce the material.  I have pasted here the appendices and my draft from a month ago.  The main part (that I need to work on) is the part explaining that the only real solution to things such as the fetishization of property destruction–is the development of a trend which is based on:

(1) opposition to the influence of social-democracy, and

(2) mass democracy

Your email from Friday will be helpful in many ways.  This draft still needs a lot of work.  Even the title I gave will need to be changed.  When it is ready, I will post on the BOC thread as well as the War for Quadrant Two.  More (hopefully) soon.  — Ben

My draft of October 21:

How Can We Most Rapidly Resolve the Contradictions in Our Movement?

Hi Mamos,

I have been reading your recent exchanges with Boots Riley with interest because these exchanges are the result of contradictions in our movement which have been developing for a long time.  That is generally how things work.  Everything we see is the result of some process (often unseen by us, and unknown to us) that has been developing for a long time.

It was initially unclear to me whether I had the ability to contribute to this discussion in a meaningful way.

Usually I write about other kinds of problems that exist in what I call “quadrant two”, focused on the long term needs of our movement.  But then I thought about the fact that, for the past 18 months, I have been telling you that I have experience that I believe would be helpful to your work, and suggesting that you and I carve out some time to talk about the contradictions in the movement and our path forward.  Of course you are busy and many activists want a chunk of your time, and your time is limited.  And everyone who wants to talk to you believes that your time with them would be time well spent.

So, since I have been asking you to, so to speak, raise my place in your “to-do” stack, I realized that I should make an effort to demonstrate the usefulness of the quadrant two approach.

So, first off:  The criticism that Boots made is accurate.

Boots is pointing out a significant problem that hurts us.

We (ie: the movement) need to hear what he is saying.


Your responses to Boots, on the Kasama blog and here on your blog (I am not yet on facebook so I do not follow discussion there), do raise legitimate concerns.  It is important and necessary to show solidarity with our comrades who were arrested in the Bay Area.  I am not certain to what extent your legitimate concerns have (or have not) been addressed.

BUt, whether or not Boots has addressed your concerns (or could have made his criticism in a better way or at a better time–and it is unclear to me if there is anything more he could have done or could be doing–although I would like to see him correct his use of the word “counter-revolutionary” and change it to “counter-productive” because: (a) that is what he clearly means and (b) we should reserve the word “counter-revolutionary” to refer to people who actually have a clue concerning what they are doing), we (ie: the movement as a whole) need to publicly recognize that his criticisms are correct.

I have read a number of the replies to Boots from people who say they disagree with him or oppose his approach.  But these same people, if you read carefully, all agree with essentially everything he said.

Boot’s criticism, in my view, is a bit like an alarm clock.  Every cell in our body is screaming at us that we need to sleep–and this stupid alarm clock is causing a problem.  Can’t we just shut it off so we can go to sleep?

No, we can’t.

Denial, as they say, is not a river in Egypt.

A significant section of our movement has reached the point of making a fetish out of property destruction.  This is not only a problem in-and-of-itself (ie: it makes it easier for the bourgeoisie’s police and mass media to suppress militant mass actions and get away with it) it represents a _symptom_ of a far deeper problem: we are part of a movement which has no clear idea of our goal or our path forward.

We ignore this deeper problem at incalculable cost.

Sometimes, of course, property destruction and/or throwing things at the cops is useful–if it serves, in the tactical context, to demonstrate the power of a mass action and to either defend the mass action or to punish the bourgeoisie for some particular provocation (such as a particularly outrageous police murder, or a violent attack on activists who are doing nothing more than marching in or sitting on the streets).

But the fetishisation of these mass tactics, as things-in-themselves, can only be understood as a symptom of something deeper.

The Root of the Problem

Many of the younger generation of activists are opposed to the energy of the movement being hijacked and diverted into the black hole of bourgeois politics-as-usual.  They may not have the “patience” for “patient base-building” (which is often presented as the alternative to actions based on “exciting people”) for a good reason: the phrase “patient base-building” is often used to describe the subordination of militant, independent and revolutionary politics to the needs of a corrupt layer of careerist misleaders.

There is a _name_ for the kind of politics that are based on the subordination of revolutionary politics to bourgeois politics.  That name (for historical reasons originating with the 2nd International) is “social democracy”.

In more common language, the word “reformism” is often used to mean the same thing, because the social-democratic ideology is based on the idea (which, of course, is widespread) that our revolutionary goal can be achived by means of a series of gradual reforms which our class enemy, the bourgeoisie, will supposedly allow.

However I insist on using the phrase “social democracy” rather than “reformism” because of the confusion the term “reformism” always seems to create when activists attempt to understand complex issues: 

(1) the word “reformism” is often equated with the struggle for reforms.  That is like equating democratic rights with the Democratic Party (ie: both terms have the same latin root: “demos”).  Some activists, with a shallow understanding, actually oppose the struggle for partial demands because they do not want to get sucked into “reformism”.  Then, when the needs of the movement assert themselves and hit these activists, like a hammer on their heads, these same activists often give up their struggle against “refomism” because they conclude it is not “realistic”.

To reduce confusion I use the phrase “partial demands” rather than “reforms”.

(2) The word “reformism” is often equated with “liberalism” or with being liberal.  (I concluded, by the way, that comrades in the BOC were confused about this when I saw a post by one of your comrades describing the ISO as acting like liberals.)  Since approximately half the population of the country has views which could be described as “liberal”, this xxxx

(3) misleaders vs. masses

We must understand S-D as a pol trend engineered by bourg with specific mission of subordinating rev pol to bourg pol.  We must understand S-D not as a pol view held by millions, but a pol trend based on a strata of corrupt misleaders

Until we do this, until we can conceptualize a politics that builds and merges together thousands of struggles and millions of the prol, we cannot answer the qu which activists have when we tell them that smashing windows or throwing paint at cops will do little to change anything.  They ask us: what is your alternative?  If we are not working to come up with an alternative–/as if we were on fire/–then we are not showing this young, brave men and women real solidarity.

[this is key right here …]

instead of complaining to Boots that his correct criticism of mindless and supposedly pol property destruction is failing to focus on the necessary strat qu–why not have these conversatings with me–since I live in the same city where you live and have views on these qu and have written about them in hundreds of leaflets?  It makes you look like a hypocrit to say we need to talk about Strat when I have been unable to talk to you about strat in 18 months.  Can you see my point?  We meet Sunday once a month at Roy St.

kids fetishize stuff because they view the alternative as S-D (but lack intellectual buckets to categorize this)

substitutionism (very common problem in mvmt)

Ben’s law of sanity …
Until we confront these deeper problems in

[this is enough for this morning, brain is tired, clarity has evaporated, give it a rest and it will return–6:52 am]

either we (militant section of mvmt) resolve this–or probl will be resolve by S-D

CVO articles are quite insightful although they tend to have the ulterior motive problem (ie: “drink the kool aid and you will feel so much better”)

Appendix A: An analysis of the use of force in mass resistance

Below is an excerpt from a December 1999 leaflet of CVO, which gives a fairly good analysis of the use of force against the police when they attempted to suppress mass resistance to the WTO.  I should probably note to readers (since I am posting an excerpt from one of their leaflets) that, while the CVO has written good analysis on many topics and done a fair amount of useful work, I consider the organization to be organized along the lines of what I call “cargo-cult Leninism“.

After the police launched their assault many protesters consciously took vengeance on the most notorious of these corporations by smashing their windows and furniture, etc. And in the aftermath, thousands of people have been saying “good, it’s good that the bastards got it”. We support that sentiment, that class hatred of the exploiters.Without it no serious political movement of the working class and other oppressed people can be built. At the same time 99% of the same people very much realize that trashing won’t build such a movement.We’re not fools.The path forward on the 30th was best represented by those who strove to keep the political protests going right in the face of the police assaults. Thus we support those who took vengeance on the corporations as our sisters and brothers. But at the same time we hold that the trashing really was a diversion away from the pressing political tasks of the day (and of our time). The fact that the police concentrated on attacking the mass protests rather than chasing trashers says something about what was of most concern to the establishment.

. Anarchist groups coming to the demonstrations just to trash is a different issue and will be dealt with below.   [Note by Ben: that section of the leaflet is not excerpted here]

Active resistance

Concussion bombs and tear gas are designed to terrorize and cause panic. If fleeing people trample each other to death it’s just “collateral damage”. The police and their masters knowingly gambled with people’s lives in their Nov. 30th assaults — all for the greater glory of the multinational corporations. But the masses in the streets didn’t panic. They continually regrouped and resisted on a mass scale. That wasn’t supposed to happen.Besides their loss of $17 million downtown, this is what has shaken the “city” (the capitalist establishment).And it bodes very, very well for future protests in Seattle and across the country.

As the police assaults intensified on Tues. afternoon scores, and then hundreds of protesters began to hurl tear gas canisters and other projectiles right back at the cops, while at the same time counseling everyone to hold their ground, retreat only when necessary, and slowly, slowly. They were cheered on by thousands.Hundreds of other protesters also struggled to keep the demonstrators together and shouting political slogans, but opposed throwing things at the police (perhaps with the exception of tear gas projectiles). They too were supported by thousands and their overall actions were honorable. But we think that they were mistaken in their opposition.Certainly, everyone can agree that throwing tear gas back on the police slowed their advance (they had some problems seeing through the smoke). It also forced them to use more, to such an extent that they temporarily ran out. These actions actually allowed the protest to stay more firmly together and on the streets hours longer.

But what of the issue of sticks and bottles?

Everyone knows the police launched the attacks, not because they were angry about being hit by objects (and they weren’t, not in the beginning) but because they were out to break-up the protests. They were firing point-blank into peaceful demonstrators who were sometimes even sitting down! So all the usual rubbish about “provoking” the police can be left aside. Besides this people were justifiably angry at being shot and gassed and had a right to defend themselves with whatever was at hand. Still, the argument was made that throwing sticks or bottles caused the cops to fire more.This argument is problematic. At the same time it was being made the cops were lobbing their projectiles hundreds of feet into the crowds, not just at the front lines. And it misses the main point . . . which is this: The masses are going to be in much more serious and scary of situations with the police than existed last week—in bitterly contested strikes, or struggles against racist outrages in the black communities, for example. To win they will have to engage in defensive as well as offensive operations against these guard-dogs of capital. But for that to occur they have to believe that they can defy and overcome the authorities (“we can do it!“). And that has to be a mass belief. The actions of the projectile-throwing protesters on the 30th and 1st helped inspire such a belief and establishes a great tradition. If anyone wants to see what this tradition looks like in practice check out the scenes of the Korean working class in struggle over the last decade and more. The victories which this contingent of the international proletariat has achieved in the past decade are a rare thing in comparison to the defeats the workers have generally suffered in most other countries. And these victories are not unconnected to the Korean workers’ and students’ tradition of giving the authorities tit for tat when they attack.They didn’t come from a pacifist approach, even a militant and active pacifist approach.

Appendix B: Evidence that fetishization of property destruction is a reaction to the suffocating influence of social-democracy

It has long been said that anarchism is the price the working class pays for the sin of reformism.  (I am not sure who first said this.  I heard it often many years ago, but have been unable to find it on google.)  In any event, the fetishization of property destruction that has emerged in some sections of our movement can only be understood, in my view, as a reaction to the suffocating influence of reformism (ie: social-democracy).  Many activists understand that there is a desperate need for a form of struggle that is not acceptable to (or dominated by) the careerist strata of reformist misleaders (ie: corporate non-profits, liberal-labor politicians, trade union bureaucrats, religious misleaders, “progressive” media personalities and professional “opinion leaders”) which the ruling bourgeoisie (ie: the biggest capitalists) nutures and directs for the purpose of diverting (and safely destroying) revolutionary energy.  In the absence of any well-organized trend of resistance which is based on mass democracy, property destruction is sometimes fetishized for the simple reason that it appears to express outrage against the capitalists in a way that is not acceptable to the reformist misleaders.  The following post, from one of the popular local anarchist bulletin boards, helps to illustrate this.  Much of the post is actually quite good, and I particularly agree with the description of the “suffocation” by the reformist misleaders.  But the post also advocates “nighttime smashy-smashy”, which I consider to be a step away from what we need.

An Open Letter to Portland’s High School Rebels
Fri, 11/23/2012 – 4:47pm — Anonymous

This is a letter of love and admiration for the wild and
courageous high school students who battled the Portland
Police in the streets on November 3rd. Some of you took
pepper spray directly to the face at close range, some
of you pushed forward against cops behind your sturdy
banners, and you all displayed an inspiring ferocity that
has sadly been few and far between in Portland since last

At times this town can seem suffocated by mangerial activists,
specialists in revolt who seek to orchestrate every act of
rebellion in order to advance their own resumes. But you are
living proof that despite this recuperative force, there will
always be the youthful, wild, uncontrollable ones. Keep it up!
Push conflict with authority – no matter how “revolutionary”
it may portray itself – to the extreme!

I encourage you to build on this experience of fighting together
in the streets. Where can you go from here? Are there other
places in your lives that you can use your shared subjectivity
to attack that which attempts to control you? There are lots of
different ways to build trust and affinity with each other.
Don’t limit yourself to pre-announced marches in the streets.
If you use your creativity, you will find infinite possibilities
for taking your lives back, both open and clandestine. Flash
mobs at grocery stores – nighttime smashy-smashy – reading
groups to sharpen your critique – illegal dance parties –
graffiti – wheatpasting propaganda everywhere – refuse to pay
for tri-met – these are just a few ideas. I believe the slop
that barely passes for food in Portland Public Schools
cafeterias is provided by Aramark, the prison profiteers, I’m
sure you could think of some way to sabotage their operations.
The possibilities are endless.

If this is your first experience in the streets, welcome. You
may soon find that you can’t get enough. If you’ve been at this
for a while, congratulations, you’re getting a much earlier start
than I did. In this time of extreme repression in the NW, your
refusal of submission is a beacon of light.

Love and solidarity,
a Portland anarchist under the gun



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: