Fragments Of Comprehension

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

► A clean sweep by a new broom – [FoC.13.05.31]

Posted by Ben Seattle on May 31, 2013

Re: Synthesizing Revolutionary Politics:
Some Thoughts on Developing a New Socialist Hypothesis
by Smooth Broomhead, April 25, 2013

Hi Smooth Broomhead,

I just finished reading your paper on developing a “new
socialist hypothesis”. I was rather amazed because, in
a number of ways, your conclusions run parallel to my own.

We need a revolutionary movement. We do not have one
because of a crisis of theory that is so deep and so
profound that it has become essentially impossible for
activists to think in a realistic way about the kind of
future which we need to create.

Nothing fundamental is going to change until activists are
able to overcome this crisis of theory and develop a clear
understanding of where we need to go, as a movement and as
a society, and how we are going to get there.

Your work to look at, with fresh eyes, the history of
revolutionary thought and practice from the time of the
great French revolution to the Ocuppy movement–is
inspiring. In particular, it is encouraging for me to see
a new generation of younger activists roll up their sleeves
and look to the future with the kind of optimism and courage
that must have been required for the work that went into
your essay.

I will note here one or two comments concerning your
sweeping essay, and some ideas for practical ways that
activists such as ourselves can stay in touch with one
another and collaborate in the work to discover and spread
knowledge of the principles which have the power to make
possible the recovery of our movement.

— 1 —

I have many disagreements with points in your essay, but
these disagreements are all minor in comparison with the
territory you cover and the conclusions you reach. What I
will note here may shed some light on the period which
reached its climax in the spring of 1921 with the crushing
of the Kronstadt rebellion (which I am convinced was
necessary) and the suspension of fundamental democratic
rights and democratic openings in the party and in society.

> This analysis helps to explain the USSR’s degeneration
> on the basis of material reality as opposed to one of
> idealism and abstract freedom

Bingo. You nailed it. You hit the ball out of the park.

The basic problem at this time, as your essay implicitly
recognizes, at least in part, is that any other course of
action would have led to the collapse of the revolution and
the restoration of bourgeois power. Kollantai’s calls for
greater democracy and so forth would have made perfect sense
in almost any other imaginable circumstance–except for the
circumstances which existed at the time.

The contradiction during this period was that greater
democracy and democratic openings were necessary to prevent
the degeneration of the revolution–but greater democracy
and democratic openings would also have quickly led to
total collapse.

My study of this period (based mainly on Lenin’s writings)
indicates that Lenin was consumed by this contradiction
and he openly warned, in his last major address, at the
11th party Congress, in the spring of 1922, that the main
danger the revolution faced was the degeneration of the
party into an instrument that served an exploiting class.

I have written a lot about this and will not repeat
everything here, but I will include, in an appendix below,
the 1988 account by George Seldes of Lenin’s thoughts on
the necessity for a “two-party system” in Russia during
this period of extreme weakness and instability. I also
include my reasons for concluding that the account by
Seldes must be accurate.

— 2 —

> For Marx, an open and highly democratic organization
> of working people with a revolutionary consciousness
> could do little more than connect the daily struggles
> of working people with their long term interests in
> socialism.

So what can we say concerning practical steps forward
concering building the movement and the organization we
need?

First, I think it only makes sense that we should make
an effort to stay in touch with one another, and maintain
a familiarity with one another’s work. One way we can do
this is by reading and commenting on one another’s blogs.

Second, I will list here, for your consideration, the
four key areas of work which I have concluded will be
decisive in the period ahead.

(1) Our revolutionary mass organization

We must Understand the nature of the revolutionary mass
organization we need: based on political transparency
and “democratic communication” rather than “democratic
centralism”

(2) Our revolutionary goal

We must understand: (a) the nature of humanity’s long-term
goal: a gift economy rather than an economy based on
commodity production, and (b) the nature of the transition
period and the democratic rights of speech and organization
that will allow the development of the gift economy
following the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

(3) Independence from social-democracy

We must build the revolutionary movement without and
against the treacherous social-democratic trends which
skillfully work to lead us into the swamp and liquidate
our independent militant politics. At the same time we
must develop the ability to assist countless struggles
for partial demands in complex united fronts with these
treacherous forces–without losing our bearings.

(4) Digital infrastructure

We must create an open, public database that will serve
as an indestructable backbone of both (a) a democratic
communications system for all revolutionary activists and
(b) an open revolutionary news service that can bring news,
culture and solid, reliable analysis and theory to millions.

— 3 —

Conclusion: let’s stay in touch. I like your work and
appreciate the level of commitment from you that it
required. I have been around the block and, if you have
questions of any kind, I will be happy to give you my
opinion.

I maintain an “upper” blog (see URL below) and, also, a
“lower” blog which is only quasi-public and is mainly for
activists would have an interest in working with me in
some capacity. I do not post public links to the lower
blog, in order to maintain its character as a place for
drafts, one-sided analysis, problematic formulations and
thinking-out-loud. However anyone who has an interest
can find it on google.

That’s it for now. I do not know what kind of grade you
got on your essay (if it was graded) but I am giving you
an A+.

All the best,
Ben Seattle

My “upper” blog: (http, etc) WarForQuadrantTwo.wordpress.com
The main archive of my work: (http, etc) struggle.net/ben/

====================================================
Appendix: Lenin on a Bolshevik “two-party system”
====================================================

From “Witness to a Century” (George Seldes, 1988):

“For many weeks Oscar Cesare, the noted artist of The New York Times,
was privileged to sit in Lenin’s office daily and make sketches.
Sometimes Lenin talked. When Spewack of the World and I heard of
these conversations, we primed Cesare with questions–and thus had a
secondhand running interview.

“To our questions, ‘Will you ever permit another political party to
exist in Soviet Russia?’ Lenin replied:

“‘The two-party system is a luxury which only long-established and
secure nations can afford. However, eventually we will have a two-
party system such as the British have–a left party and a right
party–but two Bolshevik parties, of course.’

“Cesare said that Lenin’s eyes twinkled when he said ‘two-party
system,’ and that he finished his talk with a knowing laugh.”

Comment by Ben (1999):

Such an “interview” certainly contradicts the notion of our “Cargo
Cult Leninists” that Lenin stood for the rule of a single monolithic
party (ie: without factions) thruout the entire period of the D of P.
These people (and others) may question whether Seldes’ account can be
considered reliable.

I am personally confident that Seldes’ account is accurate. How do I
know? I believe we can know it is accurate the same way we can know
that Phoenician claims to have circumnavigated Africa in a three-year
voyage before 500 B.C. are accurate. The Greek historian Herodotus,
considering these claims fifty years later, doubted their validity
because the Phoenicians reported that in the far south the Sun [at
noon] was in the northern half of the sky. Herodotus felt this to be
impossible. Issac Asimov notes that we moderns know that the [noon]
Sun _is_ always in the northern half of the sky when seen from that
latitude. “The Phoenicians would not have made up such a ridiculous
story if they had not actually witnessed it, so the very item that
caused Herodotus to doubt the story convinces us that it must be
true.”

In a loosely analogous way, I believe that Seldes account is accurate
because Lenin’s remarks are _theoretically correct_ and I believe it
was beyond the power of someone with Seldes’ ideology to make up such
a formulation. (Note again, potential opponents–I do _not_ claim the
formulations are correct _because_ Lenin said them. On the contrary,
I claim that Lenin said them because they are correct.

I present the “interview” here as food for thought. This interview is
characteristic of how Lenin thought: Lenin was able to see phenomena
in the _process of development_. Lenin clearly saw that the _form_ of
working class rule would certainly change as it developed, as
conditions developed and experience was accumulated–just as the form
of capitalist rule developed from the stern Oliver Cromwell to the
modern bourgeois democracy.

We can’t know, from Seldes’ description, the exact words that Lenin
might have used nor what he really had in mind when he said “two-
party system” and his eyes twinkled. But the “interview” helps us to
grasp that the period of workers’ rule will have _stages of
development_ within it. The necessity of overcoming the extreme
problems that inevitably accompany such highly centralized power (ie:
the ease with which officials at all levels would be able to silence
the press to cover-up their incompetence, hypocrisy or corruption)
would probably find expression _first_ in a system which permits a
“loyal opposition”. As experience is accumulated–the boundaries of
oppositional behavior that serve the interest of workers (and the
workers’ state) would be determined experimentally.

–[]–

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