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January 29, 2006



my thoughts on this is that this has a startling lack of materialism.

Because it underestimates the necessity the imperialists face (in forcing victory in Iraq). Yes, they are in a mess. But do you really think they will just slink away -- from the most strategic part of the world (with all that this would mean for them globally)?

This piece writes: "It is important to understand that the administration has no strategy; they are just improvising."

In a profound way, they have a much larger strategy than this acknowledges -- i.e. their plan concentrated (since 1992) in establishing the U.S. permanently as the world's sole superpower, with all that this implies.

They have been confident that their military superiority can carry them though all kinds of impasses and contradictions.

Will they be out in 2006? The question I think about is "are we ready to face what they will unleash -- domestically and internationally -- in ORDER TO FEROCIOUSLY PRESS FORWARD FOR VICTORY in Iraq?"


"In a profound way, they have a much larger strategy than this acknowledges -- i.e. their plan concentrated (since 1992) in establishing the U.S. permanently as the world's sole superpower, with all that this implies."

True. But the FRSO document does have a point in that the narrower strategy for imperialist victory in Iraq specifically is pretty awful. They were forced into elections and the ballots came back with a comprador government that seems to be "hedging its bets" with Iran. The resistance is practically invincible due to its fragmentation and fluidity; and while this limits its ability as a fighting force and revolutionary movement, it also means there are just too many "heads" if one wants to use the hydra analogy, to cut off. Or maybe there's just none at all.

At the same time, the character and organization of the resistance makes it rather difficult to force an outright military defeat for the US in a clear and identifiable way. There may be no Dien Bien Fu or Tet Offensive this time. My fear, at this point, is that the army really will become "broken" as some analysts close to the military have put it, and the bastards will seriously reconsider imposing some kind of draft in the near future. I'm not sure how unrealistic a possibility this is if they really, truly become desperate and they're forced with a choice between "find more chuck for the meatgrinder or face total defeat".

All the more reason for a mass movement to force them out as soon as humanly possible. Out of Iraq, and (hopefully) out of office.

Christopher Day

It is interesting to compare and contrast the Freedom Road piece with the analysis coming out of the RCP.

I concur with the criticism of the Freedom Road claim that the Bush administaration are "just improvising." While it is supported by some pretty obvious incompetence, I do think it misses the bigger picture of what is being attempted. While there may be a short-term draw down of troops in the lead-up to the mid-term elections I seriously doubt that there is any thought of pulling out of Iraq.

A lot of the talk about the imminent collapse of the U.S. military misses another possibility. By putting troops through so many tours of duty in Iraq they are also creating a battle-hardened core of lifers. A sort of Bushite Republican Guard that will do anything they are commanded to do. Yes there is significant discontent, but little by little the troops with any critical views will leave (when they are allowed to). The assumptions that the strains on the military only produce positive results for anti-war forces is mechanical.

More generally there is a generally idealist take on the logic of U.S. imperialism here, as if they can just pull out of Iraq without endangering their whole global project.

That said one is also struck by the CONCRETENESS with which Freedom Road is able to talk about the political situation on the ground because that is where they are. Absent here is the leftist bombast that so often covers up a fundamental failure to engage the masses in motion as they really are. The work among military families and vets, the real familiarity with the motivations of rank and file liberals, the knowledge of organic outbreaks of direct action stand in contrast with the RCP's apparent plan to will into existence a whole new movement untroubled by the weaknesses and contradictions of the one we already have.

I like the RCP's challenge to the world of tired leftist honchos talking to each other, but it seems to be accompanied by an arrogance towards the solid mass organizing work against the war carried out across the country, sometimes under the umbrella of one national coalition or another, and just as often not.

I am inspired by the clarity and energy of World Can't Wait that seems to flow from the RCP's understanding of important aspects of the world situation. But I also feel in my gut that it won't be able to achieve the critical mass it needs to achieve without the active involvement of precisely the in-the-trenches movement builders that are so casually dismissed as Mensheviks, social dems, opportunists or whatever the term of the day is.

the burningman

I don't see the arrogance that Chris is speaking of. The casual dismissiveness of social dems and opportunisists isn't the same thing as recognizing that such things exist -- and that many who hold those ideas don't have to be wed to them. The "movement" isn't defined by its lowest common denomenator anymore now that it has been in times past.

Challenging the holding pattern of established "movement-centered" activism isn't the same as insulting the people doing it. If anything, I'd argue that the RCP hasn't done nearly enough to seriously engage the insufficiencies of these methods and has written off far too much terrain. You are right in that they note what they think doesn't work, but they kind of leave it at that instead of starting the kind of conversations and struggles that really win people over and transform their worldview. That takes an engagement both intellectually AND personally.

There's something a little different going on than just willing a new movement and insulting those who don't run along. In several recent transcriptions (Chris's fav!), Avakian talks about working broadly without losing who you are.

In other words, there is a need to initiate a broad movement to check the Bush faction, and at the same time to really get that the liberals are exahusted and can't be relied on to make this move.

When they say it's Bush or Avakian, as far-fetched as that sounds if we just do a straw-poll, they really mean it. And what they mean is that the options within the system for some kind of democratic renewal or another round of social-movement side-lining will not stop Bush or construct a new alternative.

I think that the existing left will not be unified on some good platform. Does that mean I also think we need to "will" a new movement? Well, maybe. Something "new" certainly needs to hit the scene -- I just wouldn't assume that it won't involve winning over (and unleashing) many of the people who are already out there.

The options need to change, and those forces who are engaged in what Chris calls the "in-the-trenches movement builders" need to be challenged on exactly the social-democratic, liberal, and (calling a spade a spade) revisionist lines that will not win us through.

There are ideologies that properly belong to the enemy (such as liberalism) and others (particularly pragmatism, identity poltiics, economism, semi-nationalisms and anti-authoritarianism) that have held the day for decades of defeat. If they RCP isn't challenging them effectively, who will rise to THAT occassion?

This isn't a time to write anyone off, paticularly among younger activists, cultural workers and amorphous leftists. But there are real "leftist honchos" who have a very limited vision of what broad or "mass" work is that constrains it to the vices Chris mentions.


Reply1's comment that they aren't just incompetent but that imperialism is risking so much because of necessity is spot on.

I don't think it's just that the loonies have taken over the asylum. It's not just that Christian Fascists are crazy or "the NeoCons" or what have you. They can't just pull out of Iraq without endandering their whole international order.

Think about how much their defeat in Vietnam cost them, and Southeast Asia wasn't even part of the US sphere of influence before the war.

Right now, they are fighting in the oil-dripping heart of the empire and doing very badly. This is why they are speaking of escalation into Iran and Syria, not withdrawl, even of the Murtha variety.

This is the turning point, and the end of the America we knew. It's not going back -- and using the same activist playbook from before the current era, honed throughout the 1980s and 90s is a monumental misreading of where we are at.

One thing the Freedom Road document is really missing is that kind of larger analysis that puts these things in their perspective. Because I don't think we can pressure the ruling classes to "come to their senses."

What will they do to hold the military together?

What domestic changes are necessary to conduct indefinite, unpopular wars abroad?'

Again the question of necessity, not just "wars of opportunity" is the issue. They aren't doing this just to make a point. They are doing it because their grip is tenuous and they must defend it or face strategic defeat.

Maybe it's time to put the "crisis of socialism" to bed. Or at least recognize that with imperialism in crisis, socialists have an opening the likes of which we haven't seen in decades.

Eric Odell

In response to reply1:

In my view, it is precisely a materialist approach to make a careful analysis of the objective military, economic, political, etc. constraints on US imperialism and not to base one's assessment merely upon their subjective desires for unconstrained rule. I think that to do the latter is in fact the idealist error.

I think it's clear to everyone here (and to pretty much the entire US left for that matter) that US imperialism has had a goal of establishing itself as the sole imperialist superpower. However, I would say that "confiden[ce] that their military superiority can carry them though all kinds of impasses and contradictions" has resided more fully among the neocon clique in the Bush administration than other sections of the ruling class. We are hearing other sections increasingly voicing their concerns about Iraq, both in their own voices and through intermediaries. These contradictions are growing. How this might play out is of course wide open to different analyses and speculations, but I think it's a mistake to ignore both this factor and all the other objective factors I alluded to and assume that they can do whatever they desire.

In response to Chris:

I think it's important not to misunderstand what the statement means when it says the Bush administration is "just improvising." It's not talking about the fevered global dreams of Cheney and Rumsfeld. It's referring to the actual strategies and tactics they have to implement to carry out the Iraq occupation on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.

I certainly agree with your point that they can't "just pull out of Iraq without endangering their whole global project." And we've certainly made that point generously in other places. I think it would be a mistake to expect the kitchen sink in this statement; it's already pretty long.

In response to burningman:

I know you're deeply wedded to your view that the revolutionary movement we need is something fundamentally apart from the mass reform movements that are in existence, and you equally know that I fundamentally disagree with that outlook. I think it's undialectical to posit such a "never the twain shall meet" divide. This is the outlook that the Trotskyists promote. While I'm sure you wouldn't advocate a particular approach toward the masses that's quite as stupid as theirs, you're promoting the same basic view.

I think you have a certain myopia about how regular, working-class people who are just going about their lives turn into revolutionaries. By and large, it's not through being handed a revolutionary newspaper. Nor is it generally by walking into a meeting of an organization that's advocating revolutionary change. Of course it isn't; otherwise, the person would probably already be a revolutionary.

As a rule, people join organizations because they want to change something bad that's affecting their lives or (particularly in the case of the petit-bourgeoisie) something bad that's going on "out there." Through the process of engaging in the struggle to make a particular change they learn how the world works, how class, power, national and gender oppression and the like operate. It is in the struggle for limited gains that they learn that victories can be won.

If we advocate for stripping the revolutionaries out of these mass organizations in favor of separate organizations that solely have revolutionary goals, what we will end up with is a mass movement that's been entirely abandoned to liberal, bourgeois forces, along with a separate "revolutionary" movement that's far too small to carry out a revolution.

In my view, it's the responsibility of revolutionaries to be leaders within the broad organizations of the masses, to use the mass line to carry out struggle with them and sum up the experiences with them. It is this protracted process that takes the average person through the progression in experience and thinking that shapes them into revolutionaries. Among students and educated youth (who in most cases, CUNY being a notable exception, will tend to be from largely petit-bourgeois backgrounds) in particular, one can have some success with a strategy focused solely on building explicitly revolutionary mass groups. But in many other sectors it's often not the case.

The point is not to apply a mechanical rule at the beginning that says the only mass work we can carry out is that which is explicitly revolutionary. The point is to:
*engage with the different sectors of the masses based on where they are at and based on concrete analysis of concrete conditions, and wage the mass struggle side by side with them;
*through the struggle raise the consciousness of the broad masses;
*win the advanced to revolution and socialism; and
*work to develop a strategy which takes the mass struggle higher and toward greater expectations and more radical, and eventually revolutionary, demands.

Where we believe the actual conditions have developed to allow explicitly revolutionary and/or anti-imperialist organizations to be built, Freedom Road does so. Two groups (amongst others) organized on such a basis that I have some familiarity with are the People's Organization for Progress and Black Workers for Justice. (To understand why that is the case with them, you should get down and study the history behind those groups.) But the folks I know who help lead such organizations will also do other work that is not explicitly revolutionary or anti-imperialist. There are many other situations where, given the conditions, it's just not possible, *at the present moment*, to do work on that basis. It is the responsibility of revolutionaries, by way of the existing mass movement, to help the conditions develop that will allow more and more sections of the masses to be organized on a more and more explicitly revolutionary basis.

That, in my view, is the proper approach to the mass struggle. I also believe that if you actually examine the on-the-ground legal mass work that some of the parties you admire, you will find a whole lot of mass work led by such "genuine Maoists" that doesn't fit your preconceived notion of revolutionary work. I have some familiarity with the Philippine movement in particular, and I know that to be the case there.

You call this view pragmatism, economism, social democracy, etc. I guess I would just encourage you to keep investigating the historical work done by the whole of the New Communist Movement. I certainly agree with you that this whole question is not a secondary one.

Going on to a few other points, I do agree with you when you note that "Avakian talks about working broadly without losing who you are." Of course Avakian is cribbing from Mao and the Chinese revolution here. The twin errors of "everything through the united front" and "everything through the party" should both be avoided. As Mao says, "Our policy is one of independence and initiative within the united front, a policy both of unity and of independence."

When you say, "I don't think we can pressure the ruling classes to 'come to their senses,'" I'm a little surprised if you think that's what the piece is saying. The way I would frame it is that one of our tasks is to help deepen the contradictions between different sectors of the enemy and force them to fight more with each other over what course to take.

Finally, on the "crisis of socialism" position, I very strongly agree with you that we have a new dawn in front of us. Freedom Road has congresses every three years. The next one is this year. We'll see what comes out of it in terms of that statement. As we've patiently pointed out on many occasions, our statement doesn't claim, and was never intended to claim, that the crisis of socialism that we are emerging from was permanent (despite the dedicated efforts on the part of some to read that into it).

the burningman

Eric -- I think the difference is that I don't think "reform" movements are a stepping stone to revolutionary movements. Or that "reform" is anymore "mass" than anything else.

fellow traveler

Eric - do you think the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist position is "hand people a newspaper and they'll become revolutionaries?"

I don't see Burningman advocating that. More importantly, neither do the organized MLM forces in this country.

You cannot build an organization around staffing reform movements and then expect it to turn on a dime when you decide the "objective" condistions merit it.

This is all the more true because after training members in pragmatism -- the art of what's possible within the existing socio-political framework -- you will always and everywhere see revolution as an over-reach.

Or, you will support various forms of "mixed economy" in power, and pretend there is no difference between social-democracy and socialism. After years and years of this, you will become something else entirely whether that is your intention or not.

If you send your members into the labor (management) movement, identity formations and so on -- all the while denigrating the development of a revolutionary party -- I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you can't see the difference between what you THINK MLM advocates and what it actually does.

A similar argument exists in evolutionary theory between "incrementalists" and "punctuated equilibrium." Can't break it all down now at work -- but it's worth checking out the writings of Stephen J. Gould.

BTW: I have never encountered a single public event (in 20 years of poltiical activity) where a member or supporter of Freedom Road openly advocated socialism. You do not engage either intellectual or practical organizing work on that basis. This is not a slight or an insult, just an observation.

It appears you come to your positions by polling various activists and staffers... and then "lead from the middle." This is a method, but it's not a communist method. That is to say, it's not a method for making qualitative leaps either in day-to-day movement building or in the strategic sense of fighting for a communist world.

just asking

Didn't Freedom Road split over "Marxism-Leninism?"

The Minneapolis-Chicago Freedom Road was the minority faction and they uphold ML in principle, but reject Maoism and differentiation between revisionism and MLM. They even went backwards to supporting the Soviet Union after the fact and the current Chinese government.

The only people on earth who still think China is communist are the Falun Dafa and former Maoists, LOL.

The other group, which I take it Eric supports, was for Refoundation with other post-Leninists like Solidarity and the CP split Committees of Correspondence for Socialism and Democracy (CCDS).

I'm surpised to see one of their supporters talking about revolution here. They tend to mock the very word, along with other ML terms like vanguard, revisionist and the dictatorship of the proletariat. They train activists interested in socialism in what I call a permanent horizon. Socialism and motion towards it is forever out of reach, always around the bend.

They do not use the red flag or other symbols of the communist movement and belive that open communist work is inherently sectarian. I hope that's a fair assessment, I'm not trying to be snippy.

On their website they uphold Evo Morales and do not have materials upholding people's war.

Can I ask Eric direct questions: Is Freedom Road a Marxist-Leninist organization? Are you communists? On your website you use the word "socialist." Is that different from social democracy?

What is your position on the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement?

Does Freedom Road (Ref) take part in other international gatherings?

I'm sorry if this isn't an appropriate forum. I don't meet Freedom Road members. I'm aware of some of the work you do from reading your website.

This is off the topic, but does Freedom Road have support for a "black-belt" African-American nation as part of their basis of unity?

the burningman

Just Asking: You can ask anything you want, but no one's obliged to do anything.

Eric: I'm glad you've taken the time to flesh out some of the positions of Freedom Road and to share your own thinking and methodology. I'm back from work and can add a little more.


One thing might make coherent threads easier is if supporters of any given position (or method or organization) don't have to answer for everything else associated with it at every turn... Let's try to have exchanges that clarify instead of just bouncing misperceptions. That said, I hope I don't trample my own hay.


I understand that Eric equating mass work with reformist organizing, and also holds the "small victories" model as intrinsic... that from fighting for attainable goals, the social sectors socialists work among will come (with struggle) to more class conscious (etc) understanding and capacity will be brought out. In short, Eric is saying that becoming a revolutionary isn't the same as swallowing a pill.

I agree with that. It's tricky to separate out exactly what the disagreements are. I hope clarification can be extended where I'm mistaken. I'll try and respond properly in the morning.

Eric Odell


Do you believe that the Black Power phase of the Black Liberation Movement, and the groups that sprang out of it (RAM, BPP, BLA, DRUM, LRBW, ALSC, etc.) could have emerged the way they did when they did, if the prior "civil rights" phase of the BLM hadn't existed?


To fellow traveler:

I certainly don't think the MLM position is mainly about newspapers. As I've laid out, I think it's mainly about building the struggle side by side with the masses. When I see propaganda play too much of a central role in a group's work, it makes me concerned about deviation from what I consider proper MLM social practice.

You say, "You cannot build an organization around staffing reform movements." Where did I say anything about staffing? Some small fraction of our members do indeed end up in staff and elected leadership positions (more often than not as a result of being pushed forward by the masses into leadership of union locals and such), but we don't encourage it--in fact, we actively *discourage* our cadre from taking staff positions. We just don't rule it out out of hand. (We try to eschew commandism and give a degree of freedom to our districts and commissions to direct their own work.) Our main approach by far is to work at the base of the organizations we work in. And we make strong criticisms of the NGO scene. We don't believe that staff-driven organizations are the correct form of organization to build as a rule. (There are very limited exceptions, but I won't go into them in this message.)

We disagree with approaches taken in the past by right-leaning NCM groups such as the League of Revolutionary Struggle. They did indeed follow a purposeful strategy that focused on getting into formal leadership and staff roles in the groups they operated in. We think that's wrong.

fellow traveler, what gives you the idea that we "denigrate the development of a revolutionary party"? We in fact call clearly for the formation of a revolutionary party and work toward its development. Just because we don't believe that a group can just declare that they're the One True Party and presto! they magically are, doesn't mean we don't believe in building a revolutionary party. You should read our stuff more carefully.

I'm impressed that you can tell that I and my comrades will support a mixed economy. I'm not even going to argue that point with you, as you so clearly committed to the view that we are social democrats, I don't believe there's anything I can say here to gainsay your prescient powers.

When you refer to the "labor (management) movement," do you believe that the labor movement shouldn't be built? Is there no correct way to organize the working class as workers? When you refer to "identity formations," I detect a certain disparagement there. Am I wrong? Do you not believe oppressed groups in general, and oppressed nationalities in particular, should be organized based on their common oppression?

I agree that Stephen Jay Gould is well worth reading. (I like Dick Levins and Richard Lewontin even better.) Believe me that I understand punctuated equilibrium well. I majored in physics/astrophysics for five years before I dropped out, and I currently work as a secretary in a neurobiology research lab. I read the scientific journals on a regular basis.

Regarding your never having heard us advocate for socialism, I guess you just haven't been involved deeply enough in any groups that we work in. Speaking for myself, in addition to representing as a communist in CUNY work, I have also spoken more than once at public Philippine solidarity events as a member of FRSO advocating socialist revolution. Most of the rest of our members do likewise. (Not all of our members are open.) If I were you, I would do a whole lot more investigation before making such authoritative statements.

I don't know where you get your "lead from the middle" view from. I would have to guess that again it's from a lack of investigation. I think the good Chairman had something to say on this matter.


To just asking:

No, FRSO didn't split over "M-L." We both still uphold it. The way we frame our ideology in our unity statement is thus: "The roots of our theory are based on Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao and other revolutionaries, such as Amilcar Cabral, Malcolm X, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. It is our responsibility to branch out, learning from feminism, environmentalism and national liberation struggles at home and abroad." When we want to thumbnail it, the formulation we generally use is "revolutionary socialist and Marxist-Leninist." Our long-time members hail from a whole host of organizations from the New Communist Movement, mostly Maoist groups, but a few from other sub-flavors. I would read both organizations' statements on the split to gain a better understanding of it.

Left Refoundation is a long discussion; let me just say here that while we have had discussions with a variety of groups including Solidarity, the CP and a bunch of others (I'm not sure when we've last had any contact with CCDS), we don't believe that any of those groups are going to play any kind of central role in a Left Refoundation party-building process.

You say, "They tend to mock the very word [revolution], along with other ML terms like vanguard, revisionist and the dictatorship of the proletariat." Just where the hell did you get this idea?! You are so far off base, I'm not sure what to say. I'm trying to avoid interpreting this as a purposeful misrepresentation, but you're making it hard. Here goes, though.

In my twelve years in FRSO, I have never heard of an instance of any member mocking the word revolution. Maybe you can quote me an example.

We absolutely believe in a revolutionary vanguard. However, we believe it to be an objective phenomenon, not a subjective one. In other words, you don't get to declare it, history does.

We consider ourselves solidly anti-revisionist. This is one of the main differences with the "other" FRSO, which appears to have abandoned anti-revisionism. (I expect we'll hear someone responding on this point.)

On the dictatorship of the proletariat, here's what our Crisis of Socialism statement says: "The dictatorship of the proletariat is at heart the ever-expanding organization, expression and, when necessary, enforcement of the popular will at all levels of society, in order to gradually eliminate classes and exploitation. Strengthening this class dictatorship--and not the state apparatus itself--is the essence of the socialist transition, and mass socialist democracy--not state repression--must be its linchpin. " There's a lot more in that statement on that topic that's worth reading. I only quoted the heart of it.

Skipping over some crap, we do indeed uphold Evo Morales as someone who will contribute (in a contradictory way, it's certain) to the blossoming anti-imperialist upsurge throughout Latin America. That doesn't mean we think he's going to lead Bolivia down the communist road, however.

Is FRSO a M-L organization? I already addressed that.

Are we communists? I'm not sure if every last person in the organization uses the word to describe themselves, but everyone I can think of does. We use the phrase "revolutionary socialist" in part to distinguish our politics from social democracy (yes, what "we consider" social democracy).

We have no official position on the RIM.

We do take part in other international gatherings from time to time, but we prefer to build bilateral relationships with parties that we do actual solidarity work with. We think that's more meaningful and a better use of our very limited resources. I druther not go into too many details in this forum.

Does FRSO support the "black-belt" African-American nation? I must say I'm a little surprised here that you don't know this. It's probably the single thing we're most known for. We place more organizational energy into building the Black Liberation and Chicano Liberation and other oppressed-nationality movements than into any other general area of work. You should read our unity statement on the National Question to learn more.


P.S. I can't promise how much more I can contribute to this discussion. This is already taking a lot of my limited time and energy. (I have serious health issues, but I've been feeling pretty good lately.) I'll do my best.

the burningman

Thanks, Eric.

One problem with the software this blog is running on is that the comments aren't nested. This means that entire threads can go in one direction pretty easily. Enough people are posting to say we don't have to be antagonistic. Clever is better, I don't mind a bit dishy. If people are wrong and you can explain why well enough that it just might stick, correct them.

Oh, about Bob Avakian cribbing from Mao -- it's not like the Chair hasn't left a few footnotes.

the burningman

Speaking of the devil...

anotha  brotha

While I agree mostly with FRSO's "mass line" approach, I disagree with Eric's assertion that "reformist work"="mass work" I think mass work can be explictly revolutionary. The Black Panther Party is an example of a revolutionary vanguard that did mass work in the Black community with a revolutionary, anti-imperialist line.

I think a larger question is the tension betweeen "Serving the People" and in the process creating a conscious vanguard vs. "Servicing the people" allowing for a large degree of volunteerism.

Eric Odell


I accept your criticism. However, I would say in response that much of fellow traveler's and just asking's posts came across to me strongly in both style and content as attempts at point scoring rather than truth seeking. I should have made that criticism directly, but I would also venture that the fact that you have a dog in this race makes it harder for you to perceive this and intervene as the moderator. So in return I would ask that you be extra diligent in ensuring a fair and principled discussion.


anotha brotha:

I wholeheartedly agree with you. If my post gave the impression that I believe mass work=reform work under all circumstances, I want to clarify that because it's an essential matter, and I've been trying hard to make my views clear.

Revolutionaries should in all circumstances rely on *concrete analysis of concrete conditions* to assess what can be won under the given circumstances at that particular historical moment. Qualitatively different particular conditions will dictate qualitatively different strategies, tactics, demands, etc.

I believe that it is a left error on the one hand to ignore the fact that it is essential to try to win concrete gains for the masses even under adverse conditions that dictate more reformist immediate goals. It is a right error on the other hand to fail to emphasize that a mass struggle correctly waged under more adverse conditions can shift the balance of forces quantitatively, which allows for more radical goals that then transform the balance of forces qualitatively and raise the consciousness and expectations of the masses to the point that revolutionary goals will be embraced by the masses in their millions. This is of course a basic dialectical principle: quantitative steps transform into qualitative leaps (and vice versa). We're now seeing that process unfold in front of our eyes in many parts of Latin America and South Asia. In short, it is a left error to one-sidedly focus on the quality side of the relation, and a right error to one-sidedly focus on the quantity side. (It is indeed a deviation of "servicing the people" to fail to push forward in the direction of revolution. What exactly constitutes pushing forward is of course what the whole fuss is about here.)

It is my opinion that over the last few years we have clearly been leaving a period of more adverse conditions and entering a more favorable period. This shift has been caused primarily by the great struggles of the oppressed peoples of the Third World, but secondarily by the rise of new movements in the imperialist countries (principally among the petit bourgeoisie so far) since the final years of the '90s. 9/11 caused a detour which set this upsurge back a few years in the US, but it seems like that event could lead to even faster and greater gains down the road as the Bush regime drives the imperial machine into the ground in the sands of Iraq. Now is indeed the time where we should be starting to put forward more radical/anti-empire and revolutionary/anti-imperialist goals among increasingly broad sections of the masses (just like the BPP and other groups I previously mentioned did in the corresponding phase of the Black Liberation Movement back in the day.) This is a fundamentally protracted process, but we are indeed advancing along it.

the burningman

Oh Eric, the criticism wasn't for you! Re-reading it, that's not clear -- so let me again thank you for taking real time. I was making a more general point about engaging so we learn even where there are disagreements.

I'm very lightly "moderating" discussions here. I've only taken two comments down out of a few hundred posted on the blog. This is mainly becuase participants have been trying hard (enough) to keep the threads focused. I think rigorous, sharp debate is possible. Point scoring is a way of substituting an "a-ha!" for a deeper analysis.

It's not a horse race, or a zero-sum game. Not in my mind anyway. I'd like to stress how rare are the forums where these discussions and debate can happen.


I think last night's Bush Sept Down protests are an example of a "concrete analysis." The Bush agenda needs to be body-checked right now and the millions who are grumbling need to get tumbling. It's not just a compilation of particularized felt needs. It is properly political.

In terms of concrete gains, I have not seen effective reform movements really anywhere in the states for decades. Methods, such as Alinskyism, that see small gains as empowerment, tend to limit activism where it holds sway. The same is true with the John Holloway/David Solnit movementarians. Even in these fairly extreme cases, where socialism is ruled out of order on principle, important resistance work is built.

If revolutionaries (in subjective intent) tailor demands and activities to what seems possible now -- instead of developing the "tendencies" inside current contradictions, we will "tail" spontaneous sentiment even when we don't mean to.

Eric Odell

I know it's not a horse race, or a zero-sum game, silly. I was employing an idiom.

I actually think that internet blogs, lists, etc. are a rather poor forum to hold discussion and debate. Internet forums to get strongly dominated by educated white guys, and the structure of the communication tends more often than not to bring out the worst in people rather than the best. That's why civility and principle are so rare. You've overall done a pretty good job here, but you know what it's like to slog through places like Indymedia or Infoshop, for example. (For this reason, among others, I try to minimize my on-line interactions and concentrate on discussion and line struggle in meatspace -- just like FRSO does in our LR party-building work. The last few days have been rather an exception for me.)

I believe that interaction and line struggle should occur as much as possible in spaces that allow both for organizations rather than just individuals to interact, as well as for structural mechanisms to be used to promote the engagement of female, oppressed nationality and working-class comrades -- rather than mainly white guys like you and me.

I certainly agree with you on Alinskyism and the like. We criticize that methodology and thinking on a regular basis. As for any political line that eschews the building of revolutionary organization along with the mass struggle, if that's how you define "movementism," I'm down with you on that. Be aware, though, that there are other definitions of the term.

As for "effective reform movements" in the recent period, my view is that this is due in large part to the shadow cast over the people's movements by the crisis of socialism in the latter part of the 20th century. That shadow is now dissipating. Now we will begin to see reform movements advance quantitatively and, over time, transform qualitatively into movements for fundamental change.

uh yeah?

Eric writes: "I actually think that internet blogs, lists, etc. are a rather poor forum to hold discussion and debate. Internet forums to get strongly dominated by educated white guys."

The implictions of this are?
a) theory itself is suspect.
b) science is suspect.
c) anything requiring the skills of education, debate, documentation, study, synthesis is suspect

These are skills that as a result of criminal capitalism are concentrated in the hands of the relatively privileged.

But how will we get to the essense of things -- to actual truth and correct analysis -- without forums that use these skills (and are accessible so that more people can learn them)?

We need forums like this. And we need a movement that trains the masses in these skills -- not one that disparages the skills cause the system has doled them out to the relatively few.

[i.e. beware of the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific arguments and assumptions of identity politics- including when it is wedded to the joey sixpack assumptions of economism. Economism is the identity politics of the employed workers?]


Next someone will be calling Marx and Engels "dead white guys."

It is time to dump this logic. And to dump it we need to call it out.

"Dominated by educated white guys" -- a tired mantra for worshipping spontaneity and distrusting theory.

And even for training people in kneejerk distrust of "educated white guys" -- in a world where a leader like Avakian(or a Lenin before him) can make all the difference. (I've even met someone who said "our movement needs a black woman leader at the forefront" as if you pick your leadership by identity group not by line and ability! And if you pick someone like that, what are Latinos supposed to conclude? It is a vicious divisive circle where victory is irrelevent and process is all.

We have to say "evaluate line in relation to reality" -- not "evaluate any thought by who is saying it" (the logic of identity politics).

I remember one person saying "If practice is so important and 'learning from the masses' is so important -- where did Lenin find the time to write 40 volumes?"

Eric Odell

Those are pretty profound misreadings of my post. Are you two actually reading the entirety of my comments? I'm trained as a hard scientist, for cryin' out loud. Why would I put forward a view that science, theory, analysis, etc. are "suspect"?

I'm pointing to the need to put our main collective energy into forums for discussion and debate that don't intrinsically perpetuate the domination of white guys in the movement but instead incorporate mechanisms that bring forward and train other sectors. Whatever its strengths, do you think this blog does that particularly well?

Calling such a view "identity politics," if that's what you're doing, is blatantly chauvinist in my book. The idea that the need for an affirmative, structural emphasis on developing the abilities, skills, and confidence on the part of non-white-guys in the movement to engage in intellectual analysis and debate is somehow opposed to the very idea of the importance of that analysis and debate is a logical fallacy that in the New Communist Movement was sometimes called "pitting X against Y." We can have both, and we *ought* to have both.


Eric writes: "Those are pretty profound misreadings of my post. Are you two actually reading the entirety of my comments?"

I think this is an example of "talking past each other." So, for clarity, let me explain.

I think you are responsible for the implications of your words, not just for your words.

It is idealism (a view of "inventing your own reality") to separate those two: i.e. to separate your line from "the logic of the logic."

Fundamentally we have to understand where a view goes, and judge it ON THAT BASIS. (As opposed to judging it on the subjective intent of the speaker, or where they say it will do.)

So i was looking at the whole line of "dominated by educated white men" (which exists as a common concept, line, response in the real world, and not just in your personal post.)

Eric writes: "I'm trained as a hard scientist, for cryin' out loud. Why would I put forward a view that science, theory, analysis, etc. are "suspect"?"

This is not personal. You would put forward your view because you are influenced by subjective idealism in the form of identity politics. The fact that you are trained (over here) in science, does not mean that (over there) in philosophy and politics you are a materialist. The answer to your question of "why would I put this forward" is really (basically) revisionism.

The identity politics tails the consciousness of forces (in movemeents and strata) that you want to tail.

You may not even personally believe this, or agree with it. But you ARE putting it forward. It is "low roadism."

Eric writes: "I'm pointing to the need to put our main collective energy into forums for discussion and debate that don't intrinsically perpetuate the domination of white guys in the movement."

This was never a discussion of "where we need to put our main collective eneergy." And injecting that now, is merely a way of clouding the discussion.

The discussion was whether we should reject and diss forums because (for reasons real or imagined) they might tend to be dominated by "educated white men."

Take for example science (which you raise). It is a crime that it is restricted -- that it is sociologically (far to often, though not literally) an "old boy's network."

But that is not an argument for going away from scientific forums .
"...incorporate mechanisms that bring forward and train other sectors. Whatever its strengths, do you think this blog does that particularly well?"

I think this whole rap is a club that can be used to guilt trip anyone and anything. It is part of raising substance over content. Some forums should be entry level -- some should grapple at the highest level they can. It all depends. It is definitely NOT true that all forums should put inclusivity and accessibility as the first and highest priority -- or (again) we would have no science, no synthesis, no theory, no straining. We would be all "Communist Manifesto" and no "Das Kapital."

Eric writes: "Calling such a view "identity politics," if that's what you're doing, is blatantly chauvinist in my book."

Yea, right. "Blatently" even! Puleez. Try that on someone else. This is the one-two of identity politics: focus on process, call anyone who dissents a racist. If everyone reading this hasn't see it a thousand times i'd be surprised.

Eric writes: "The idea that the need for an affirmative, structural emphasis on developing the abilities, skills, and confidence on the part of non-white-guys in the movement to engage in intellectual analysis and debate is somehow opposed to the very idea of the importance of that analysis and debate is a logical fallacy that in the New Communist Movement was sometimes called "pitting X against Y." We can have both, and we *ought* to have both."

Well sure we should have both -- but not in every forum. The central leadership of the revolution will engage in controversies and use language that not every worker, prole, or grassroots activist can immediately understand. (Though ultimately, the masses can understand the core cardinal questions, and need to be integrally involved in taking them up. But that means (in many ways) RAISING their consciousness (including of the need to grapple with all this), not merely or mainly depressing all discussion to what is palpable and immediately accessible.


heh-- well, you said many things I was writing down... so I won't repeat, yea.

Eric, if you don't grasp what we are discussing, you will have a political trend without revolutionary ideas, without theoretical struggle over how to emancipate humanity (as opposed to tactical struggle over how to respond to a TWU contract, or what kind of massformation you like in the antiwar movement), and without a newspaper that brings communist analysis out "hot on the heels of events."

And (come to think of it) you already do.

There is a fusion here: people will "learn through struggle" (not through "being told"). (Talk about a "pitting X against Y" approach!) And there is no revolution on the horizon, so there is no room for communism at the heart of present political work. People should be mobilized by what they already feel and know (which in the U.S. is very different from what they NEED).

Actually the "educated white guys" thing is very much in the air -- and not in a progressive way. The whole dis of universities, of overeducated elites, of limosine liberals in Hollywood is a rightwing populism that is playing to exactly same impulses that you are.

The masses of people (ironic but true) actually need to grasp the VALUE of doctors willing to do abortions, scientists willing to explore evolutionary biology, professors willing to teach about empire and capitalism. They need to appreciate that there are things that only the educated currently have -- that are very very valuable for humanity.

We hate the division of mental and manual -- we intend to abolish it through world-historic struggle.

But how easy it is (in anti-intellectual America especially) to make "educated white guys" the demon (within the movement and the masses) -- and like "yeah" said: the issue ain't what you said about this, or even what you personally believe about it, but the issue is where will this line lead the masses if it is fanned, encouraged and fought for (even by an educated white guy in a revisionist movement who has been trained to attack educated white guys.)


in the post above I wrote "It is part of raising substance over content."

In fact, I meant "It is part of raising process and form over content."

Eric Odell

This is getting tedious. You all are not talking past me; I understand perfectly what you're are saying. I stand by what I wrote, and I completely disagree with your assessment of "the logic of my logic."

I am not "rejecting and dissing" this blog; I am pointing out the limitations of it.

I'm not saying we should avoid any such forum as this (otherwise why would I be here at all?); I'm saying forums with such intrinsic limitations should not be the *main* avenue through which we engage in line struggle and development.

I'm not saying we shouldn't engage in deep line struggle and development in the here and now with the human material as it has developed to date. I'm saying that as we engage in deep line struggle and development in the here and now, we should emphasize methods that actually develop the potential of oppressed sectors within the movement to their full potential, rather than those that tend more to perpetuate the systems of white supremacy and male supremacy that exist even within the revolutionary movement.

I maintain, and will continue to maintain, that either a denial of the existence of this domination, a rejection of the importance of the revolutionary movement's need to systematically address this domination, or a denial that this domination has a profound impact on the line that the movement actually generates *is indeed chauvinism*. That, in my view, is the "logic of your logic."


Eric says: "This is getting tedious. "

By contrast, I think two very different points of view were laid out here.

I won't comment til others do, having said (more or less) what I think.


**I'm saying forums with such intrinsic limitations should not be the *main* avenue through which we engage in line struggle and development.**

hmmm. Hardly a bold assertion.

Who is arguing that a blog like this should be a "main avenue" of anything?

You sidestepped everything "Yeah" and I raised, proclaimed the discussion "tedious" and just waved around the well-worn charge of "racist."

(And even the implication that someone here has denied there is racist and sexist domination in the U.S.?!)

I imagine this passes for discussion somewhere -- but just think of the paucity of insight that emerges from such corners.

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