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July 29, 2007

Comments

srogouski

R John, I really don't know where you're getting this all from. I've never heard of any rcp supporters being barred from online discussions or blogs.

I was saying something a bit different. Obviously the RCP can't keep its supporters from branching out on their own.

But take the RCP's paper. It's not a bad paper as far as Marxist weeklies go.

But compare it to the World Wide Socialist Website.

http://www.wsws.org/

The World Wide Socialist Website moves at Post 2001 speed. The RCP's paper at 1980s speed.

And even the WWSW has no interactive capability.

It's a bit like the difference between Microsoft and Linux. The RCP is Microsoft. Everything comes from the top down. It takes time. It means gaps in coverage.

Anarchists circa 1999 and to some extent left liberals are closer to Linux. Their politics are more open source. Ideas bubble up from the bottm.

Now unfortunately, the "open source politics" model has proven to be as inadequate as the RCP top down model. Have you taken a look at someplace like the Daily Kos lately? They've been totally moved to the right behind the scenes (with DNC money etc.). Try criticizing Israel on the Daily Kos and see how long it takes you to get banned.

So both models are inadequate and the question remains open. Since both the Marxist Leninist and anarchist models of confronting the propaganda industrial complex have failed, where are the pressure points? Where are the cracks? What's the approach.

Oddly enough "off the shoulders" makes the same point I here RCP members make all the time. The imperialists have a natural advantage because they have state power and centuries of tradition on their side.

I don't disagree with the diagnosis. I disagree with the prescription. For the RCP you need a world historical figure on the order of Mao or Lenin to guide the masses from the top down. Bob Avakian writes some good articles and gives some interesting talks but it's clear that he's one individual writing from that limited perspective. I don't see his methodology as having been able to forge a new generation of radical leadership.

Call it the overbearing father figure or something. I don't know.

srogouski

There is a "fetishism of the word" (that runs very very deep in Avakian personally) that believes a microscopic, convoluted, legalist precision of expression is key to expressing truths with potency.

Or to put it more crudely. You don't have to confront state repression in the streets. A penned in demonstration where the demonstrators give out "Revolution" and have "World Can't Wait Banners" will succede where a penned in demonsration with demonstrators waiving "Vote Vets" banners and giving out Code Pink literature won't.

zerohour

r. john, it seems that your problem is with democratic centralism. Perhaps you could clarify this. I second the dude, I've seen RCP supporters participate in discussions. Hell, Sunsara has her own blog.

Should supporters be allowed to make public statement that diverge from the official line? Remember this is an organization whose stated mission is revolution and as such, there are real security issues to be dealt with. The experience of the Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO is instructive here.

An important aspect of democratic centralism is that there must be a show of unity in public regardless of any private misgivings. Any divergence can confuse people as to what the organization represents as well as provide the enemy with a wedge to foment division. More importantly, a unified approach allows cadre to test the line to see what resonates with people and what doesn't. Otherwise, individual cadre would relate to people based on notions about what they think people want to hear. I personally can't live this way but I understand why it must be done.

srogouski

But... should people trying to move millions spend as much time as most of the folks on this blog debating with the same few people that already have an axe to grind with the rcp? Probably not.

I have no axe to grind at all with the RCP, or, rather, no more of an axe than I have to grind with half a dozen other political organizations.

But if you want to debate Leninism vs. Anarchism you have to really debate it.

I see two different problems.

1.) What to do when the Marxists actually take power. Avakian spens alot of time discussing this. And he says a lot of things I agree with. But come on, the RCP or any other Marxist party isn't taking power any time soon. So it's a discussion in a vacuum.

2.) How effective is the Marxist Leninist approach to organizing vs. the anarchist approach? What are the strengths/weaknesss to the top down cadre model vs. the strengths/weaknesss of the affinity group/denctralized model? I think both are inadequate and I don't claim to have any answers about what is. But I think the first step is admitting there's a problem.

r. john

the dude writes: "R John, I really don't know where you're getting this all from."Can you guess where I'm "getting this all from"?

From reality. There was a period where such commentary was ok.

But that has changed -- which explains why you see so little commentary by RCP supporters.

And there was a brief flurry of blogs by some Brigaders. Don't see that much anymore, do you? And on those few sites connected with RCP supporters (Larry Everest, Sunsara Taylor) very little appears (any more) that isn't a reprint an officially approved article.

dude writes: " I've never heard of any rcp supporters being barred from online discussions or blogs."

There is an enforced lock-down going on. And now you can no longer write that you have never heard of it.

srogouski

The experience of the Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO is instructive here.

And note how much more easily Cointelpro was able to break up cadre/authoritarian organizations than decentralized ones.

In the late 1950s, the FBI had so many people inside the Communist Party that Hoover was actually thinking about writing the party platform.

Really, if the FBI wanted to shut down the RCP, they'd just send a few Protest Warriors into a World Can't Wait rally with incindiary banners, have the cops film it, and confiscate their assets under that new law coming down the pike.

But they really don't see any need to right now. Shutting down the RCP would be more trouble than it's worth.

r. john

A LESS CONFUSING VERSION:

the dude writes: "R John, I really don't know where you're getting this all from."

R, John responds:

Can't you guess where I'm "getting this all from"?

From reality.

There was a period where such commentary was ok. But that has changed -- which explains why you see so little commentary by RCP supporters.

(Just imagine how many are lurkers on this site, and ask yourself, why don't they post and answer? What is their experience if they do?)

And there was once a brief flurry of blogs by some Brigaders.

Don't see that much anymore, do you?

And on those few sites connected with RCP supporters (Larry Everest, Sunsara Taylor) very little appears (any more) that isn't a reprint an officially approved article.

dude writes: "I've never heard of any rcp supporters being barred from online discussions or blogs."

There is an enforced lock-down going on. And now you can no longer write that you haven't heard of it.

srogouski

Speaking of Communist bloggers.

This site Lenin's Tomb has to be one of the best blogs of any political tendency.

Updated every day, several times a day in fact. Who is it? The British SWP? Or one individual inside the British SWP?

Whatever the model it works here.

srogouski

And on those few sites connected with RCP supporters (Larry Everest, Sunsara Taylor) very little appears (any more) that isn't a reprint an officially approved article.

Well the real issue here is where, for example, Sunsara Taylor gets most of her exposure.

Whether its from the left (Counterpunch) or the right (Fox News) it's not the RCP itself or their newspaper.

zerohour

r. john says "There is an enforced lock-down going on." Sources?

Christopher Day

Sources? I seriously doubt that you'll get any that satisfy you. And rightly so. But it seems clear that R. John is a close observer of the RCP and pretty careful about any charges he makes. His charge jibes with my (considerably less close) observations and comments made by others here and elsewhere about what they have observed. Do you have reason to doubt the claim?

zerohour

Christopher Day asked "Do you have reason to doubt the claim?" No, but I have no reason to believe it either. I've read your posts and I'm surprised you would expect me or anyone to take these charges at face value no matter how credible the accuser.

I don't track the RCP's presence on the internet, and you shouldn't assume everyone on this board does either.

Lurker

R. John's observations on this are basically correct. I observe the same thing going on. Anyone who has seriously followed RCP closely over the years can see what is going on.

Based on what you are all describing, all you are witnessing is less RCP participation on the internet. From this you derive a "general lockdown"?

zerohour

Sorry, the above post is mine and it should have read "enforced lock-down".

srogouski

Based on what you are all describing, all you are witnessing is less RCP participation on the internet. From this you derive a "general lockdown"?

It's not really as blatent or as conscious as all that.

But the RCP and it's various mass organization and their "securty culture" tends to create a (self defeating in my opinion) climate where open discussion and criticism doesn't tend to bloom very easily.

Whether or not this is common to all Marxist Leninist organizations or not is another question. But I think the obsession with security/state repression tends to cause people to censor themelves.

Once again, it's not conscious. It's not delibreate. It's cultural.

the dude

As far as the internet goes, avakian's talks are all now available on the internet, the revolution newspaper website has been upgraded in the last couple years, and at least where I am there is a much better system of mass email communication than there was a couple years ago.

As far as the decline in rcp blogging... one good thing about democratic centralism, like zerohour said, is that you can test things out and see if they're correct or not. Maybe they decided that blogging wasn't the best way to spend their time (btw, some other proggressive non-rcp bloggers I know have stopped recently b/c they thought it wasn't the best way to spend their time). Either way, it's certainly not a "lock-down."

Funny how much r. john sounds like emma goldman here... and in a lot of his recent posts on this site about the direction the rcp is going.

the dude

You gotta get in there and take responsibility for leading a revolution in less the laboratory conditions... and not standing on the side gesticulating about the deficiencies of those trying to do it. RCP people, like anyone (although probably more than most), are trying to figure out what is the best way forward.

Ask yourself this: what is sunsara doing when she's not blogging?

srogouski

Ask yourself this: what is sunsara doing when she's not blogging?

Well, depending upon other media outlets not in her control or her party's control to get her message out for one thing.

I think the point that r. john made above is an important one:

There is a "fetishism of the word" (that runs very very deep in Avakian personally) that believes a microscopic, convoluted, legalist precision of expression is key to expressing truths with potency.

Sunsara's going on O'Reilly depends on the assumptions he criticizes. She's going on as a sacrificial lamb, TO BE HUMILIATED and abused. If she makes any genuinely damaging points to Fox or the right, O'Reilly can just cut her mike or simply edit the footage out of the show.

But there's the assumption that certain ideas, certain words simply don't get on national TV and merely be using them on Fox, it's going to move people in the right direction.

Maybe it works? It probably does work to a certain extent. But this verbal fetish/fundamentalism tends to motivate against building your own communications/propganada infastructure. Why bother if you can get the right words on someone else's larger (and already built) outlet (even if its Fox)?

the dude

OK, last one.

R.John said: "There is a "fetishism of the word" (that runs very very deep in Avakian personally) that believes a microscopic, convoluted, legalist precision of expression is key to expressing truths with potency"

Another Emma Goldman/Jack Reed moment here. You really seem to be grasping for any flaw. Avakian speaks with such precision b/c he's taking responsility for leading the whole ICM. When he qualifies statements by saying things like, "but not in a one-to-one way," which he does a lot (and yes, maybe sometimes too much) he's doing it because he's trying to be as correct as possible and not leave room for it to be misinterpreted. Is there something wrong with that? People will spontaneously misinterpret his shit, because people don't spontaneously think like dialectical scientists -- they spontaneously think, including in the ICM, in more linear, dogmatic ways. One of the great things about bob's talks is that after listening to it you don't just know more... you actually have a better grasp of how to think like a communist because he's guided us through that process -- maybe this is your "convoluted" part.

On the other hand, there is also a role for statements which are very open to interpretation, creative application, and debate. One of my favorites from avakian is: "the worst thing to happen to the jewish people since the holocaust is the state of israel."

srogouski

One of the great things about bob's talks is that after listening to it you don't just know more... you actually have a better grasp of how to think like a communist because he's guided us through that process -- maybe this is your "convoluted" part.

I'm not talking about people who sit down and take the hours and hours of time it takes to listen to Avakian's talks. I've actually listened to them all the way through. But I don't think even everybody in the RCP or its periphery has.

What I'm talking about is the appearances not of Avakian but of his supporters in the media, the New York Times ads, the articles in Revolution. This kind of thing has to be, by necessity, short and to the point. And it takes more than verbal precision.

Verbal precision means very little when you're marching around inside a "free speech zone" at a permitted anti-war protest *unless* you also consider the aesthetics of the security theater, the way you're perceived by casual observers, whether or not people see you as "effective".

I keep thinking of Conyers and World Can't Wait. World Can't Wait's call is designed to make people stop and stare at the line "some people think of Hitler". Well, some people will be hit by that line. Others, like Conyers, people who are accustomed to incindiary rhetoric will just say "oh here's another petition. Sure I'll sign it". But when the crunch time comes, he will, of course, pay more attention to the people who have built the media and fundraising infastructure, people who have crude power than any verbal precision.

And then you wind up protesting him, protesting a guy who signed onto your own verbally precise "call".

r. john

srogouski asks: “…all you are witnessing is less RCP participation on the internet. From this you derive a ‘general lockdown’?”

No, not at all. You miss my point.

There is a general lockdown within and around the RCP that take many forms, including extreme micromanagement of the external utterances of party supporters. I don’t “derive” this, or “deduce” this from distant “observations.”

I am reporting it.

Earlier Zerohour asked. “Sources?”

The answer is: Me for one. Let me be your source.

Quite reasonably Zerohour asks for more evidence, “I'm surprised you would expect me or anyone to take these charges at face value no matter how credible the accuser.”

True, but this is a catch-22 for well known reasons.

Revolutionary organizations deserve a discrete internal life. And citing chapter-and-verse (specific documents, meetings, internal policies and timelines of changes in policy) would require “telling tales out of school” in an inappropriate way.

So you won’t get details and dates from me. Sorry.

And actually, these are not “charges,” and I don’t *expect* you to take them "at face value."

I am trying to do something different: I am discussing the public behavior of a political party – self-defeating behavior which many people have noted, often with real disappointment and frustration. And I’m trying to explore the political and ideological lines that give rise to it.

And the issue really is not the RCP’s “internet presence” – but understanding the causes and results of a highly-centralized regime of political micromanagement -- and the larger line it serves. This is done, ironically, in the name of “solid core, with a lot of elasticity” -- while a white-knuckled scramble for a stable obedient core eats up any tolerance of elasticity.

There are a number of things to say about the RCP’s internet presence – past and present. But one small point was raised here: The phenom of centralized micromanagement makes it very hard for party supporters to participate in the give-and-take of discussion threads – and essentially amounts to a decision to abstain.

It is *not* the most important manifestation of the RCP’s self-clamping. It is a rather minor one that just happened to be mentioned here.

Srogouski adds: “It's not really as blatant or as conscious as all that. But the RCP and its various mass organization and their ‘security culture’ tends to create a (self defeating in my opinion) climate where open discussion and criticism doesn't tend to bloom very easily…. But I think the obsession with security/state repression tends to cause people to censor themselves.”

I know what you are saying, I have heard this analysis before.

But I basically think your conclusions don’t get to the heart of it.

I think there is an attempt to tightly control all public statements and public perceptions in a way that is impossible and detrimental.

It is not a result of “security culture” – but rather the reverse. Security is often used as an excuse for a tightly controlled “info diet” within a party, and a tight control of expression outside. Once you accept that one voice is magical, you quickly act to stifle any other voices, even if that (in reality) strangles everything.

In the RCP today, it is not “obsession with security/state repression” that leads to censorship and self-censorship of communists – but the line that says the party itself has gotten between the chairman and the people, and must now finally “get out of the way.”

In this view, the majority of cadre are summed up as incapable of articulating correctly the “new synthesis” and are supposed to keep their mouths shut, except in the most tightly-scripted ways.

Srogouski writes: “Once again, it's not conscious. It's not deliberate. It's cultural.”

No. It is conscious and deliberate.

There has been a long-standing (and I believe, highly justified) caution about blabbing uncontrolled in public. But I am describing a different phenomenon: a lock-down of a new type tied to struggle over what the line of the RCP should be, and who should be allowed to express it.

It is self-defeating -- it proclaims critical thinking while acting in obviously slavish and religious ways.

It proclaims the banner of "emancipator of humanity" while offering only the posture of awestruck acolyte.

* * * * *

I thought “the dude” made a good point:

“You gotta get in there and take responsibility for leading a revolution in less the laboratory conditions... and not standing on the side gesticulating about the deficiencies of those trying to do it. RCP people, like anyone (although probably more than most), are trying to figure out what is the best way forward.”

This is true. And applies to all of us – and certainly it is a standard by which I would judge myself and others.

(I do need to criticize the casual assumption that anyone writing on the internet cannot be serious, involved, active, or taking responsibility – an assumption that seems to mechanically divide people into “armchair talkers and serious doers.” Puleez: This is the 21st century, and people who are fully “taking responsibility” do so, in part, by expressing their views on the internet.)

I think (looking over fully 35 years) the cadre of the RCP have truly tried to “figure out the best way forward.” There is a great deal to sum up, learn from, build on, in these sincere and heartfelt efforts.

But intention (i.e. TRYING to figure out) is not the only measure of things. “The point is to change the world.”

And I think we need to inject two verdicts for discussion:

1) after 35 years of complex and varied work, the RCP has never succeeded in developing a mass partisan political base anywhere among sections of the people. It has never succeeded in becoming a “party” in THAT sense. And it is fair to explore a question that the RCP’s leadership has been carefully shunning – what are the roots of such rather stunning failure (roots within objective conditions and political/ideological line)?

2) The current developments of the RCP’s line go in a profoundly wrong direction – toward renewed self-isolation, magical thinking, self-deception, and an extreme new doctrine of “repolarizing society around the great leader” (in a way that is non-materialist).

“Taking responsibility” (which “the dude” correctly calls for) requires wrangling over these two troubling problems.

I think there is great value in the “first string” energy with which the RCP continues to “take out” their politics and ideology – including Sunsara’s efforts to “break into the superstructure” of the mass media. The problem is that overall (in both form and contact) much of the party’s work is incapable of “getting traction” broadly among the people (and even of consolidating the genuinely advanced in more than the drib-drab of ones and twos).

The political practice ends up as a series of “forays,” over and over, relying on the same core structure of “usual suspects,” incapable of building the expected momentum and mass support – commendable energy, correct appreciation of the need for open communist politics, but with a line and approach that is incapable of connecting with people-as-they-really-are.

* * * * * *

The dude writes: “Avakian speaks with such precision b/c he's taking responsibly for leading the whole ICM. When he qualifies statements by saying things like, 'but not in a one-to-one way,' which he does a lot (and yes, maybe sometimes too much) he's doing it because he's trying to be as correct as possible and not leave room for it to be misinterpreted. Is there something wrong with that?”

A good question. I think it divides into two:

Communist theory-as-theory needs to have a great degree of precision – and the real complexity of the world means that even at its most lucid, truly scientific analysis will be complex.

I was just reading Lenin (in LWCID) where he praises Engels by saying that Engels “like Marx, was one of those rarest of authors whose every sentence in every one of their great works contains remarkably profound meaning...”

And I think you are right: far more than most people understand, Avakian sees himself as speaking to the world, the whole ICM, and even the now-faceless forces of the distant future – rather than the *specific* audiences of real reified humans around him (who he finds to be a constant disappointment.)

In many of his speeches, (from the Mao Memorial to the DVD) the audience is treated as mere witnesses to the "historic event."

And it is very hard to overstate this: When the RCP says that communism “hangs by a thread” – they are repeating Avakian’s personal belief that humanity’s future literally depends on whether or not he (personally) gets the commanding position within both the ICM and global events.

And that view generates a kind of edgy grimness, since Avakian’s influence in both the ICM and larger society are currently faint at best. Is the RIM any more real today than are communist political bases within Watts or Oakland?

Most RCP supporters remain simply unaware that the RIM is dysfunctional and at the brink, that the RCP is profoundly isolated from forces associated with the RIM (except for the Iranian Sarbardaran), and that significant Maoist forces like the CPN(M) openly tell Avakian to butt out – to focus on building a real revolutionary movement around his party, and stop trying to supervise them from afar.

A conscious “info diet” around the RCP produces a real ignorance about very basic facts about our own movement.

* * * * *

My point about “fetishism of the word” is not that theory shouldn’t be precise – and I am not making the (mundane and oft-noted) point that Avakian’s writings are stylistically self-indulgent.

I am arguing that the current practice of the RCP (its approach of focusing on “the culture of appreciation, promotion and popularization” of a "unique and special leader of this caliber" in opposition to anything resembling the mass line) is part of a larger idealism deeply rooted within Avakian’s “new synthesis.”

It represents a leap – an idealist “development” (out of MLM) regarding how ideas transform matter, and subsequently regarding the role that “special” individuals (who are synthesizing ideas) play within the larger social process.

zerohour

There are two issues here. One, RCP should be concerned about building its own means of communications rather than relying on existing structure. This would allow them to address some security concerns as well as enhance their visibility and allow them to control their content. srogouski, have I characterized your point accurately? This is an important issue and deserves its own thread.

The other, that RCP's reduced presence on the internet is evidence of a "lockdown." The language used here is reminiscent of anti-communism. It invokes images of a monolithic party clamping down on individual thought and relies on old stereotypes and misconceptions about democratic centralism. Members of a party who abide by democratic centralism do so with an understanding of what it entails. If there was a directive to post less on the internet, you can't be sure it wasn't based on internal debate and discussion. As I've already pointed out, a tenet of DC is that external unity must always maintained for security and political consistency. From the outside, it can look mechanical, but that's understandable if one's interactions are mainly with mass organizations or non-DC organizations. Try making a revolution in which individual cadre can just go and say or do whatever they feel like and see how far that gets.

It's true that DC is no guarantee against infiltration. The fact that it has happened in the past is reason to learn from it, not summarily discard it. And it's not just parties, COINTELPRO did a number on CISPES and AIM which did not require as much discipline [see Dennis Banks's Ojibwa Warrior for an account of discipline problems in AIM].

Democratic centralism has its dangers, but it is necessary risk. The relationship between centralized politics and decentralized tactics is fluid and can tend to overbalance in one direction to the detriment of the other. An absolute emphasis on rigid centralization leads to political rigidity, tactical plodding, and ultimately irrelevance. An absolute emphasis on decentralization leads to reactive politics, lack of overall direction, and also to irrelevance. The negotiation between the two must be open and artful. To paraphrase Lenin, people who want absolute guarantees before doing anything will never get anything done.

srogouski

One, RCP should be concerned about building its own means of communications rather than relying on existing structure. This would allow them to address some security concerns as well as enhance their visibility and allow them to control their content. srogouski, have I characterized your point accurately?

It was more diagnosis than prescription. I was arguing that the RCP's "word fetish" tends to lead them to neglect building their own communications infrastructure and depend on existing structures.

There's a real sense that "well we don't really have to organize, just get Bob Avakians 'word' out, whether explicitly or implicitly".

But I don't think it's suceeded. I realize that that series of NY Times ads that World Can't Wait has run (and yes I realize WCW isn't identical with the RCP) has helped their fundraising. But what would that money and energy have done if it had been used to build/reinforce alternative media?

I don't really trust the model. Put the ad in the Times. That leads to interviews in the mainstream press and more big time stars signing "the call". I don't trust the model of converting people at the "top", people of "disproporionate influence".

And I think they should confront the issue of having to protest Conyers, a guy who signed "the call", who accepted the language, and yet went in the opposite direction anyway.

I also think the "word fetish" leads the RCP to relay too much on permitted rallies behind police barricades. The idea is that if you use the right language the repressive facts of the permitted rally won't matter. They do. They alienate people. WCW's October 5th, 2006th rally was dreadful and nobody wanted to confront it with anything but more of the same.

r. john

Nothing I said is a criticism or rejection of democratic centralism.

I am talking about the dynamics unleashed when it is announced that the truth "is there for the taking."

In fact it is explicitly said that when you have "a leader of this caliber" then the tasks and functioning of the party change.

In both theory and practice, the actual back and forth dynamics that are the heart of democratic centralism are deliberately broken.

The dialectical interaction of "chain of knowledge -- chain of command" is negated. The party becomes the "instrumentality" of the leader. And the leader's views are to be absorbed (not critically through collective vetting and debate) but uncritically -- by "steeping yourself in the new sythesis."

This is openly called "having the humility to be led." As a party slogan it has replaced the great credo "communists are rebels," and epistemologically it breaks with materialist dialectics in a religious way.

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