Seattle Socialist Alternative and the Black Lives Matter Movement

One week ago I attended my last meeting of Socialist Alternative as a member, having officially resigned from my seven year long membership the following day. I did so, following nearly two years of raising consistent concern and criticism of many elements of SA, most recently around the Black Lives Matter movement. Produced now publicly on this blog post, was the last critique I wrote internal to SA, with some additions, which I publicize now to raise discussion and debate around the issue of how Socialist groups should participate in the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of these critiques are not based on specific public comments of the organization, but rather on impressions given by comments made by leading individuals of the Seattle branches. If specific assertions are seen as wrong-headed or misinformed by Socialist Alternative, I most certainly welcome replies and the opening up of clarifying discussion on this blog. It seems rather appropriate that today should be the day I publish. I joined Socialist Alternative just over seven years ago, around concrete anti-war organizing in high schools, in which I aided in organizing a walkout. Today, I will support Outside Agitators 206, as they organize walkouts throughout the University of Washington campuses, as part of the Black Lives Matter struggle.

As an accompanying piece, embedded below is a video taken on Saturday, February 21st, 2015, at King County Council Member Larry Gosset’s reelection and birthday party hosted at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. After being endorsed for her own reelection campaign by him, Kshama Sawant was in attendance for this celebration around a local “progressive” Democrat, and a long-time figure in the Black establishment community, on a basis of leaning on past radical cred. Sawant in the video is seen defending Larry Gosset, in the face of his vote for a youth juvenile facility which has come under a well-sustained movement opposed to it. While recently Kshama has correctly, though belatedly, come out to support that movement, she does the movement no service by whitewashing the role of institutional figures like Gosset. In the video we see her  counterposing him to “the real establishment,” referencing his long past and long past ended record in radical politics. It is unfortunate how quickly the interaction devolves into defensiveness on the part of Sawant, and accusations put on the young activists raising legitimate concerns on her attendance at such an event. She made the promise on camera that she would stand with these activists when an expected police presence arrived. That promise was not honored. Fortunately, no arrests were made after activists deescalated the situation on their own. This unfortunately reflects Socialist Alternative’s own insecurity around the genuine upsurge of Black Lives Matter.

[EDIT: The fuller video was taken down, due to security concerns raised by some of the activists seen, the above video is a more recent upload to YouTube]

Sectarianism as Cover for Conservatism

Largely absent from the Black Lives Matter movement, Socialist Alternative Seattle and the Office of Kshama Sawant have leaned on a number of pseudo-criticisms and self-interested excuses to explain an ultimate lack of activity, and unfortunately cover conservative tendencies. Much of this narrative can be framed in relation to Outside Agitators 206, one of the few democratic organizations to emerge out of the Seattle Black Lives Matter Movement, and primarily led by young Black women activists, overwhelmingly rapidly radicalizing and some new to organizing. Multiple allegations have been made of OA206 which should be addressed, however also in relation to the larger movement.

It shouldn’t have to be stated the remarkableness and importance of a youth formation emerging from the Black Lives Matter movement, or at all, carrying an analysis of oppressor/oppressed relations, an understanding of corporate control of the media and of the role of police, as well of course as a critique of Capitalism. Rather than seeing this emergence as the positive step forward that it is, in practice- and often in words as well- Socialist Alternative has responded with sectarianism. The central argument posited is that due to their “ultra-left” and “sectarian” points of unity, Outside Agitators 206 is inevitably destined to be disconnected and isolated from the working class. This argument is an idealist argument rather than a materialist one. “Ultra-left” is not a critique in and of itself, it is an allegation, and without evidence given, a slur. The argument which has been past presented to SA membership by leadership has not been useful in describing any actual activity of OA206, but rather describes particularly distorted ideas not rooted in factuality. While it would be dishonest to claim that OA206 is unaffected by many of the dominant ideas in society and in certain activist circles (as Socialist Alternative is as well, even if different ideas), how these ideas are perceived and engaged by these young activists must be considered for a full summation to be produced.

These criticisms have consistently pointed towards the Points of Unity of the group, which are as follows:

1.We center Black voices to celebrate and affirm Blackness. We believe that any movement to end anti-Black racism must be led by Black people.

2. We believe that everyone has a right to resist their oppressors and what resistance looks like varies for different individuals and different circumstances.

3. We don’t directly speak to corporate media, nor do we need them. We are our own voice.

4. Fuck the police: As an institution fundamentally rooted in white supremacy and anti-Blackness we reject the police presence in our communities, absolutely. It is our responsibility to hold each other accountable and keep each other safe.

The forming statement of OA206 continues:

We are abolitionists in the year 2015. We want an end to police terror, we want an end to slavery that is the prison system, and we want the people who profit from this held accountable.

Aside from that, we are as varied as the plant life in the North West. We are youth, students, workers, parents, teachers, artists, street philosophers, survivalists, revolutionaries, solutionaries, Queer, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and White Allies. We are from the town, we are transplants, we are economic refugees, we are the result of colonization, slavery and genocide. Essentially we are people that deserve a dignified life and want the same for our brothers and sisters in the struggle towards Black Liberation. Cuz when Black folks get free, we all get free.

Launching this contribution now is a breakdown of common SA criticisms regarding these points of unity. On point 2, the argument has been presented that this is, in a narrow conception, the anarchistic “anything goes” notion of “diversity of tactics” with different terminology. In practice, OA206 has organized a variety of highly intentional and coordinated actions, including a peaceful demonstration at Bellevue Square last December. At this event a small peaceful group gathered, linked arms, and sang politicized carols, while surrounded by over a hundred militarized police officers from multiple cities. The massively disproportionate response by the police was in fact desired to occur. A planned highlight in a series of incidences which were raised at the City Council meeting questioning Kathleen O’Toole. Additionally, OA206 members have participated in much of the most effective militant direct actions, from freeway occupations, to council meeting disruptions and agitating sharply on panels. Whether a peaceful demonstration, or taking to the streets, actions all mandate a certain level of group awareness, consent, and organization. Outside Agitators 206 actions are all reviewed, self-critiqued, and developed upon. What must be noted, is that importantly this point was made to mark the space for radical action that OA206 wanted to provide, in contrast to the liberal institutional Black organizations, such as the NAACP and the United Black Clergy who often demand hegemonic control over movements they participate in. Many differing notions of diversity of tactics have played out in many Black Lives Matter groups, primarily due to the conservative weight of establishment organizations, and the willingness of youth activists to break from their control.

On point 3, the generative idea is an understanding that the corporate media does not have neutrality in mind, but rather serves the “truth” of the ruling class. Such a media simply cannot be depended upon to convey radical and revolutionary ideas. However, OA206 has prepared and delivered targeted press releases on actions, including for the 400-strong rally at CenturyLink Field, pressuring the Seahawks to display a sign of solidarity with Ferguson as the St. Louis Rams had done.

Perhaps most vocally contentious for the leadership of SA, is point 4. “Fuck the Police.” Socialist Alternative, amongst other things, publicly calls for the nationalization of “major banks”, “bankrupt and failing companies”, as well as “the top 500 corporations and banks.” Not every statement of an organization need immediately appeal to the broadest range of society, nor should that be necessarily desired. “Fuck the police” is such a statement that resonates with the quickly radicalizing youth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and it is a slogan that they have adopted. This slogan however, has also been clearly linked to the role and position of police as instruments of oppression. A concern has been voiced that this slogan alienates workers who have illusions in the necessity of the police. The task of revolutionaries should be to explain to those confused as to the nature of the police, and challenge this dependency and fear, not to distance oneself from those gaining revolutionary consciousness themselves.

It is point 1 that, while not vocally, SA leadership has perhaps most been in disagreement with. That is, the view that the Black Lives Matter movement should- an unfortunately for the SA leadership- be centered on Black Lives Mattering, and be led by Black people. Declared intentions to keep focus on the plight of the Black population, and the state violence they face, are treated as an “obstacle” to raising “class consciousness,” or even as an obstacle from discussing class oppression- as if institutionalized racism was itself not a form of class oppression! The connection between race and class, between racism and capitalism, is something very much understood in Outside Agitators, and that understanding is growing in the larger movement. If Socialist Alternative members find difficulty in raising issues, it should not be seen as due to “problems” with the movement, but rather in this instance, quite the opposite- those problems are originated in the false methods set down by the leadership.

Yet another slur related to point 1, on the question of Black leadership. It is alleged that this call for the movements of the Black community against racism to be led by the Black community itself is a form of identity politics. Rather, this criticism itself is a result of identity politics. Specifically, workerism. Workerism is an analysis and method which sees, and correctly so, the centrality of the working class in the struggle against Capitalism. However, from that launching point, the workerist method is one which dogmatically prioritizes economistic struggles, the more “purely” class based fights, such as those around wages, working conditions, etc. All other struggles are seen as a distraction from, or even as an enemy of, those prioritized campaigns. This is, for Marxists, a “legitimate” identity politics, which conceives of an idealized working class. Historically this ideal has been White, male, and employed primarily in blue-collar unionized factory labor.

Again, for it seems that it cannot be stated enough: the struggle of Black people against racist oppression is a form of class struggle, not an adjunct to it. It would be preposterous to approach a group of striking workers, and declare to them that their refusal to accept the leadership of Socialists, intellectuals, even homeless youth, or whoever, was sectarian. If respect towards the autonomy of organizing workers (in the narrow sense) is to be expected and conducted, then why not respect towards the autonomy of organizing Black (worker) groups? As is the norm in engaging with the battles of struggling workers, solidarity and aid is placed first. However, towards OA206, solidarity and aid has yet to occur. The odd criticism is made that calling for Black leadership is foolish, and could imply an uncritical allegiance towards reactionary Black institutions, such as the NAACP, over multi-racial anti-capitalist groups, such as Socialist Alternative or the International Socialist Organization. Such a conclusion does not base itself either in the intentions of the point of unity, nor the practice of OA206. In fact, the inverse has been borne out. The Seattle chapter of the International Socialist Organization has actively supported OA206, and has had members participate in the multi-racial meetings of OA206. Nor, contrary to the slur which has been spread, has OA206 ever discounted the possibility of future co-organizing with the NAACP or Socialist Alternative.

A thoroughly workerist organization, the degenerated Socialist Workers Party, has publicly been much more honest in their reactionary sharp words toward youth organizers. In a January 19th piece, The Militant criticized Ferguson youth organizers from Millennial Activists United, who were invited to speak at an Al Sharpton organized DC rally, before being pulled off stage for being too radical, on December 13th. They write, comparing the slogan of those youth to that of calling for dead cops in New York City: “In D.C., some protesters involved in an attempt to take over the speakers platform carried signs that said, ”Hands up don’t shoot’ didn’t work. Fists up, fight back.’ Such unchecked provocative conduct from within the protests — in the absence of a proletarian leadership strong enough to build a disciplined movement — created an atmosphere where a Brinsley could feel encouraged to act.”

The public rhetoric of Socialist Alternative has been a populist echo chamber for notions already popularized in the movement which has been uncritically exulted on SocialistAlternative.org articles. The practice of SA in Seattle, perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps out out political orientation, has actually resulted in supporting the more conservative wing of the Black Lives Matter movement, and limiting the scope of possibility to the Left, to the degree to which the organization has participated.

This critique I put forward is best illustrated in the use of Kshama Sawant’s platform and image. Of the dozens of street mobilizations which occurred over the space of a number of weeks across Seattle, only those organized by the NAACP, the United Black Clergy, and the institutional MLK Day Celebration Committee, were participated in by Kshama. SA mechanically orientates itself towards liberal institutional organizations, seeing these groups as necessary to win over to mobilize the working class. This logic is not far from that of Alan Woods of the International Marxist Tendency (a rightist break from SA’s Committee for a Workers’ International), who posits that in times of political upsurge, the working class will turn towards “their” traditional organizations. In Socialist Alternative, this orientation has often been linked to the conception of the African American community of being dominantly built up of church-going folks. All this ignores the ruptures within the Black Lives Matter movement, where youth have quickly formed their own groups and networks, cutting ties with conservative tendencies. In Seattle, the institutional organizations organized only two marches during the Black Lives Matter movement. The first, organized by the NAACP on November 25th, was given life by the thousand-strong walkout of Garfield High School students, part of a separate coordinated effort by students across the city. The second, was organized weeks later by the UBC, with little notice and only 200 in attendance. In no way could it be claimed that Kshama has consistently been at the largest demonstrations. At least three marches were double in size to and planned over much more time than that of the United Black Clergy, with little SA participation.

Implicitly, SA is actively legitimizing these conservatizing organizations, while undermining in at least one clear example, the left-wing of these groups. On MLK Day of 2015, Jesse Hagopian, an ISO member and leader in local education movements, lent his own platform and credentials while on stage at the Downtown Seattle Federal Courthouse to announce an Outside Agitators 206 organized march, and introduce two OA206 leaders on to the stage. This act was jointly co-ordinated with other radical activists of the MLK Day Celebration Committee. Along this march came collision with a police blockade in the South Lake Union area. At this juncture, the police began indiscriminate deployment of pepper-spray upon demonstrators. Infamously, it was at this point Jesse was sprayed, while on his phone having stepped to the sidewalk from the march. What was the official response from the Office of Kshama Sawant? “The rally and march, organized by the MLK Celebration Committee was a inspiring event, especially for the young people who are starting to speak out and get politically involved.” In the midst of denunciations of the SPD came a complete erasure of the context to the incident and a praising of the sanctioned institutional Celebration Committee march at a time when those bold activists within the Committee are being pushed out for having stuck their necks out in an effort to radicalize the event.

The language of respectability used to describe the incident mirrored that of mainstream liberal and progressive media outlets, a product of a fear of the leadership to appearing ultra-left themselves, which is a longtime tendency. An element of self-interest then is introduced, as the refusal to even acknowledge the good work of Outside Agitators 206 is based perhaps purely on fear that “Fuck the Police” might somehow be linked to Kshama Sawant. And God forbid a Socialist is seen as soft on crime. Less about correct politics, and more about political correctness. This refusal to acknowledge OA206 is very real and disconcerting. At a successful and energetic disruption of a Seattle City Council meeting at which Kshama Sawant organized for the Seattle Police Chief, Katholeen O’Toole to be questioned on BLM policing, Outside Agitators 206 members were centrally involved in the sharpest agitation of the room. In an article published on SocialistAlternative.org a quote by one well known OA206 leader was placed in bold as a section header: “You work for us!” While SA knew of OA206’s superb and productive participation, their role was ignored in favor of a very different interpretation highlighting Kshama Sawant over all else. The article was titled “Despite Sawant’s efforts: City Council fails to hold Seattle Police accountable.” Consistently, OA206 is excluded from Kshama’s speech laundry lists of groups doing good work in Seattle.

Time after time, the incredible work of this fledgling multi-racial militant group has been slighted and ignored by SA leadership, so as to ease and simplify crude critiques of Black Lives Matter as ultra-left.

An SA article, “Eyewitness Report From Ferguson,” reads as follows:

From time to time, liberals, clergy, and elected officials come down to address whoever wants to listen. They tell people to stop “getting arrested for nothing”, failing to recognize that the radicalized black youth in Ferguson have inspired and raised the confidence of their entire generation. No matter what the approach, in the end the liberal’s argument is always the same: Go home, and let us handle this now. The youth of Ferguson know better and are deeply resentful of the betrayals of the previous generation who pushed the civil rights movement into the established halls of power. The youth is also conscious of how far this movement has come because of them.

This is why Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton got booed when they came to Ferguson. Unable to contain the movement, they left in frustration. Here in Seattle, Outside Agitators is unwilling to be contained. And Socialist Alternative is unable to contain it. To the Black Lives Matter movement, SA leadership has left in frustration. “I think it’s wonderful to march and to protest and it’s wonderful to see all across the country, people doing it… What I’m looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this to say, ‘This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we’re willing to do to get it.’” Like Oprah, as quoted, SA claims that the movement lacks clear demands, lacks a cohesive leadership, and only SA’s leadership, as expressed through their ideas (rather than actions) can provide a way forward. This, in spite of being two weeks late to Ferguson in August. In Seattle, having no serious orientation towards mobilizing members to rallies until after Black Friday, and now jumping onto the No New Youth Jail campaign after not even knowing of it’s existence since Summer 2012 until last fall. Already Kshama for her support was declared “instrumental” to the campaign within SA! Socialist Alternative nationally, as well as locally, have recently heavily promoted February 21st as a day of action around the anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. However, this date has also been set as the launching of door-knocking for Kshama’s re-election campaign. SA has seemingly no intention of backing up their own demands on the movement.

Even without taking up Outside Agitators 206’s politics if certain slogans are deemed unpalatable, this new wave of youthful organizations across the country must be supported and fostered in their growth if SA is serious in it’s efforts to break activists from dependency on the Democrat Party, and their instruments such as the NAACP. However, Socialist Alternative’s politics are not fully rooted in working class struggle. Rather, it balances between other forces, whether they be middle-class opinion, union bureaucrats, non-profiteers, or the liberal media. This could be combated in part by a bold orientation towards openly critically supporting and engaging with Outside Agitators 206. Unfortunately, there is no consistent indication that the will or the interest to do so is present. Instead, hostility. My sincere hope is that this changes.

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19 thoughts on “Seattle Socialist Alternative and the Black Lives Matter Movement

  1. Sawant is WRONG. Larry Gossett is NOT a friend of BLACK labor. Certainly not those of us who are SERIOUS about ANTI-COLONIALISM, SELF-DETERMINATION, and INDEPENDENCE from this system and the empire that promotes and protects it!

    Larry was the one who ORDERED THE POLICE AT US when we occupied the Colman School/African American Heritage Museum in 1998. He did this in order to assist in the creation of the pro-amerikkkan (liberal), neo-colonial Northwest African-American Museum!

    Larry also opposed our occupation of Horace Mann in 2013, but Sawant supported us; at least verbally (thru Ramy). SA has done little to back off the KKKops as we requested, when Ramy asked us what we wanted from Sawant, based upon her newly won position in city council.

    Compare Sawant’s comments in this remix vs. what she is saying in the video above: http://tinyurl.com/qjerumc

  2. Freedom of space doesn’t mean you can talk over someone. Because if you talk over someone, then you are attacking someone verbally, by not listening and yelling. Be is ides freedom of space also comes with freedom of listening. I would of walked away if I was her. Have a civil conversation with her, don’t talk over her when you’ve asked her a question or accused her of things which aren’t true. The people who I think attacked her that created this video see it black and white. I don’t see it that way and many others don’t either. It’s not they or them, it’s us and we.

  3. A disappointing development. Even if SALT and/or Sawant haven’t officially “endorsed” Gosset, this amount to an endorsement /because/ Kshama attended a “birthday/reelection” party for Gosset – in other words, our socialist rock star attended a fundraiser for the class enemy.

    I’m NOT hostile to either Socialist Alternative or Sawant. I gave money to all of her campaigns, as well as Spear’s run for state rep. Sawant’s election to council was inspiring, but this raises some questions regarding how socialists should approach elections, plus some broader questions.

    1. Elections are a TACTIC and not an overall strategy for achieving socialism. To see elections as our primary activity (electoralism) is an error.

    2. Program matters. The SALT campaigns in Seattle have been run
    on immediate program, not on the transitional program. I’m not raising the transitional program out of nostalgia for 1938 or as some sort of sectarian point of honor. The method of the transitional program, which goes back to the Comintern and wasn’t just invented on a whim by Trotsky, allows revolutionaries to link and advance struggles by raising demands -immediate, democratic and transitional. The use of the transitional method also allows us to keep the “good” Democrats from co-opting out issues. Look at the 1976 “Bill of Rights for Working People the SWP produced for the Camejo campaign.

    3.The minimum wage. The law passed in Seattle after the “good” Democrats gutted it with delays and exceptions. Kshama voted fro the law after the Democrats eviscerated it and then Socialist Alternative touted it as a victory.
    Frankly, she could have voted against the law and then gone on the offensive against the “good” Democrats for their betrayal of the interests of workers.

    4. The united front matters. The method of the united front, which really is a method for advancing the struggles of the working class and oppressed. Socialist Alternative and their international tendency reject the united front and prefer to go it alone. This is certainly true of the way SALT has built the 15 Now campaign which is clearly a campaign of the organization and not conceived as a united front type of campaign.

    5. The national question matters. Jordan Martinez’s critique of the class reductionism of SALT is very important and worth reading. Marxists should support the right of oppressed nationalities to self determination. This includes the right of the oppressed to self-organization and to build their own organizations. Trotsky’s method was just this. He also supported the right of Blacks to build their own fighting organizations. Trotsky noted that the majority of white workers were chauvinists and that Blacks should not be expected for white workers to catch up for them to be able to fight for their rights. Within this context, communists fight for a united front between the mass organizations of workers and the Black fighting organizations — the strategic allaince of the oppressed and exploited.

    Class reductionism sees too much emphasis of racism as an obstacle to working class unity. Revolutionaries see racism and white supremacy as the primary obstacles to the revolutionary consciousness of working people.

  4. I’d also like to add that I was in [MOD EDIT: the author’s] branch and if there was anything that [the author] didn’t like about Socialist Alternative, I never heard him once speak up and say it. So why now and why public, when he himself never voiced it before.

    • I twice spoke on these issues within branch structures. Once at a city-wide meeting, attended by upwards of 60 members, and secondly- as I mention in this post-, at a Capitol Hill branch meeting, that you were not in attendance at. Additionally, the direction some of these critiques point towards are not new, but connected to two other critiques I’ve distributed. One city-wide, and the other nationally.

  5. Very interesting, and certainly disappointing, to hear about all of this.

    It makes me wonder how Socialist Alternative’s efforts to expand here in the Bay Area will play out, given that “fuck the police” is an entrenched attitude, and that the Bay Area was host to the biggest riots and the most consistent unrest in recent times outside of Ferguson itself during last years wave of protests.

    If an SA branch in the Bay does manage to grow, I suspect it will be because it properly taps into and supports local anti-police militancy; at which point, it will be interesting to see how Bay Area cadres push back against tendencies of the Seattle branch against this. Optimistically this struggle will result in having a radicalizing effect on SA, or at the raising the importance of local autonomy in the party structure.

  6. Pingback: Gentrification in the City, Gentrification in the Left | Dark Are The Days

  7. Pingback: ► Letter to Comrade Jordan – [WQ2.15.03.04] « The War for Quadrant Two

  8. The PDF (formatted for printing, four pages with graphics) for this 2500 word letter is here: https://warforquadranttwo.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/15-03-04-jordan.pdf

    Hi [MOD EDIT: Author],

    First, I would like to congratulate you for your decision to bring your criticism of SA to the public domain, where it belongs.

    And, while this was the right thing to do and is certainly a positive development which creates clarity in the movement, I will also give you my opinion that going public with your views was long overdue. And I will add that your criticism has a number of weaknesses.

    I would like to see future criticisms that you write be more powerful.

    1. A Trusted Link to the Pig-Slop Bucket

    The SA, in my view, is increasingly revealing itself to be a plaything in the hands of the Democratic Party. The YouTube video captured perfectly the contradiction between (on the one hand) the need of the movement for clarity and consciousness concerning the utterly treacherous role of the Democratic Party and (on the other hand) the SA’s need to prove itself a trusted link in the system of bourgeois class rule by demonstrating, in full public view, that their flagship personality was willing to humiliate herself, and perform like a trained poodle to demonstrate the god-like, source of-light-and-life power of her master (the Democratic Party).

    The divine result of this public expression of fealty was (as if by magic) the recent puff piece on the front page of the Sunday Seattle Times, where she disavowed that the idea that anyone should think of her as “dangerous”, and a quarter million readers saw photos of Kshama Sawant’s cute dogs. The dogs were an inspired touch. Dogs have a way of being cute, especially if they love and cherish and (above all) obey their masters. If they fail to obey their masters–or pull too hard at their leash–they won’t get a river of favorable publicity.

    You know my views on this. This is a training process. But the fundamental character of the SA has not changed by the weight of a single lie. All that has happened is that the betrayal that was always at the heart of the SA’s nature (visible to anyone who was not naive, and who cared to look beneath the surface) has become increasingly difficult to deny. So were you naive in the past, or were you simply reluctant to look under the surface? And (more to the point) are you any different today? This is not a rhetorical question. If you consider yourself to be different today, I would like to know why. I am listening.

    And, while your post announces that you gave up your membership status in SA–you do not explain why you did so.

    Did you feel embarrassed to be associated with this increasingly naked and blatant opportunism? Was it too much to stomach? Did you feel like you could not lift your head? Did you wonder what you were going to say to people whose respect you valued?

    Did you feel like you were in danger of spending your life living for a lie? Did you feel a need to publicly oppose the efforts of the SA to suffocate emerging groups like Outside Agitators 206 (struggling to breathe oxygen like a newborn child) by forcing them to obey the will of Democratic Party lieutenants like Larry Gossett, who have been entrusted with the unpleasant but necessary task of infanticide?

    (Chinese mid-wives, as you may know, would sometimes throw female newborns into the pig slop bucket. That is Gossett’s role. He forced the SA to help him in his on-going efforts to force this “useless thing” into the pig-slop bucket. Some might not consider this to be a particularly appetizing picture, but when Gossett is done, he plans to treat himself to a hearty breakfast.)

    And there is a more important question: Did opposing the SA in this public way require that you surrender your membership status?

    That’s how it looks to me. To say such a thing, of course, is only speculation on my part. I would prefer to hear the truth from you.

    If my inference (ie: that you believed you had to choose between public criticism and maintaining membership status) is accurate–then this (by itself) would tell us a lot about how groups like the SA are fundamentally undemocratic (by design) and therefore eligible to become a trusted link in the system of bourgeois class rule.

    2. The Dan Damage Thread on Kasama Addressed the Need for Democratic Public Space

    In preparation for this reply I studied your participation in the Dan Damage thread from Kasama, where comrade Damage quotes Louis Proyect and Hal Draper, and makes the controversial suggestion that serious activists take five minutes out of their busy and important days to consider the need to pull their heads out of their rear ends and work together to use the internet to create a communications channel that will bring to millions the most important idea of our time:

    The only way humanity can overcome its fundamental problems, is to overthrow the class rule of the bourgeoisie, and replace it with the class rule of the proletariat.

    This single idea, and the knowledge required to understand why this idea accurately reflects objective reality, is the key to understanding how the world, and everything in it, really works.

    One of the central ideas in Dan’s essay was that activists like he and I need a democratic public space where we can discover and talk to one another, have a conversation, and exchange experience, in a democratic way, without any would-be emperors or mini-Bob’s telling us who we are allowed to talk to and what we are allowed to talk about. The idea of a democratic public space is powerful beyond imagination. We saw democratic public spaces emerge in Egypt and its echo here (the Occupy movement) and similar movements in Europe and elsewhere. It was the struggle for democratic public spaces that allowed these movements to become powerful vehicles of the aspirations of the masses.

    I would have, by the way, told comrade Damage that I agreed with him, when I read his essay on the Kasama site three years ago–except that the Kasama site is not such a democratic public space and I had no right or ability to post on Kasama (where my posts are consistently deleted before anyone can read them) nor any ability to contact Dan Damage directly, and tell him that I appreciate his open support of the idea that activists must take necessary and practical steps to end their isolation from one another.

    (And by the way, if any reader or member of the Kasama community, knows how to contact Dan Damage, I would greatly appreciate it if this letter might be brought to his attention, because he might read it and, just as I drew insight and encouragement from his words, the possibility exists that he might draw insight or encouragement from mine.)

    I also carefully read the replies to comrade Damage from Liam and you. Both of you were polite and respectful to Dan. But both of you were (and are) thoroughly intoxicated by all kinds of illusions. Every conclusion Dan drew, based on painful and abundant historical experience, went over your heads.

    3. Social Democracy is a Foundation of Sand

    I need to wrap this up. I will tell you, [author], what I want from you.

    I want to talk to you. I want your attention.

    Art and I tried to tell you, years ago, that you can’t build anything significant on a foundation of sand, and that the bourgeoisie are not fools. They will only give you status, publicity and power to the extent that you agree to serve their interests. For this reason, the core work that is necessary cannot come from social democratic election campaigns, but rather can only originate in expressions of activist aspirations that are organized in a way that is safe from the predatory appetites of groups like the SA–because it is only a fantasy, an illusion, that groups like the SA (or its “radical” ISO doppelganger) will ever be able to break free of their leash.

    I want to talk to you about social democracy. Activists will never be able to work together to create a movement which is deserving of the respect of the working class, and centered on the need to overthrow the class rule of the bourgeoisie–until they understand, on the level of life-and-death, the distinction between, on the one hand, social democracy and, on the other hand, the central organizing goal of our movement.

    You are not helping things in the slightest, and are only confusing yourself (and those who look to you for clarity) when you throw around the rat-bastard degraded word “socialism”–which is now used to fool the working class. This is a word that used to mean everything. It now means nothing.

    So why not call the SA social democratic, instead of calling them “socialists”? Isn’t the whole point of your recent action motivated by a desire to move in the direction of honesty, so you can look at the guy in the mirror and not be disgusted?

    Because you help the SA push their agenda if you present them as having potential to be anything more than what they are–a temporary vacillating ally, which may help deliver to us the fruits of our own struggles, but which can be counted on to make every attempt, at the most critical moment, to steal from us our consciousness and independence.

    I want you to think about these things because you are going through a period right now in which you may be having new thoughts, or a return of older thoughts that you may not have thought for a while.

    I want to continue this conversation. There is too much more I would like to say. I want to write more, but it is hard to do so, with my other responsibilities, unless you are able to send me a signal that I have earned some minutes of your attention.

    4. The “Big Tent” vs. the Channel

    You asked comrade Dan how his proposed for what you called a “big tent” would come about. I have come to the conclusion that it will come about more-or-less on the basis that Dan described. I support and share his central idea, which I express as follows:

    We will begin to overcome the mutually assured isolation of competing cargo-cults (floating like leaky boats on a social democratic sea) when we work with integrity to create the necessary democratic public space where activists can work with and learn from one another in projects aimed at bringing to the entire working class an understanding of its position in society and its necessary and inevitable historic mission: overthrowing the class rule of the bourgeoisie.

    I don’t call the project we need a “big tent”. (To readers who may be unaware of political code phrases: the term “big tent” is often used to refer to the Democratic Party, because that is how this treacherously engineered tarpit has traditionally presented itself to activists.) I use a different term.

    I use the phrase “the channel” to describe the democratic public space and the gravitational attraction that will be created by the central project which, I believe, will unite all the best parts of the left–and bring political transparency to, and connect, every part of the proletarian mind. And that phrase is also what I believe it will eventually be called by a great many people. It is not Dan’s idea, and it is not mine. I read about it in a book written by some foreign guy in 1902.

    I want, [author], for us to have substantive and public exchanges of opinion on the nature of the tasks that are decisive for our movement. I want these exchanges to take place in person, as well as on our blogs. I want to meet somewhere and talk to you one-to-one, just you and me, sometime in the next month or two, if you might be able to work that in. I would also like to meet you together with other activists. I am sure Art would like to talk to you, and I can think of at least two or three other activists who may also have a strong interest. But my priority would be the one-to-one meeting, just you and me, because that would be as simple and easy as I can make it. And, then, Art and I could go to work on finding out who else might value the opportunity to talk to you about your experience, conclusions and potential plans.

    Let me know what you think.

    Ben Seattle – March 2015

    Isolated from one another, we are easily defeated
    Connected to one another, no force on earth can stop us

  9. Also a quick note: the YouTube video was extremely powerful, and quite valuable to the movement. People need to watch the video. This video is worth a thousand posts. I am sorry to see that it has been removed because some activists have security concerns. I am not in a position to assess either the nature or magnitude of security concerns. My philosophy is that, in situations like this, security concerns should be weighed against the political weight and value of the political exposure that is gained. And I am comfortable giving my opinion that the political weight and value of the exposure is quite high. So I hope some version (whether edited or not, because currently there is no version that is functional, and I could not find any version on YouTube) can be restored. — Ben

  10. Darkarethedays,

    I agree with Ben Seattle that the strongest merit of this parting criticism of the SA is your decision to finally move these criticisms into the public domain where other activists can see them, respond to them, and learn from them. Yes many of your former comrades in the SA may now curse your name for this heresy, but revolutionary politics is not about being the popular kid in school.

    There are a number of weaknesses that Ben carefully addressed. He spent a great deal of time and energy working on a thoughtful public response that you deserve. I think he did a good job of pointing out the weaknesses, so I will try to keep this short.

    Your decision resign from the SA and to go public with your criticisms signals a potentially liberating new step in your political career. However, what principles will direct your work? As Ben pointed out, the core principles that the SA are based around are social democratic. You may no longer be confined by the paternalistic world view of the SA, but I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that you may be prejudiced by their principles which guided your politics for seven long years. Old habits die hard and so do illusions.

    While I think its possible that you have the strength to painfully overcome some of these prejudices alone, it will be easier with the help of other conscious activists. Maintaining public communication with independent revolutionary activists may be your best bet in overcoming those prejudices, and discovering better principles which are in our class interests. I would suggest that you think carefully about the cornerstone principles that you will fight and die for. It is through these principles that we can build a political line that best serves the class, but if our understanding of these principles is weak then the line will be worth little.

    -Art

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