Triangulation & our Prisoner's Dilemma

Chris Burford cburford at
Fri Jun 30 08:10:37 MDT 1995


I do welcome your contribution on this, and I am in no way
disappointed in my positive expectations of your contributions in
general by the fact that you have put a different position. Perhaps
the reverse.

I do think Scott S needed to hear a sterner response, as he now has
had the opportunity of doing from you and from Lisa. At the very least
you have helped broaden things out from a highly polarised exchange
between him and Erwin, from a triangle into a quadrangle and a pentangle.

At the very least you have stepped into the firing line, drawn his
fire, let him say "fuck" to you, and let Erwin know further he is not
alone whatever mistakes Erwin may have been entitled to make.

But what do we do with the ultra-left? If Scott S did not exist on this
list he would have to be invented. I agree that objectively he was
siding with red-baiting when Erwin was trying to run a class about
Marxism when it was under fire from the right.

But such ultra-left biases are so common that we cannot deal with them
just by talking about the objective results.

That is why I was trying to find any clues as to what motivated Scott S,
his anger and his bitterness. And I thought at one point he was backing
off in the intensity of his personal attack and being more specific in
his complaints in a way that added some light, and reduced the heat.

I am trying to be dialectical about the individual. As Scott S has
retaliated robustly to you it may be hard for you to hear it in his latest
post but there is some material there that has a wider relevance for the
problems of the list. He is speaking for many hundreds perhaps thousands,
when he explains he is 7 years out of a sectarian group. Others on this
list appear to have survived sectarian groups. How do we help people

Scott S replied rather bitterly it seemed to me that Erwin and yourself
were posing as great revolutionaries. I had not noticed that myself, but
it maybe on a bad day it can come over that way to some people.

What I think is really happening here is that Scott S is speaking, or
shouting a sense of despair, that maybe all of us have felt at moments
that to continue with a marxist project is play acting, and that this
list is a stage for posturing, without relevance to the real world.

Scott S came back to accuse you of supporting "official" reformist
tripe [I don't recall you supporting such a position yourself and I
think he is unnecessarily and antagonistically jumping to conclusions
about your position because you put him down]

But there is a grain of
clarification that maybe is important when he talks about

how [t]his brand of unctious, "official", reformist tripe
made the "ultra-leftists" feel like they were choking on loose cotton wool.

That resonates a little for me and I think it is about how thousands
of hard working official communists in capitalist and socialist countries
smoothed over the reality and grittiness of contradictions in a way
that could feel a bit patronising at best, controlling and smothering at
times, and when backed with the force of law in socialist countries,
potentially lethal.

I don't think the answer is to handle contradictions antagonistically as
I certainly think Scott S has been doing, but I think there is something
relevant in his anger and passion that contradictions of socialism must
be out in the open.

Andy, I am not saying I am right and you are wrong. I think it is
impossible for any one of us to illuminate the relevant aspects fully on
our own. A dynamical exchange is better.

On this list we face the risk at any time of someone coming in in a
destructive way. Our power to deal with it is limited. The problem is
a little like the prisoner's dilemma, analysed again in June's Scientific
American. This little electronic room we are in could also be a cell.
All our exchanges are undoubtedly being hoovered up by the agents of the
class enemy and recorded for future use if necessary. We cannot
prevent any participant acting in a short-term selfish and destructive
way. We can however have a policy so that over the months, the tendency
is for co-operation and understanding to win out. We have to believe that
ultimately the dynamics of democracy will prevail over the dynamics
of oppression.

It is for this reason that I think we should not be like the Masai or
the Zulu, who as Ron Press suggests tend to call themselves people
and others by implication not. The ultra-left have to be included
among the ranks of the people. And youth are appointed by God to
speak for the ultra-left.

Thank God!

It is for that reason that I think Scott should hear very critical voices
about what is negative in his contribution, but he should also hear
voices trying to accept what is positive in his contribution.


Chris Burford, London

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