Evaluating the work of Ben Seattle

Barry Stoller bstoller at SPAMutopia2000.org
Sat Mar 17 20:45:11 MST 2001

About this time last year, a gentleman by the name of Ben Seattle made a
bit of a splash throughout Marxist and Marxist - Leninist internet
community. A voluble writer combining equal parts Bolshevik polemic and
beatnik brashness, his list contributions and web sites are colorful
tracts with an eye towards popularizing Leninism in the name of
CyberLeninism. Below are some of Seattle's meta-narratives evaluated.

> There is a reason that the anarchist ideology  (for all its weaknesses) appeals more
>to many or most youth than the marxist (or communist) ideology:  The complete
>bankruptcy of communist theory in offering a vision of the future. The dictatorship
>of the proletariat is considered synonomous with a police state.  Until we have the
>ability (we certainly don't at present) to offer youth a vision of the world worth
>fighting for--we will not move forward an inch in building a movement that offers a
>serious alternative to capitalism.

> The important and decisive questions, in my view, are being ignored by intelligent
>and dedicated people who should be giving them greater attention.  What will workers'
>rule look like in a modern society?  How will a workers' state suppress the former
>bourgeoisie without also suppressing groups of independent workers?

> Until we stop ignoring this question and give it the serious attention it
>deserves--the best and most dedicated activists will find little about marxism that
>is compelling.


There is much to commend this passionate call for a positive program of
socialism to bring unity to the socialist project of proletarian
revolution. After all, one only goes so far with platitudes such as
'down with capitalism.' SOME vision of a better alternative must
accompany the risks necessary to bring down capitalism---at least in

Nevertheless, Marxists such as Marx have devoted precious little
bandwidth to such visions because such projections deny the material
footing upon which socialism, therefore socialist revolutions, occur. It
stands to reason that since socialism dialectically springs from
capitalism's problems, proletarian revolution will be shaped by the
challenges presented it BY the resisting capitalist powers. We really
cannot be sure what tomorrow will bring.

And I emphasize the word 'we.' The essential characteristic of utopian
visions of a better government is the unyielding---dare I say
TOTAL---confidence of the creator of such visions to speak in the name
of others. We may recall the idiocy of Fourier's blueprints, consummated
down to the precise population figures necessary to realize his utopian
schemes. Therefore, ONLY the most general sketches should be proffered
(such as Marx's projections for mass education, and so on)---although
they SHOULD. While it is true we really cannot be sure what tomorrow
will bring, must know in advance what we WANT from our sacrifices.

(I, myself, have put forward a sketch or two in my time. Job rotation
based upon Bukharin & Preobrazhensky. A democratic application of
production, therefore consumption, based partially on Trotsky. And I
continue to defend these projections as I understand them.)

What seems unsatisfying about Seattle's solution to the problem he
posited above (the lack of a positive Marxist program) is not his
temerity in proffering a sketch but, rather, that when he does so, he
offers only campaign clichés...

> Human society in the future will take the form of a high-synergy complex adaptive
>system -- which will use "bottom-up" methods, "distributed intelligence",
>"parallelity" and the principle that "information wants to  be free"... The forms in
>which the masses (thru their organization as producers, consumers and shapers of
>public opinion -- and the struggles flowing from and in turn heightening their
>consciousness) would effectively control the economy, culture and politics---would be
>as advanced compared to the method of leaving the real decisions and real authority
>in the hands of either the marketplace, elected representatives or all-powerful
>central planners---as the dexterity and deftness of the human hand is to the
>pseudopod of an amoeba.


Another of Seattle's themes is that Leninism (meaning the October
Revolution) was corrupted by the remaining Bolsheviks.

> The bolsheviks were living atop a lighted stick of dynamite. The revolutionary
>government had the right and the duty to carry out these repressive measures, as
>emergency measures for a temporary period of time. But such measures, necessary as
>they were, constituted a grave and severe threat to the long-term health of the
>revolution and led to its eventual suffocation.

> During this period, many serious mistakes were made. Some mistakes, such as the
>practice of confiscating from peasants, at gunpoint, all grain beyond the most
>minimal necessary for survival, were recognized and repudiated by Lenin in March
>1921. But Lenin did not have time to recognize from practice and correct all the
>mistakes of this period, nor to lead the transition away from the temporary emergency
>repressive measures and toward a more open system allowing workers to more freely
>organize, improvise and experiment politically and economically from below and learn
>from their own mistakes.

> Lenin was incapacited by a series of strokes beginning in May 1922 and his political
>life was over in less than a year... Leninism continued to evolve--but it evolved in
>the hands of its enemies...

The great man of history view of the October Revolution. Good Lenin, bad
Stalin. If only Lenin had lived... If only one person could 'save' the
Soviet Union, then that person must have been... Jesus Christ. Original
sin comes to Marxism, eradicating whole its materialist basis.

Engels: '[R]evolutions are not made deliberately and arbitrarily, but
that everywhere and at all times they were the essential outcome of
circumstances quite independent of the will and the leadership of
particular parties and entire classes' ('Principles of Communism,' Marx
& Engels' Selected Works volume one, Progress 1969, p. 89).

Then Seattle presents his conception of 'the fourth stage of Leninism,
'which he calls 'CyberLeninism'...

> This stage of Leninism would have brought about genuine proletarian democracy--a
>phenomena that historically has only existed fleetingly and never in any developed
>sense. This stage of Leninism would corrrespond to the objective requirements of
>developing a complex economy via worker initiative and would involve a ceaseless
>search for bottom-up methods by which the interdependent (simultaneously competing as
>well as cooperating) economic and political actions of many thousands and millions of
>workers would at all levels be an indispensable component of orderly and planned (as
>well as chaotic and unplanned) economic development.

Yes, it's weird he's discussing it in past tense...

> CyberLeninism corresponds to the unleashing of mass initiative in the period where
>information goods and services will dominate the economy... CyberLeninism involves
>the explicit addition, to classical Leninism, of the principle of "information wants
>to be free". In a modern, developed, complex society, the principle of "information
>wants to be free" fits classical Leninism as a bullet does a rifle---and in the age
>in which information is increasingly flowing in ways which cannot be
>stopped--restores to Leninism the statuus of a weapon which, in the hands of the
>proletariat, will prove to be invincible.


Thus, internet agitation holds the key to the 'fourth,' and proper,
stage of Leninism...

> In particular, the digital communications revolution, still in its earliest stages,
>will bring "transparency" to the left (and in the process have a transforming effect
>on the left) in all countries that develop modern communications infrastructure.

> While the development of a new wave of attempts to create communist organizations
>would be enormously accelerated by an upsurge of mass struggle such as took place in
>the 60's, it is important to see that even in the face of the current lull in the
>mass movement---the communications revolution alone will have a very significant
>potential to magnify the impulses of formerly isolated grooups and individuals to
>link up, coordinate their efforts and overcome the obstacles to the creation of
>genuine communist organizations...


Of course, ALL this speculation never once mentions that ONLY half of
the U.S. has internet access, the poorer half, and ONLY half of the
world, the poorer half, has yet to even use a phone.

Yes, getting the theory together is invaluable. Yes, getting the
vanguard organized is important. But the revolution will NOT occur
because the proletariat sees the light over his and her monitor.

If it is even remotely possible that the proletariat---ALL of the
proletariat---gets computer access, then it stands to reason that
capitalism will have found some material means to create a working class
comprised of nothing BUT the labor aristocracy. Which means there will
NOT be socialism.

Then, Seattle enthuses about Napster...

> Twenty million people, mostly students, have found that their  material interests
>are in opposition to the material interests of the big music corporations---and are
>acting entirely appropriately. Despite arrogant lectures and scolding about
>'stealing' young people have instinctiively grasped that the music should be theirs
>to do with what they will.

> Information wants to be free to serve the working class. It is true in realm of
>music and it will also prove to be true in the realm of news. Eventually the
>progressive movement will create its own electronic news services... As the
>revolution in digital communications unfolds, decade after decade, it will result in
>the working class becoming conscious and will ultimately lead to the overthrow of
>bourgeois rule.


It doesn't seem to occur to Seattle that the black market is NOT
socialism. Why? Because the black market only appropriates the
distribution (circulation) end of things, NOT the production end.
Ripping off ruling class ideology in the form of pop music (wealth
disparities; social stratification; biological determination; etc.)
INSTEAD of paying for it doesn't change the CONTENT in the least. And
that's because consciousness follows production (not circulation).

Conclusion. More bohemian than Bolshevik, Ben Seattle is a talented but
altogether typical representative of circulation sphere
Marxism---Marxism corrupted by the idealism characteristic of the
ever-widening social division of labor. The internet, the newest engine
of the circulation sphere, not surprisingly, promotes such a tendency.
(Not that Marxist theorizing or agitation over the internet is without
value, far from it, BUT it is vitally important that materialism informs
the theorizing and agitation instead of the 'medium' informing the
theorizing and agitation.) Therefore, Ben Seattle offers us little more
than utopian 'Leninism'---a true ideological mutant.

Barry Stoller

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