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"Cargo-Cult Leninism" Part Two

by Ben Seattle (reposted by Alex) Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007 at 6:53 AM

Many so-called "Marxist" organizations today are plagued by "cargo-cult" leninism. They repeat words and phrases without understanding what they really mean. Why do people drink the kool-aid? Because they WANT to believe that things are OK.


What is "The Red Beacon?"


This is a news channel run by Alex.

The goal of this channel is to spread news, opinions, and various other articles based on the principles of information war -- or the democratic, open struggle for ideas.

The ultimate aim of this channel is to create an environment where serious discussion can be held regarding important political and theoretical questions that will advance the anti-war and revolutionary movements. This is part of an attempt to end the crisis of theory in the leftist community today, and make way for the coming of a movement that will end war and end ultimately end bourgeois rule.

This channel also believes that readers have the right to have their comments known to an international audience, and to have their comments responded to with something thoughtful and useful (if they want it).

More info can be found in the "Afterword" section of this article.


Our featured presentation


These sections were originally published

in “Cargo-Cult” Leninism vs. Political Transparency

-- by Ben Seattle, June 2007


The problem with pragmatism


Frank's main argument is that readers need only look at the fruit of his work and compare it to the fruit of Ben’s work – and that is all you really need to know about our respective principles.

In other words, Frank points to the success of SAIC and compares this to the lack of success (so far) of our community-in-embryo. On this basis, Frank argues that his views must be correct and that the "information war" and "community" principles which I advocate must be worthless.

The problem with this argument is that it amounts to what is sometimes called "pragmatism".

It is true that, by its fruit, we can know the tree (ie: we can judge the effectiveness of competing principles by looking at the practical results of these principles when applied to the real world). This is the basis of the scientific method: you determine truth by experiment.

But "pragmatism" tends to take this principle too far. Some experiments may only produce results when there is:

(1) a critical mass of talented and dedicated people

(2) sufficient time and

(3) favorable circumstances

So Frank may be deceiving himself when he claims that the "information war" and "community" principles are worthless. We have not yet proven that these principles are powerful but neither has Frank proven that they are not.

So this question is not yet settled. [1]

Attempts to create light bulbs and airplanes were not successful except after many repeated attempts. Nor has there ever been a revolution that put the working class firmly into power. But we do not conclude from this that light bulbs, airplanes or proletarian revolutions are impossible.

Further, sometimes the results of an experiment can be misleading. The RCP, for example, has been able to put together a national organization and organize actions of various kinds. However this does not prove that the RCP's orientation is correct. On a larger scale, the Soviet people, under Stalin’s leadership, defeated Hitler. However this does not prove that Stalin's principles were all correct either.

Footnote 1: The sentence "So this question is not yet settled" was added, for clarity, on July 14


Cargo cults and cargo-cult Leninism


There is a name for the kind of religion that is formed when people encounter an advanced technology which they are unable to understand: it is called a "cargo cult" (named after the South Pacific islanders who encountered American military logistics teams during the second world war and who, as a result, attempted to contact the gods of cargo by doing such things as carving microphones out of wood and headphones out of coconut shells and repeating the magic phrase "Roger, over and out" in hopes that the big silver birds would land with their bellies full of precious cargo).

Anthropologists have counted at least 75 cargo cults that formed independently of one another, in regions separated by thousands of miles, in the period from the 1890’s to the end of the second world war. These cults became popular because they embodied the anti-colonial sentiments of the native islanders and their belief that they, too, were entitled to a share of the material benefits of civilization. Cargo cults united peoples of different tribes that, previously, had little in common and led to such things as mass boycotts of mandatory attendance at missionary churches.

For this reason, the European colonialists would beat and imprison cargo cult leaders. There is at least one cargo cult that is still active (the “Jon Frum” movement in Vanuatu, east of Australia).

Cargo cults are fascinating for several reasons. They give us insight into the formation of religion and the process of human cognition. We tend to understand things on the basis of their external features and appearance. Hence the tendency to copy the outward appearance of phenomenon which we want to emulate but do not understand.

Many “Marxist” groups are caught up in what I call “cargo-cult Leninism” and have developed their own tribal totems and taboos. Basically, they have created a little religion on the basis of an appreciation for (but a limited understanding of) Lenin’s 1917 revolution. Frank and the CVO make a fetish out of centralized control and they repeat magic words and phrases such as “dialectical materialism”, "democratic centralism", “dictatorship of the proletariat”. And they can repeat by rote many sacred definitions. But they do not understand what these words mean.


– Join our group – We can do your thinking for you

(Why do supporters of left-wing groups so often drink the kool-aid ?)


Groups on the left are often bonded together on the basis of special beliefs and practices – which are sometimes shallow and silly – and which often undermine work to build the antiwar and revolutionary movements. Why do supporters of these groups so often “drink the kool-aid” and accept and believe shallow arguments?

Because they WANT to believe


1. They want to be loyal to their group

2. Things seem to be going ok

3. People who advance these arguments have proven knowledgeable in the past on

many related topics and are generally good people, likeable and trustworthy

4. People sense that these common beliefs play a vital role in holding the organization together and any challenge to them might threaten or destabilize the organization.

5. The group has developed an internal language and a system of rationalizations (ie: internal arguments) supporting their beliefs that are plausible enough, (in the absence of effective challenge) to feel good

6. The perception is that there is relatively little harm if one is mistaken. So why worry?

7. Looking too deeply into supporting arguments requires independent thought and analysis which requires hard work and can be difficult and uncomfortable.

What is the Solution?


An exclusive focus on rooting for the organization which one supports – might be appropriate for a football or basketball game – but these attitudes are deeply corrupt and immensely damaging to the revolutionary movement. We need a clean break from these kinds of corrupt traditions – we need to develop a new tradition – one of individual accountability and commitment to integrity on the important political and theoretical questions of our time.

Accountability and independent thought require regular participation in public forums


Supporters of groups on the left can take steps to develop their capacity for independent thought and analysis by regular participation in public forums where they can gain experience in defending the views and practices of the group they support and, in the process, learn from others. Posting once a month (or at least several times a year) in a forum suitable for the kinds of discussions that unfold over weeks or months – and responding to calm and intelligent criticism – can help supporters learn to be accountable to the movement and to discover weaknesses and potential problems in the views, practices and internal rationalizations of the group they support.

“Cargo-Cult Leninism” vs.

Political Transparency can

be found in full here:






1. How to get a reply to your comments/criticism

2. Why can’t we get a response at Indymedia or RevLeft?

3. What is "The Red Beacon?"

4. Our mission

5. Links for more info


1. How to get a reply to your comments/criticism


YOUR COMMENTS/CRITICISM ARE WANTED AND NEEDED! I am an activist much like yourself. I make mistakes. Therefore, your thoughtful comments and criticism can only help me in achieving my goal, and they are most welcome.

However, if you are seeing this on an Indymedia or RevLeft page, here is what we recommend:

1. Refrain from posting on Indymedia or Revleft. Instead, post on this channel’s page where the article was originally posted:

2. If you want a serious response, make that clear in your post.

3. It would be nice if you listed the site where you saw this.

4. Wait, and we should make a useful response within TEN DAYS.


2. Why can’t we get a response at Indymedia or RevLeft?


First of all, Indymedia articles only stay in the main column for a couple of days. Honestly, thoughtful responses can sometimes take several days, which is time we don't have with Indymedia. The same is true of RevLeft. If few people comment on a post, it gets put off the front page. Anyone can write something quickly, but to write something thoughtful takes more time.

If you post on this channel’s page, it gives me more time to generate a useful response to your comments and criticism:


3. What is "The Red Beacon?"


Again, this is a news channel run by Alex.

It is part of a broader community called the Media Weapon community, which can be found here:

At this stage, the "community" is more of a community-in-embryo, as very few activists post frequently and with useful information.

However, this can change, and this channel is part of an attempt to change it.


4. Our Mission


The goal of this channel is to spread news, opinions, and various other articles based on the principles of information war -- or the democratic, open struggle for ideas

My ultimate aim is to create an environment where serious discussion can be held regarding important political and theoretical questions that will advance the anti-war and revolutionary movements. This is part of an attempt to end the crisis of theory in the leftist community today, and make way for the coming of a movement that will end war and end ultimately end bourgeois rule.

This channel also believes that readers have the right to have their comments known to an international audience, and to have their comments responded to with something thoughtful and useful (if they want it).


5. Links for more info


Ben Seattle --

"Cargo-Cult Leninism" vs. Political Transparency --

The Red Beacon -- (temporary)

Mediaweapon Community --

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