Tuesday, February 05, 2008

MAWO and Fire This Time: Out, damned spot! out, I say!

The radical Utopian Gnostic left ruins lives, and not only those it kills. Its historical death toll may well be over a 100 million in the last century globally, but many more lived in a diminished reality because of Gnostic religious fantasies underpinning totalitarian societies. Nonetheless, many of the old lies and fantasies, and the blindly scapegoating sacrificial religion that sustains it all lives on in sad corners of our city and nation, kept alive by the patronage of certain sectors of our local governments, unions, universities, and other public sector organizations. This thanks to bureaucratic patrons who think themselves in need of sharing in the leftist fantasy that they have something to sell to their various audiences to justify their positions as a white collar elite that often have little obvious productive role or purpose in the world of free people and markets, and whose political role is often not to create new political possibilities for the exercise of our shared freedom, but to restrict political thinking in the interests of established institutions, elites, and resentments. A look at the tired Marxist rhetoric from the leftist quoted below will illustrate the point.

We, at Covenant Zone, had a little run in with Ivan Drury and his former group, MAWO (e.g. here and here), a couple of summers ago. Ivan has now broken with MAWO and its parent group/tyrant, and published a long apology to the leftist community for his many sins while under the influence of an insane religion and cult leader. I would like to say this statement is a sign that one man is freeing himself from the evils of Gnosticism. But as we can see from his text, he still has a long way to go. There is no point in commenting further on any of this; it speaks for itself, another sad revelation into the fact that all Gnostics end up humiliated by reality, if they don't die first. But for the record, if it should one day disappear from the web, I excerpt telling parts of Drury's statement.

My name is Ivan Drury. I’m writing this letter to inform the left and progressive community that I have broken with Fire This Time, MAWO, and all other related groups. Through this letter I also hope to begin to stand accountable for the many irresponsible and destructive things I am responsible for having done when I was a member of these groups.
I resigned quietly in January 2007, but did not send an ‘official’ resignation letter until October 2007.
Emotionally and personally, my experience in the group really messed me up.
FTT has never involved itself in a coalition or founded a committee or worked on a project or written an article or taken on a campaign or done anything for any reason other than for the purpose of cadre building. The construction of a ‘pure revolutionary cadre’ has stood above all other purposes as the driving motivation of FTT.

It is a group that has taken an exceptional view of itself. Regardless of the state of class or social struggle, regardless of the level of organization of the left or of the forces of oppressed people FTT stands exceptional as the ‘one-true revolutionary group’. The philosophy of the group is that an individual must be ‘exceptional’ to be a member of this group, to be a ‘true revolutionary’ in a time and place ‘like this’. If the group is the revolutionary exception, and if the members are all the revolutionary exception then surely they stand as exception to all the rest of the left. Thus, you are with us or against us. Thus, one rule applies for what is done to Us and another for what We do to our Opponents (especially in the radical left). Every single principle that is traditional or expected of the left (or, hell, of a decent person) has been systematically sacrificed in order to build the cadre under the umbrella of exceptionalism.
However, while there are sectarian ‘vanguard’ groups all over the world, there is something particularly problematic with FTT. FTT is the production of the vision of one man: [Mr. X - name removed by Covenant Zone]. He did a one-man entry into the Anti-Poverty Committee (as he had in numerous groups before) with the purpose of dragging out with him some recruits for his own ‘vanguard’ group. Unfortunately, I was among those who left with him.

Since APC I watched [Mr. X](and helped him) employ the same tactics in every group or coalition we were (allowed to be) members of. The same stood for student groups, like the Social Justice Centre at UBC. While recruiting, [Mr. X] would use his charm and charisma to make young people, and predominately young women, feel important and exceptional. However, this sense of exceptionalism came with the steep price of complete devotion to [Mr. X]. Impatient for his cadre to develop into ‘professional revolutionaries’ he drove these recruits’ political development in his image with a constant one-two of [Mr. X]-dependent confidence building and [Mr.X]-dependent ‘ego-smashing’. When a potential conflict arose in a left-progressive coalition or group he would do everything in his power to escalate the situation into a ‘principled’ showdown. If he came out of such fights with new recruits ‘steeled’ in battle; then it was a success.
[Mr. X] considers this dependency, above all, the sign of what he calls an “advanced element”. He even rationalizes his authority by citing the lineage of his revolutionary ideas back to Lenin, evoking the tired claims of being the one-true-inheritor of the Bolshevik legacy. [Mr. X] enforces the idea in the group that rebellion against him is egotistical, and a sign of ‘petit-bourgeois tendencies’.

Inside the group [Mr. X] is a tyrant who tolerates zero dissent to his absolute control. “Discussions” in meetings consist of two or three hour lectures from [MR. X]. “Democratic centralism” means agreeing with and enforcing his often arbitrary and mood swinging political rulings on the fly. “Organizational norms” mean constant phone contact with him to receive constant marching orders on everything from speakers’ lists and the admission of ‘opponents’ to events, to which button to wear on which side of your coat. No joke. These “norms” also address every aspect of personal life, like how to hang car keys, what clothes women members are allowed to wear, how to invite someone to coffee, how to flush a toilet. [Mr. X] actually (shortly before I left) forced every member of Y3WA to sign up on a schedule to clean the bathroom in his house every day for a month because someone had clogged the toilet! (OK, I’m ranting now.)
In other words: if it’s not a cult now, the continued stigmatizing of FTT by other left groups is only going to help bring FTT members into an increasingly vulnerable and dangerous situation.

However, on the other side of the coin is the qualification that many supporters of FTT or MAWO or VCSC have made: if the group is so bad, why are they so active? They’re the most active group in the city! And they’re attracting so many new activists and young people!

I held many of these justifications throughout my membership in FTT. The breakthrough I reached, shortly before I resigned, can be summarized as follows:

1) FTT’s hyper-activity is for the purpose of ‘cadre building’ and not for the sake of anti-imperialist or pro-Cuba education work.

2) FTT’s ‘cadre building’ is done outside of and exclusive to the dynamics of class and social movement in Vancouver, so non-FTT/Y3WA people lose the opportunity to learn from their own experiences and actions. Instead they are fed ready-made actions and lines.

3) FTT’s energy is directed in these actions only at those who are deemed ‘recruitable’ or otherwise imagined to be of service to the group.

4) FTT’s actions take up space that might otherwise be filled by the organic self-action of oppressed people (rather than this small group of wannabe ‘professional revolutionaries’)

5) Thus the group has stolen a new generation of young activists out of more authentic, spontaneous, organically occurring movements and brought them into this ‘exceptional’ state. Here, they are cut off from the dynamics of society to be burned out through such hyper-activity or (in select cases) to be permanently recruited into [MR. X]’s sub-universe. Therefore, they are unable to play the important roles of instigators and counterweights to older and more conservative activists in coalitions such as StopWar.ca. FTT is not building ‘revolutionary fighters’, it is building a ‘good cadre’. What exactly that means can be left to [Mr. X]’s therapist. Mine thinks it sounds like the construction of automatons.
I think it best to illustrate FTT by talking about those things I know best—the things I was myself responsible for. I am nervous about admitting to this stuff, but there have been questions about nearly every one of these matters and I also think that the dishonesty and lack of accountability that FTT has taken is one of the worst or most telling signs of its sectarianism. So, here’s a list of (some of) the worst things I was responsible for as a member of FTT:

//I manipulated and abused members of Y3WA and FTT.

Usually I was just along for the ride, but occasionally I would lead assaults on ‘petty bourgeois tendencies’ of other members. I carried out “exit meetings” on members who resigned or tried to resign. These involved attempts to humiliate and degrade these people so that whatever was left of their confidence would be broken so badly that they would not get involved in any other group and become our opponents. Usually the meetings worked and these people left politics altogether.

Despite my own shameful abuse of other members, the most painful memories are of those many moments when I did not speak up against [Mr. X]’s abuse of others. He organized mafia-type meetings on a regular basis. If a member was letting their ‘petty bourgeois tendencies’ show— whether in a political mistake they made, or by how they dressed, or if they looked tired or were feeling grumpy—[Mr. X] would show up at their door or call and demand a “meeting”. This meeting would usually take place in his bedroom, and he would bring along a witness, like me. The last of these meetings I attended was in the living room of the house that six of us lived in. [Mr. X] had three witnesses at that meeting, and let them do most of the interrogation. The subject was being berated for her ‘petty bourgeois tendencies’. The specific charge? That she was too attached to her parents. The evidence? That she was refusing to steal from their credit card to buy a computer for “our movement”. The meeting lasted over three hours. In the end, she caved to our extortion. I sat through the entire meeting and never spoke out against what was going on. I knew that I should have, even at the time. But I didn’t.

The consequence of such events repeated nearly daily for over four years is a terrified and emotionally shattered group of young people. They are completely dominated by one leader and forced to crawl over one another and anyone else for his approval.

//I never opposed [MR. X]

My gravest responsibility and greatest mistake in four years of membership in FTT/Y3WA was my consistent support of [Mr. X] consolidation of power inside the group. This little-man’s power has placed him in a position of zero-accountability; that is, he can and does get away with anything inside the group. It has meant that the members of this group are routinely terrorized by a man who considers it his duty and burden to educate them about revolutionary politics and organizational norms—down to the tiniest fixed detail of what Our position is. Of course, there is no debate or discussion on these points. The reading lists of members are strictly controlled and even discussion of these readings is restricted to sessions under [Mr. X]’s control.
//I helped [Mr. X] assault Mike Krebs

When another founding member named Mike Krebs resigned in 2005, I harassed and threatened him over the phone. I drove [MR. X] to the grocery store where both Mike Krebs and I worked. I stood guard at the back door while [Mr. X] went in the front. I watched from the back door while [MR. X] assaulted Mike Krebs by the cash registers. While it was not a planned action, and though I was shocked and appalled at what I’d witnessed, I said nothing at the time nor when asked about it by a skeptical member of Y3WA afterwards. I defended [Mr. X] to another founding member, Nasim Sedaghat, when she confronted him at a meeting days after the assault, and then I remained silent when she resigned on the spot. And I lied about this series of incidents every time I was asked by others in the left.

//I helped to create a hostile atmosphere in StopWar.ca

While on the road to expulsion from the StopWar.ca coalition, I accidentally hacked the email account of StopWar coordinating committee member Derrick O’Keefe. While joking with [Mr. X] and Mike Krebs that most far-leftists in Vancouver probably used some combination revolutionary names as email account passwords, I tested my joke on Derrick O’Keefe’s account… and the account opened. What was done afterwards was no joke or accident. With the justification that we were “defending ourselves”, [Mr. X] demanded that we read Derrick’s emails and publish them in our “defense campaign”. These emails chronicled an ongoing discussion between Derrick and other coordinating committee members of StopWar.ca. Nearly all of them included personal and confidential notes and information about and from coordinating committee members and some general members of StopWar such as Lawrence Boxall, Sid Schniad, Mabel Elmore, Haseena Majeed Charlie Demers, Jef Keighley, and others. As with everything else, I went along with this against my better judgment. I cooperated with the publishing of these emails in critical documents distributed at coalition meetings, to the media and then by the thousands in FTT newspapers and on the FTT website (where they remain).
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, it became clear that FTT was disconnected from the organizing that was already being done. A new group—the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East (CJME)—was organizing mass actions through a close collaboration between some activists and some members of the Lebanese and Muslim communities. Because of our reputation, there was no way we would be able to get involved in this incredible effort. So the question of how to intervene rose up.

Through our (only) contact in the Muslim community, I had visited many mosques in the Lower Mainland. When this contact began to introduce me to people as “Abbas” I did not object. [Mr. X] had instructed me early on to “just go with” whatever came up in the mosques. He said that I should not ever “out” myself as a leftist as that would surely destroy our contacts. So I proceeded to attend prayers, go through the motions, and look for any openings in an ongoing attempt to catch up to the CJME as though it was some sort of contest. When anyone asked me if I was Muslim, I’d say, as though ashamed, “No…but I’m interested in Islam.” But when occasionally I was introduced as a “convert,” I would not correct people.

Like this, FTT was able to hold a single moderately sized demonstration with some members of these communities. Ours was a pale— completely opportunistic, dishonest, and disrespectful—copy of the achievements of the genuine coalition built through the CJME.

During this period I led “tactical operations” in StopWar.ca organized marches to ensure the MAWO banner was visible at the front of the march. I appeared at the scene of endless sectarian battles with FTT/Y3WA affiliated campus groups against student union and social justice centres, at events of the Palestine Community Centre, No One Is Illegal, the STATUS Coalition, the Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, etc.
When I believed that everything was being done for the construction of a “revolutionary cadre”, I could explain and justify any, and I do mean ANY, action. However, with that ridiculous shroud dropped from my eyes, these things are all incredibly shameful. All a series of terrible mistakes, for which I am incredibly sorry.


I am a Marxist. I believe that capitalism cannot be reformed. I believe that capitalism must be replaced with socialized property and production through socialist revolution. I believe that it is only through the self-action of oppressed people that revolution can occur. I believe that ideology alone does not determine the effectiveness of activism today. Activists and organizers from many different ideological traditions have made great contributions to the cause of social justice. There are innumerable ways for individuals to add their efforts to this international movement against capitalism. [Mr. X]'s rigid definition of what it is to be a revolutionary is a dead end.
H/T Terry Glavin

Out, damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why then 'tis time to do't. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?


Dag said...

We still meet each week at the library, never ganging up on anyone, never beating up each other, seldom having more than temporary disagreements that even then we manage to live with without demanding others clean our toilets. Far from being ashamed or humiliated in my dealings with our friends at Covenant Zone I feel proud and blessed to be part of such a group of people, to have made such good friends. When the Left rage against us as being semantic and anachronistic, aside from laughing, I shake my head and wonder who they see in the mirror each morning.

People have an alternative to Left Gnostic nihilism. It's at the library each Thursday evening.

Charles Henry said...

That’s quite the letter. I can imagine how hard it probably was to write that. It’s never easy to admit that we’ve made a serious mistake, or to recognize we’ve held false beliefs. It’s never easy to choose to change.

No one likes being wrong. Disillusionment is painful.

The inner struggle to be honest with oneself, the lifelong struggle to be honest about the consequences of one’s choices, this is surely the real eternal struggle, much more than class struggles about rich or poor, or bringing more social justice to the unjust world.

To live with the self-discipline to bring ourselves to always act justly, and to work with the self-awareness to judge whether our acts are indeed furthering justice… now, there’s a challenge.

To be committed to justice is to be at war with ourselves first, society second. To be unjust is an inescapable part of our human nature, to be needlessly cruel towards our fellow human beings is the natural state of man. Even when our intentions may be pure, we may still end up doing more harm than good. If we as individuals have a hard time being just, it’s no wonder that there is so much injustice in our world. We choose to make it so.

Sometimes it seems easier to reshape the world, than to reshape ourselves. It seems easier to make everyone else subject to change, in order to avoid the disillusionment of we ourselves having to change how we see what we see… Despite the huge strain and effort involved, too often we, in our vanity, prefer to conjure up a fairyland of illusions, rather than to summon the humility to try and see things clearly as they are. If we’re sincere in our belief in wanting to change things for the better, we could find no better place to start, than changing ourselves for the better. And to have a hope of doing that, we need honesty, awareness, and humility.

Disillusionment is painful, but wonderful, for the changes it brings: clarity of insight, a clearer glimpse of the Truth.

In my atheist days I heard some advice I didn’t want to hear, but followed anyway, and it ended up changing my life. Supposedly it comes from Sigmund Freud: “if one would regard oneself as a true skeptic, we would do well to occasionally be skeptical of our own skepticism”.

To explore the unthinkable: “what if we’re wrong..?”

Now, there’s a challenge.