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A collection of political writings from across the world
Kapil Arambam http://kapilarambam.blogspot.com March 2009
Capitalism and socialism
Maurice Brinton of Solidarity outlines his view of traditional socialists, and libertarian socialists. December 1968
hat is basically wrong with capitalism? Ask a number of socialists and you will get a number of different answers. These will depend on their vision of what social ism might be like and on their ideas as to what political action is all about. Revolutionary libertarian socialists see these things very differently from the trad “left”. This article is not an attempt to counterpoise two conceptions of socialism and political action. It is an attempt to stress a facet of socialist thought that is in danger of being forgotten. When one scratches beneath the surface, “progressive” capitalists, liberals, Labor reformists, “communist” macro-bureaucrats and Trotskyist mini-bureaucrats all see the evils of capitalism in much the same way. They all see them as primarily economic ills, flowing from a particular pattern of ownership of the means of production. When Khrushchev equated socialism with “more goulash for everyone” he was voicing a widespread view. Innumerable quotations could be found to substantiate this assertion. If you don’t believe that traditional socialists think in this way, try suggesting to one of them that modern capitalism is beginning to solve some economic problems. He will immediately denounce you as having “given up the struggle for socialism”. He cannot grasp that slumps were a feature of societies that state capitalism had not sufficiently permeated and that they are not intrinsic features of capitalist society. “No economic crisis” is, for the traditional socialist tantamount to “no crisis”. It is synonymous with “capitalism has solved its problems”. The traditional socialist feels insecure, as a socialist, if told that capitalism can solve this kind of problem, because for him this is the problem, par excellence, affecting capitalist society. The traditional “left” today has a crude vision of man, of his aspirations and his needs, a vision molded by the rotten society in which we live. It has a narrow concept of class consciousness. For them class consciousness is primarily an awareness of “non-ownership”. They see the “social problem” being solved as the majority of the population gain access to material wealth. All would be well, they say or imply, if as a result of their capture of state power (and of their particular brand of planning) the masses could only be ensured a higher level of consumption. “Socialism” is equated with full bellies. The filling of these bellies is seen as the fundamental task of the Socialist revolution. Intimately related to this concept of man as essentially a producing and consuming machine is the whole traditional “left” critique of laissez-faire capitalism. Many on the “left” continue to think we live under this kind of capitalism and continue to criticize it because it is inefficient (in the domain of production). The whole of John Strachey’s writings prior to World War II were dominated by these conceptions. His Why You Should Be a Socialist sold nearly a million copies - and yet the ideas of freedom or self-management do not appear in it, as part of the socialist Objective. Many of the leaders of today’s “left” graduated at his school, including the so-called revolutionaries. Even the usual vision of communism, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, usually relates, in the minds of “Marxists” to the division of the cake and not at all to the relations of man with man and between man and his environment. For the traditional socialist “raising the standard of living” is the main purpose 2
of social change. Capitalism allegedly cannot any longer develop production (Anyone ever caught in a traffic jam, or in a working class shopping area on a Saturday afternoon, will find this a strange proposition.) It seems to be of secondary importance to this kind of socialist that under modern capitalism people are brutalised at work, manipulated in consumption and in leisure, their intellectual capacity stunted or their taste corrupted by a commercial culture. One must be “soft” it is implied, if one considers the systematic destruction of human beings to be worth a big song and dance. Those who talk of socialist objectives as being freedom in production (as well as out of it) are dismissed as “Utopians”. Were it not that misrepresentation -is now an established way of life on the “left”, it would seem unnecessary to stress that as long as millions of the world’s population have insufficient food and clothing, the satisfaction of basic material needs must be an essential part of the socialist program (and in fact of any social program whatsoever, which does not extol the virtues of poverty.) The point is that by concentrating entirely on this aspect of the critique of capitalism the propaganda of the traditional “left” deprives itself of one of the most telling weapons of socialist criticism, namely an exposure of what capitalism does to people, particularly in countries where basic needs have by and large been met. And whether Guevarist or Maoist friends like it or not, it is in these countries, where there is a proletariat, that the socialist future of mankind will be decided. This particular emphasis in the propaganda of the traditional organisations is not accidental. When they talk of increasing production in order to increase consumption, reformists and bureaucrats of one kind or another feel on fairly safe ground. Despite the nonsense talked by many “Marxists” about “stagnation of the productive forces” bureaucratic capitalism (of both the Eastern and Western types) can develop the means of production, has done so and is still doing so on a gigantic scale. It can provide (and historically has provided) a gradual increase in the standard of living - at the cost of intensified exploitation during the working day. It can provide a fairly steady level of employment, so can a well-run gaol. But on the ground of the subjection of man to institutions which are not of his choice, the socialist critiques of capitalism and bureaucratic society retain all their validity. In fact, their validity increases as modern society simultaneously solves the problem of mass poverty and becomes increasingly bureaucratic and totalitarian. It will probably be objected that some offbeat trends in the “Marxist” movement do indulge in this wider kind of critique and in a sense this is true. Yet whatever the institutions criticized, their critique usually hinges, ultimately, on the notion of the unequal distribution of wealth. It consists in variations on the theme of the corrupting influence of money. When they talk for instance of the sexual problem or of the family, they talk of the economic barriers to sexual emancipation, of hunger pushing women to prostitution, of the poor young girl sold to the wealthy man, of the domestic tragedies resulting from poverty. When they denounce what capitalism does to culture they will do so in terms of the obstacles that economic needs puts in the way of talent, or they will talk of the venality of artists. All this is undoubtedly of great importance. But it is only the surface of the problem. Those socialists who can only speak in these terms see man in much less than his full stature. They see him as the bourgeoisie does, as a consumer (of food, of wealth,
whether individual or collective. But man is not infinitely malleable. frustrations and much unhappiness. the human role of man in the productive process. From his earliest days man is subjected to constant pressures designed to mould his views in relation to work. The conflict in production does not “create” or “determine” secondary conflicts in other fields. He is increasingly alienated during all his activities. and immediately. their creative ability. for man is to fulfill himself. The essential. We also mention these facts to show that the socialist revolution will have to take all these fields within its compass.whether they manifest themselves in the capitalist factory. as a permanent mutilation. Their inventiveness. These pressures tend to deprive him of the natural 3 enjoyment of his activity and even to make him accept this deprivation as something intrinsically good. A social structure containing deep antagonisms reproduces these antagonisms in variable degrees in each of the individuals comprising it. for instance. We mention all this only to underline the essential identity of relations of domination . to leisure. Exploitation does not only result in a limitation of consumption for the many and financial enrichment for the few. Let the cynics smile and pretend that all this is petty-bourgeois utopianism. to assert his true individuality”. not only in the economic field but in all fields of human endeavor. The revolution must of course start with the overthrow of the exploiting class and with the institution of workers’ management of production. Similarly a society in which relations between people are based on domination will maintain authoritarian attitudes in relation to sex and to education. itself the result of a given pattern of ownership of the means of production. not in some far distant future. Class society profoundly inhibits the natural tendency of man to fulfill himself in the objects of his activity. By subjecting man to the machine . but to quite different and “non productive” ends! They manifest themselves in a resistance to production. etc. Class society can only exist to the extent that it succeeds in imposing a widespread acceptance of its norms. willing participation. And this cultural expropriation in turn reinforces those in command of the productive machine. or flow from a given division of the surplus value. It manifests itself in many other ways.class society deprives man of the real purpose of human endeavor. But this presupposes that they are partly expropriated at least from the capacities of management . Conflicts in class society do not simply result from inequalities of distribution. however. The conflicts engendered by class society take Place in every one of us. their initiative may be shown in their own lives. attitudes creating deep inhibitions. “The dominant ideas of each epoch are the ideas of its ruling class”. in the patriarchal family. In the past this job was assisted by religion. If it does not. Exploitation. becomes accustomed to experience himself as a man. Socialism must give man an opportunity to create. This results in a constant and fantastic waste compared with which the wastage resulting from capitalist crises or capitalist wars is really quite trivial! Alienation in capitalist society is not simply economic. It results in a constant struggle at the most fundamental level of production: that of conscious. Man is increasingly expropriated from the very management of his own acts. it will surely die. In the factory these aptitudes may be used. can only occur if the producers are expropriated from the management of production. Class domination manifests itself in all fields. whatever modern sociologists may think. its objectives are in conflict with fundamental human aspirations. their ingenuity. which is the constant. There is a profound dialectical inter-relationship between the social structure of a society and the attitudes and behavior of its members. But it will immediately have to tackle the reconstruction of social life in all its aspects. In every country of the world this state of affairs is experienced day after day by the working class as an absolute misfortune. The producers utterly reject (and quite rightly so) a system of production which is imposed upon them from above and in which they are mere cogs.of culture.and through the machine to an abstract and hostile will . “is to organise the world in such a manner that man experiences in it the truly human. but are certainly not shown in production.and finally to suppress altogether. conscious transformation of the world around him. Marx doubtless had these ideas in mind when he wrote that the proletariat “regards its independence and sense of personal dignity as more essential than its daily bread”. to culture. in the authoritarian upbringing of children or in “aristocratic” cultural traditions. This is why the bureaucratic project will come unstuck. Equally important are the attempts by both private and bureaucratic capitalism to limit -. That men resist this process (and that their resistance implicitly raises the question of self-management) is as much a driving force in the class struggle as the conflict over the distribution of the surplus. This is but one aspect of the problem. “The problem” Marx said. .in other words from culture. Its effects could not otherwise be understood. Today the same role is played by “socialist” and “communist” ideologies. to thought itself. at one and the Same time.).
This was. The author hopes that they will contribute to making current events more easily understood. among them some well known sinologists. but by the inherent logic of the series of events that have been recorded. it was explicable by the demands of thrift. the result of puritanism (the product of rising capitalism). Both essays must be considered as a link between the seven year old Theses and the present state of affairs. although it would not have meant any fundamental reappraisal. American employers. pamphlets (published in English in the People’s Republic of China) and articles from Peking Review. threw off the British colonial yoke. announced to the absolutist princes that their reign had come to an end. The new facts at the author’s disposal have not basically transformed his views. based on the new science. added here to the primary text by way of introduction. Franklin was the personification of pure science. as he sees it the latest developments in China have only confirmed them. Franklin would never have dreamt of giving up his way of life. and on its way to something like state. He was enveloped in the lustre of the young Transatlantic Republic which. True enough. Although the author resorted to several sources. But to do so would have taken us far beyond the original character of the Theses. outstanding Chinese communist writers (such as Mao himself). after moving to the extravagant neighbourhood of the French royal household. He wore his clothes with the same pride with which the marquesses and dukes of France wore their silk coats. The author nevertheless made an attempt at a social analysis. Even before the French people had made their own middle-class revolution. by his appearance. In his person two things found themselves combined. not by mentioning names or titles. He went about Paris and Versailles in a dress readily recognised by all as Third Estate garb. Deeply convinced that his middle-class country-and the republican form of government-represented the future.K.) Pamphlet # 46 (1974) Preface to the Second English Edition T he Theses on the Chinese Revolution were written during the spring and summer of 1967. those political aims and the events that really occurred were both aspects of the stage of development of the Chinese Revolution. based on wage-labour. by its very existence. in the spring of 1969 they were published in France in Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils. Franklin forced. had enabled the rising bourgeoisie to build up its own forms of` production in countries that were still dominated by the nobility and clergy. in the Theses proper. The second point-specially dealt with for this edition-describes the conflicts within the Chinese Communist Party as they became apparent at its Tenth Congress and through the anti-Confucius campaign. the French nobility to honour his personality. The stimulus was made even stronger by the behaviour of this diplomatic representative of the early. Benjamin Franklin had always led a simple life. It also stimulated the self-consciousness of the French Third Estate. 4 Introduction (1974) 1) Some Reflections on the Counter-Revolutionary Nature of Chinese Diplomacy In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the USA. Franklin gave an example of revolutionary diplomacy that the world has never seen since. he also forced it to recognise a new class. the Americans had sent to the courts and governments of a predominantly feudal* (*The British Kingdom (since the revolutions of 1641 and 1688) and the Dutch Republic were the sole exceptions. In the process. To the Paris court of Louis XVI there came in this role one of America’s most able ambassadors: none other than Benjamin Franklin. In one respect this second English edition is like the first. but also from those of all sorts of Leninists (Trotskyists included). had to be tolerated by the worn out order. but he had also acquired an international reputation as a physical scientist. He daily defied his detested class enemy and put new heart into his French class-comrades.capitalism. on the one hand. Unlike what they think-and in contradistinction too to bourgeois appreciations-the Theses don’t accept that the political aims of the Chinese Communist Party determined the Chinese events. The author’s views differ fundamentally not only from those of the Maoists. many explanations could now be expanded on the basis of greater knowledge. nothing has been changed. On the other hand. On the other. He preferred to convince.) Europe their own diplomatic representatives. In the preceding years he had not only been a red-hot champion of American independence. he desisted from footnotes. This revolutionary process is none other than the transition from precapitalist forms of production into a modern society. The first deals with some aspects of Chinese foreign policy. Technical progress. when China was in the threes of the so-called ‘Cultural Revolution’. The fact that it was Benjamin Franklin who had set foot on the French shore as the ambassador of the despised American Republic. Acting in this manner. The main point is a critical look at Chou-En-lai’s attitude to the Ceylon and Bangladesh revolutions. itself . In 1971 the first English edition appeared as an Aberdeen Solidarity pamphlet. This is best understood if one looks at two of his other writings. unobstructed by ecclesiastical dogma. Later (after the bourgeois revolution had triumphed in France and elsewhere) such a conduct totally lost its meaning. It was finished shortly after the restoration of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the USA. The bourgeoisie. On the contrary. On the contrary.Theses On the Chinese Revolution and Cultural Revolution By Cajo Brendel Solidarity (U. that brought him to certain conclusions concerning the Chinese Revolution as a whole. created by the problem of accumulation in a country of middle-class pioneers. that was laying an increasing claim to its rightful position in society. In 1973 an Italian edition was published in Caserta. Information concerning these historic events was insufficient at the time. under George Washington. The Theses on the Chinese Revolution were first published in Dutch in the monthly Daad en Gedachte (Act and Thought’). He could be characterised as a middle-class prove.
Much later. Neither in East nor West Pakistan was socialism on the agenda. belongs. Benjamin Franklin would have guarded himself against the smallest gesture that might have been understood as a sign of alliance or sympathy with those in power. They dreamed of an anti-colonial struggle in which Eastern peoples would strike a heavy blow at Western capitalism. The delegation that sat at Brest-Litovsk. was no longer engaged in revolutionary practice. Franklin in eighteenth century France was surrounded by his class enemies. the coming to power of Sheik Mujibur would have meant progress compared to the brutal rule of Yahya Khan. Bolshevik Russia had barely introduced the New Economic Policy. As soon as the capitalist nature of Bolshevik society came to the fore. In Ceylon. (We speak of course of progress within the framework of bourgeois development. On the other hand. However. Chicherin. Representatives of the Kremlin honoured Mussolini. It didn’t even support the ‘Menshevik’ Sheik Mujibur. the dream that they weren’t living. That explains why middle-class revolution in this part of the world tends to be enacted in forms that first manifested themselves in Russia. It is not hard to illustrate this with some examples. where the coalition government of the so-called United Left Front under Prime Minister Mrs. the Russian representatives did just what they were expected to do. among people of a similar political and social background. Dr. Sheik Mujibur represents the East Pakistani bourgeoisie. as a People’s Commissar for foreign relations. to which Tariq All. General Yahya Khan could be compared to some Tsarist general or other. At the same time. and Roosevelt. The Bolsheviks had loomed up behind those political forces that had emerged after the February Revolution. Stresemann. Nothing could be found anymore of revolutionary diplomacy. the London political writer. just as in Russia. the suits of the Russian diplomats became as starched and conventional as one can imagine. It was directed against the pattern of large landownership and against social conditions that intentionally kept the country backward. From where did these clear and important differences with the revolutionary diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin arise? The explanation is simple. than its diplomats started behaving just as the official representatives of a state-capitalist republic might be expected to do. We mean Peking’s attitude to the revolutionary events in Ceylon and Pakistan respectively. Sheik Mujibur Rahman headed the uprising for a short time. just as it is in most Asian countries. Peking gave diplomatic. For some time the Russian (bourgeois) revolution seemed to have great consequences for similar bourgeois developments in Asia and Africa. had scarcely taken the road to statecapitalism. It gave full support to Mrs. in a capitalist country. Peking-whose policy is our subject-didn’t support the Pakistan ‘Bolsheviks’. expressed his warm sympathy towards the liberal German Secretary of State. The true character of Chinese foreign policy and of Chinese diplomacy can be seen in the light of two examples drawn from very recent history. Instead of illusions about revolutionary support for Asia or Africa there came 5 the reality of bestowing favours upon that particular class in Eastern society that tended to slow down the break. The Chinese Revolution had essentially (not in details) the same character as that in Russia in 1917. It is directed at obtaining alliances.capitalist Russia (at the time of Lenin and Trotsky. Sirimavo Bandaranaike clashed with the revolutionary movement that stood for a state-capitalist future. anyhow. pre-revolutionary France. It started imitating the manners and style of its former class enemy. So it is today with Chinese foreign policy and Chinese diplomacy. but China just like Russia is on its way to state-capitalism. It is a policy in which Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai display as little finesse as Stalin and Litvinov displayed in their time.becoming the ruling class. the time for political dreams came to an end. Bolsheviks. Behind him (and behind the social forces that he represented) more radical forces were looming up. as well as at the time of Stalin and his successors) displayed day after day their inner affinity with capitalism and with the bourgeoisie. But this dream had one pre-condition: the political idealists in Russia needed the reassurance that they would not suddenly and horribly be awoken from another dream. and later in China. the thoroughly bourgeois character of Russian foreign policy and the bourgeois traits of Russian diplomacy appeared. This bourgeoisie is weak. The armed revolt in East Pakistan was the desperate answer to the colonial exploitation of the country by the West Pakistan clique. who was linked with imperialism. while the latter respectively massacred Chinese and Turkish communists. then in the Pakistan Times (the . In March 1918. when the Soviet government was negotiating at Brest-Litovsk with German imperialism. General Yahya Khan. or like Borodin (who in the twenties was the political adviser to the Chinese Kuo Min Tang) were political idealists. The Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs. This harmonised better with Russia’s own interests and with the foreign policy which the Kremlin had opted for ever since 1921. Neither he nor those who are called on to complete the East Pakistan revolution deserve any such denomination. perhaps to a Kornilov (a Kornilov successful in the western part of Ids bi-partite country but who ran up against serious resistance ill its eastern half). Bandaranaike. In feudal. which in their revolutionary heyday they had called the ‘thieves kitchen’. Chou En-lai. The same happened in Pakistan when a civil war broke out between the reactionary feudal dictatorship of General Yahya Khan and the population of East Pakistan. he never could have maintained that position. Far from having made diplomatic or psychological mistakes.capitalist Russia moved in middle-class Western Europe. The political idealists made way for the realists. modern Maoist China has for over 20 years been seeking membership of the United Nations. When idealism had gone. Just as Moscow does. sent a message to Yahya Khan that was first published in the Peking Review. like the previously mentioned Chicherin. In the early thirties they made their way into the League of Nations.) Mujibur called himself` a ‘socialist’. in front of the German imperial generals. Later on there were many expressions of sympathy at the death of other dignitaries of the European middle-class. Peking pursues a foreign policy that has little to do with revolution elsewhere in Asia (not even middle-class revolution). the diplomats of state. political and military aid to the Pakistan ‘Kornilov’. one might call Sheik Mujibur a Menshevik. There may indeed be differences between Moscow and Peking. over the death of President Ebert (a man who once declared that he ‘hated revolution like sin’). Like Russia in the thirties. and the bourgeois character of the Russian Revolution had become obvious. Even if the insurrection had not been beaten down. Peking did not take the side of the revolutionaries.through of modern capitalism (with the aid of western imperialism). the Muscovite representatives came to this Polish town with working-class caps and peasant fur coats. The diplomats of state. Churchill. The Kremlin diplomats kept up very friendly relations with Chiang Kai-Shek and with Kemal Pasha. They entered into a pact with Hitler. If-and for convenience only-anyone wanted to give names to the actors in the Pakistan drama. One might designate as Bolsheviks the revolutionary forces in the background. was composed of political idealists. Chinese foreign policy is not directed at the stimulation of the bourgeois revolution throughout the rest of Asia and in Africa. the world was led for a moment to believe that the Russian Bolsheviks (in different circumstances but in a similar way) had repeated what Benjamin Franklin had done to intimidate the nobility and to activate the Third Estate.
of course. It is the cynical policy of diplomatic zig-zags in front of the worst enemies of the working-class. We believe that through the wise consultations and efforts of Your Excellency and leaders of various quarters in Pakistan. Liu Shao-chi. The latest example of this-strictly logical-policy is the Chinese approach to the United Nations and the USA. (3) When a number of young supporters of the American left (and sympathisers of Mao) were recently in Peking. suggested that the Chinese might have backed Yahya for ‘long. Though Leninism (whatever that happened to be) remained the official Bolshevik theory. Peking wants to keep up good relations with both. but 6 2) The Tenth Congress of the Chinese Party and After If anyone wishes to characterise the play acted behind closed doors in Peking last summer (under the title of ‘Tenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party’) he would have to define it as a ‘Comedy of Errors’. serious as such a charge may be. Lin Piao. (2) One might ask such a simpleton why Lenin in 1917 didn’t back Kornilov. a young Shanghai worker who played an important role in the battle against that former head of state. Those who are on the wrong path are those who expect a revolutionary policy or revolutionary diplomacy from Maoist China. was now being called a ‘right-wing criminal’ who had always (!) had a bourgeois outlook and who had aim. These weapons-tanks made in China-were not only used against the East Pakistan insurgents. He considers Chinese foreign policy towards Ceylon and Pakistan as ‘wrong’ policies. She supplied the counter-revolutionary government of Yahya Khan with weapons and equipment. those countries that were exposed to tyranny and domination’ and deplore what he called ‘the mutilation of Pakistan’ caused by (a fact. fighting a class-struggle against their rulers. The meeting so remembered him. surrounded by two pairs of twins. had become less urgent. to hold back the truth about state-capitalist exploitation by discussing it in ‘socialist’ phraseology). was chosen as one of the five (instead of one) Vice-Chairmen of the Party. middle-class uprising in East Pakistan. didn’t know which was which. In our opinion the unification of Pakistan and the unity of the people of East and West Pakistan are the basic guarantees for Pakistan to attain prosperity and strength. didn’t need such a ‘restoration’. Can it be that the confusion of tongues in Peking is as great as it was in state-capitalist Russia in the early sixties. which he didn’t mention) a social uprising for autonomy. The People’s Republic of China considered the East Pakistan (bourgeois) revolutionaries as ‘a handful of persons who want to sabotage the unification of Pakistan’(1) Hence Chou’s words in the quoted message. writing in the British paper New Society(and much better informed about what had really happened). namely to enable him to smash the (‘Menshevik’)Awarmi League of Sheik Mujibur and pave the way for the Bengal left. At a public meeting in Amsterdam the West Pakistani Trotskyist. a letter that had appeared in the Peking Review. That first impression would be strengthened by everything the Congress revealed about what was logically its main concern: the Chinese scene itself. Lin Piao’s ghost overshadowed the Peking conference. Wasn’t it even more confusing that Lin Piao (a fervent champion of the so-called ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’). Wasn’t it confusing that this man. the forms of production existing in China. just their own problem. and was so dominated by his personality. thereby Enabling him (Lenin) to settle with the Kerensky government. the situation in Pakistan will certainly be restored to normal. Lin Piao’s opponent in those crucial years from 1966 to 68. in the Chinese jargon. We see the policy that we denounce as the logical consequence of the state-capitalist character of the Chinese Republic. based on wage-slavery. terms like ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’. In this message Chou En-lai declared: ‘Your Excellency and leaders of various quarters in Pakistan have done a lot of useful work to uphold the unification of Pakistan and to prevent it from moving towards a split. he . Killed in a plane crash as he was flying to Russia on September 13 1971 (and consequently dead for two years). They might conclude that behind the walls of Peking reigns a confusion of tongues.ed at the restoration of capitalism in China. At that time Russian aid enabled Chang Kaishek to massacre the workers of Shanghai. for they are not in office to promote the interests of the Chinese working-class. It is not they. as if he were still in the world of the living.mouth-piece of the reactionary West Pakistan government). the Chinese leaders. once Chairman Mao’s ‘close comrade in arms’. Although a mere spectator. and as a member of its Central Committee. rehabilitated as were many others of his kind. when the Moscow leaders were fighting out their differences hidden behind deceptive definitions? Didn’t the same abuse of ‘anti-Party groups’ indicate on that occasion something very different from what one might have expected? Indeed. Neither Mao nor Chou En-lai can be blamed for it. its special social function (namely. China was looking for friendly relations with the White House. despite a frontal attack on Liu Shao-chi by Chou En-lai? One can’t avoid asking what. They are in office to promote the interests of Chinese state-capitalism. On that score the Congress attached the greatest possible importance to the doings of the late Lin Piao. that the 1249 delegates even proceeded to expel him from the party ‘once and for all’. pointed out these facts. a social uprising that he (Chou En-lai himself) had vainly helped to suppress? From such words ordinary people might conclude that by Chinese standards ‘solidarity with the oppressed’ doesn’t mean what it means to the oppressed themselves. China. as we have said. In the twenties and thirties the contradiction between social reality and Bolshevik reality had given rise to a theoretical discussion about Leninist thought. only to be confronted outside the meeting by former political friends of Liu. a short but close examination of those mimic-battles is very useful to clarify their present Chinese counterpart. In other words Chinese policy towards Pakistan was just like Moscow’s policy towards China in the late twenties. of course. Evidently they hadn’t yet read Chou En-lai’s letter to Yahya Khan. being in their very essence capitalist. Chou En-lai made it clear to them that their resistance to Nixon was. In the early sixties the interpretation of Leninism wasn’t at issue. Of course Leninism still supplied this ideological need. African and Latin American peoples to obtain or defend national independence was deepening and enlarging as the result of an irresistible historical trend’? Didn’t Chou simultaneously express his ‘solidarity with oppressed nations all over the world. was on the other hand merely described as a ‘revisionist’. General Yahya Khan massacred the Pakistani workers with Chinese aid. and against whom the whole weight of the Party had been launched. Wasn’t there the Chinese Foreign Secretary. the real issue of which was the class structure of the so-called soviet state. would feel like another Duke Solinus who. declaring that ‘the struggle of the Asian. We reject his Bolshevik opinions. They were also used against West Pakistan workers. The Dutch Maoists present were scandalised. Chou En-lai. Wasn’t it embarrassing that Wang Hung-wen. unaware of Stalin’s latest changes of line. A Maoist sympathiser. They behaved like Stalinists in the thirties.whose rise to power had taken place during and immediately after that political tempest that had strengthened the Party’s position. Tariq All. like Teng Chiau-ping. who are going the ‘wrong way’.term motives’. Such an attitude is similar to Moscow’s attitude to Hitler and to Mussolini. could have been described as the leader of an anti-Party group? Liu Shao-chi. ‘revisionism’ and ‘anti-Party clique’ really mean. The spectacular Russian play had been preceded by another. after a successful coup! Tariq Ali doesn’t talk such nonsense. did more. who as recently as a year before had been posthumously charged with ‘leftextremism’.’ The meaning was clear enough: Peking was opposed to the national. (Incidentally.
an unstable man like Khruschev (more than anyone else among government notables). When his adversaries boxed his ears with quotations from the dead Lenin. What lay behind the slogans and stigmatisations was clear enough in the debate (though it wasn’t carried on in plain Russian but in a language one might define as Party-Chinese). as representatives of the new class. They proved themselves stronger than the violence of the Red Guards and appeared to be totally interwoven with Chinese social relations. nor did the managerial strata regard him as a reliable supporter. Nor is it necessary again to explain-as was done in the Theses-why the Great Cultural Revolution can be regarded as the response to social developments similar to those that. in Russia. Kruschev pointed out that people were living in another time: what was valid then had lost its value. dogmatic points of view that prevent the introduction of innovations’ (‘They stood for the past and opposed any accommodation to the reality of the growing power of the new class’). It reached its culminating point in the days of Khruschev. underlines the necessity for a ‘transformation of all parts of the superstructure that are not co-ordinsted with the economic foundation’. KHRUSCHEV: ‘The Soviet Union is in great need of capital’ (‘The accumulation of capital doesn’t keep pace with the needs of the new managerial class’). at other times the managerial faction did. Apparently matters were not . in the same speech. had strengthened managerial positions. At the same time the defenders of the Party (old style) were stigmatised as the ‘anti-Party group’. The same Chou En-lai. MIKOYAN (the most outstanding champion of the new class): ‘They-the members of the anti-Party group-cling to conservative. in fact. a stumbling block in the new class’s way to genuine development. the outcome was for a long time undecided. Nevertheless. The true content of this enigma was that the Russian situation had produced the unstable character of Nikita Sergeyevich Khruschev. Khruschev was a misfit in the bureaucracy to which he formally belonged. SATJUKOV: ‘Molotov has always been a bungler in home affairs’ (‘Political knowledge is strictly reserved for the class that has power and rules’). The requirements of the new class led to an interesting struggle between the old Party bureaucracy and the representatives of the factory management that had come into being.) During this period the attack from the new management on the Party traditionalists became fiercer. We here give some quotations with (in brackets) translations into everyday speech. the phenomenon of a (future) managerial class holds the key to every Chinese problem. its Chinese counterpart has not so far proved stronger than the Chinese Party. but the contradiction between the advanced socialist system and the backward productive forces in society’. the struggle between the new class and the old Party reached its final stage. 1958). However. Those social forces in the background which even if they didn’t give rise to a ‘new class’ nevertheless prepared its way (pushing forward individual managers).’Long live the new ruling class’ was the true meaning of his belated intervention. Could it be that last year’s happenings in China resemble in some way what we have described as happening in Russia? In present day China. It transforms the principles of Stalinism. born in entirely different social circumstances.. His personality-as his biographer. Attempts to analyse these forces have been made in the Theses. All this started in darkness. Joining the debate in this way.. With those words he accurately divulged what was going on behind the scenes. and that formed the basis of the new class. MOLOTOV (in defence of the anti-Party group): ‘The Party’s new programme is a revisionist and counterrevolutionary one’ (‘The Party’s new programme aims to make the Party a tool of the new class. defending 7 management): ‘Members of the anti-Party group opposed everything that was new or progressive. At one time the old Party held the strongest positions. to whom they had guaranteed the withdrawal of Russian troops) they were confronted with an entirely different mood. <em> KOSYGIN (member of the Presidium of the Central Committee. before Stalin’s death. What the new class wanted was a more or less ‘new’ Bolshevik Party adapted to the current situation. For instance. Chou En-lai was very clearly criticising the managerial point of view in his speech to the Tenth Congress when he addressed himself to ‘those who pretended that after the Ninth Congress (held in April 1969) the development of production should be the Party’s main task’ and to those ‘who claimed that it was not the antagonism between the working class and the bourgeoisie that was the most important contradiction in China. was suited to a situation in which neither the bureaucracy nor the new ruling class could claima final victory. Perhaps just because of these qualities. there are forces at work more or less favourable to the rise of a ‘new class’. Things in China are not what they had previously been in Russia. By such an attitude. ‘Molotov opposed the new economic and agricultural policy’ (‘Molotov was an adversary of management’). So often and so quickly did positions in the Kremlin change that when Suslov and Mikoyan returned to Moscow from a short visit to Budapest (where. these contradictions had become a widespread reality. The embarrassment provoked by its mystifying slogans was greater than ever before. That reality does not exist any longer because of the increasing influence of the managerial class’). By the second half of the century. That sounds like a concession to managerial demands. The new ruling class could no longer collaborate with a bureaucracy that indulged in practices in no way adapted to the new situation. Both factions balancing one another. who won power because he was the right man at that particular time. Lengthy trench warfare made way for a war of movement. The struggle lasted many years. ‘Molotov is the ideologist of bygone times’ (‘Molotov’s thought is adapted to yesterday’s reality. wrote-was just as enigmatic as the Soviet world. Khruschev in fact took the victors’ side.* (*Background information given by Tibor Meray in one of the most interesting books on the Hungarian Revolution: Thirteen Days that Shook the Kremlin (Thames & Hudson. With Kosygin’s appointment as Prime Minister there started a new chapter in Russian history. With Khruschev in office. were felt to be theoretical humbug. In the course of the Cultural Revolution the Party was transformed for the purpose of better resistance. There have been many subsequent indications suggesting that the Cultural Revolution wasn’t as successful as Chou En-lai would have had the delegates to the Tenth Congress believe. Before long he found out that he had acted too late. ‘ (‘The anti-Party group opposed the rise of the new class of managers and wrecked its economic policy’). It is directed against everything the old Party represented’). they were prepared for a flexible attitude towards the government of Imre Nagy.’They were against any proposal that could have improved the soviet economy’ (‘They opposed proposals not in accordance with the policy of the new class’). Those who favoured the domination of the new ruling class over the old bureaucracy never tired of proclaiming their legal heritage from the Party. There is no need to repeat the argument. The new ruling class was in the process of becoming a dominant and influential factor in society. Against this social background Party traditions. Khruschev had an unmistakable feeling about what was up.at the same time another need had come into being. But in China things are far more complicated than this. they wrecked the economic policy of the Party and of the country . Such facts should be a warning against too simplified an analogy. still exist. George Paloczi-Horvath. and that conversely. He was dismissed as soon as the new ruling class no longer felt itself seriously threatened. In the past the theoretical battles mainly reflected developing contradictions between Russian workers and a new rising ruling class. a Party that would recognise the new class’s powerful position. But he didn’t identify himself with the Russian management. practices that hindered the development of production. too. unlike the ‘new class’ in Russia. It became visible in the postStalin era.
everything in China’s social and political life has again been on the move. Concerning Mao for instance. 8 None of them contain the least indication to such a change of front. partly in response to the views of the peasants.claiming. if unity was as solid as one was made to believe. with whom Lin Piao was linked only by means of a political manoeuvre. Just as Molotov in Russia. Everything depends on whether the transformed (or even more transformed) Party or whether management will rule the roost. Did Lin Piao resist? If so. had actually been written by Mao. Instead of defending the Party against the management as Molotov had done. on the contrary. It wasn’t unity that characterised the Tenth Congress but the sound judgment that the tendencies representing the new class could not be made to disappear and that the fight against them would decide the Party’s future. Before concerning ourselves with the devil.managerial and probureaucratic forces were balanced. if the Party was reformed during the Cultural Revolution. the ghost of Lin Piao was hammered with the charge of defending an ‘anti-Party line’. that the official’Report to the Ninth National Congress’. That applies to everyone on the Chinese scene. withdrawing from the Cultural Revolution line. This is the situation that accounts for various declarations about perfect Party-unity applauded by the delegates in Peking. This was an attempt to delay the clash for as long as possible. True enough. might also be true for Chou. Nevertheless the officials are well aware that such a postponement cannot be permanent. Lin Piao would have stood at the side of the new class. delivered by Lin Piao. ‘doesn’t end the struggle between the two Party lines’. they don’t face each other in the same way as they did in Russia. that the so-called anti-Party line ‘had been and still was one of the two lines inside the Party’. in collaboration with Chen Po-ta. the Party’s radicalisation was obvious. But he did so with the full agreement of Mao himself. But this is rather uncertain as Chou En-lai’s reproaches on this point were directed rather against Liu Shoa-chi. where there is also a very large peasantry. the Chinese at their Congress were speaking PartyRussian just as the Russians had been speaking Party-Chinese. But let nobody think that the radicalisation in question has anything to do with the working-class struggle against capitalism.) What exactly Chou represents is unclear. his position seemed to be on the right because the pendulum had oscillated and because the Party. Hampered by the peasantry. his position would have been the opposite to that of Molotov. This doesn’t automatically imply that words in Party Chinese have the same meaning as in Party-Russian. The Party’s new constitution stressed classic Leninist ‘democratic centralism’ as the basic organisational principle. it was just to take the wind out of the management’s sails. At the Tenth Congress no word was spoken either about the exercise of power by the workers themselves or about the abolition of the wages system. Speaking thus. In Russia the ‘anti-Party group’ defended the (old) Party. At most. What strikes one is the formal resemblance of the indictments. in which one would have to distinguish false communists from sincere ones’. The forementioned presence of rehabilitated adherents of managerial champion Liu Shao-chi and the fact that some of those men had again been able to obtain influential positions in the country point in the same direction. were the deliberations strictly secret. Be this as it may. had undergone a radicalisation. Since then. Whatever the truth of this story may be (and whatever it may not be) it remains that what could be true for Lin. Though their names were linked at the last Congress. Chou En-lai commented with satisfaction about ‘the stability of prices and the market’s prosperous position’. How does one reconcile the fact that this unity has been so loudly trumpeted with the fact that delegates were pro. whose fruits didn’t prove to be as red as many people had expected? What supports this view is the position of his alleged number one accomplice. history has borne out that if one talks of the devil he is sure to come. To conclude: the antagonism between the Party and the new class in China hasn’t by a long way reached the point that had been reached in Russia some fifteen years earlier. He would have stood at the side of Liu Shao-chi. and of the Party. This is why the Cultural Revolution remained unfinished. Behind the scenes. managerial tendencies (the forces that led to the development of the new class) are still at work. Finally. while at the same time adding that it would be ‘absolutely impermissible to suppress criticism and to retaliate’ and that. Or was Lin Piao really as moderate as he showed himself to be? Hadn’t he been on the Party’s left long before the Cultural Revolution. When the process of radicalisation had started. Chou was just churning out Partyjargon. But that doesn’t necessarily argue his real position ** (**Chou told the delegates. Could it be that Lin Piao didn’t agree with this moderate policy? If so that might explain why the Party first accused him of ‘left extremism’. These basic economic and social relations are evidently not at stake. His statement was characteristic both in its lack of any working-class analysis and because of what it revealed concerning the true nature of Chinese economic and social relations. together with a meaningless official postscript? The implied contradiction is nothing but a paradox. It was therefore attacked by the new class. whose deceptive appearance masked real differences. with only the texts of the speeches and the new constitution published. Against this view one might quote Lin Piao’s more or less ‘managerial’ position concerning production. ‘the Party should encourage other views and great debates’. To put it in Mao’s words:’within a number of years another revolution will probably have to be carried out. In China the new class was attacked by the reformed Party that sought new strength through its self-reform. ‘The downfall of the anti-Party group’ Chou En-lai told the delegates. and that Lin didn’t agree with the text he was delivering. Demons and devils will break the surface’. whatever Chou may have been saying about ‘a conflict between proletarian and bourgeois interests. In favour of this view. Firm positions will become visible as time goes by. another head of the Cultural Revolution draft and a faithful transmitter of Mao-thought at every moment of his life. such a conclusion isn’t strengthened by Lin Piao’s speeches. since some time before the Tenth Congress. That is what lies behind the Party’s radicalisation.pushed to extremes. It doesn’t explain however why such a reproach was only heard three years later. it might be remembered that it was Lin Piao who jammed the brakes on the Red Guards when the Cultural Revolution threatened to plunge the country into economic disaster. was therefore symptomatic. There are good reasons for the view that Lin Piao was a tempered radical and that this led him to being seen as on the left when the Party. Consequently the real issue is not the choice between a proletarian or a bourgeois alternative. in the same breath. The appearance of unity stands out because Party and management are equally strong. ‘the inevitable necessity for many more struggles in the future’? And why. Chen Po-ta. who had had to be called to order because he had gone ‘too far’ during the Cultural Revolution. The appointment to its leadership of Wang Hung-wen. Chou informed the delegates that after the Ninth . in reaction to another new class danger. had drafted another document (that had been cancelled). where did the traditional and outstanding leaders like Mao and Chou really stand? At the Congress the latter never tired of quoting Mao and of stressing his hostility to Lin or Liu. who was his bitter enemy in the Cultural Revolution. The only possible explanation is that hitherto the pro. or of a society based on production. on the other hand. veered to the right. One must not forget that these are not the only social forces in China. let us talk of the demons. that Lin himself. After Lin Piao’s death. This is partly due to the fact that. are Chou’s own words. Sooner or later the equilibrium will be upset.
What are important are the economic and social frameworks that determine its limits and by which it is characterised. Lin Piao and Chen Po-ta hadn’t such fundamental differences after all? Was it only. it isn’t only the official statement about Lin Piao that stands contradicted. Philosopher Yang said. deccan of the Philosophy Faculty of the Canton Sun Yat-sen University (and since referred to as the No. should one seek to under. The discussions became moral condemnations of certain politicians on behalf of others. Whose future is at stake? That of Chou or that of Mao? Time will tell. becoming incorrect to the extent that a given society is lost in its successor. possibly because his philosophical contribution to an actual struggle suffers from the contradictions of the struggle itself. who had died 2000 years previously. and therefore is right as long as the society exists that gave birth to it. No attempt was made to understand Confucius from within Chinese society. If Yang condemns Confucius for calling back ‘those who were already buried in oblivion.Congress the Chairman had given several warnings to Lin Piao.’ What sort of class struggle could Yang be referring to? Neither in his article nor in the debate that followed was the subject touched upon. The actors are of secondary interest. was the man who for many years had been the architect of the new class policy. But once again this is of secondary significance. aiming to restore the old order’. For our purpose. we are told by Philosopher Yang. From the historical point of view it doesn’t matter so much whether this one or that one represents the Party or the management. This method naturally led to the substitution of social comprehension by moral judgement. Whether all this was really being aimed at the dead Lin Piao. happenings remain obscure. is less clear. On the contrary. Consequently the anti-Confucius campaign wasn’t a philosophical attack on the essential roots of class power. From the mere fact that things were not put in this way one can draw some plausible conclusions. doesn’t suit any ruling class. Whatever the answer. ‘Confucius’. Moreover.stand the three attempts on Mao’s life. Chinese society was explained by stressing Confucius’ influence. a campaign that reached its full development after the Tenth Congress. linked with the con. that too seems to concern Chou. The play: that’s the point. in connection with all this. Yang. For this purpose. Confucius. His ideas were considered apart from their soil. in which Lin Piao is said to have been closely involved as the main conspirator? Were these attempts made because the Chairman tended to an even more managerial point of view? Or were they made because Mao firmly refused to adopt such a position? Listening to the Party-jargon. It is for this reason that we have placed in the centre of our analysis the struggle between the new class and the Party bureaucracy. all of them in vain. Confucius wasn’t interpreted as a child of his time. The themes hardly need further explanation. How. bureaucrats and managers march against each other. The reformers on the contrary were fighting for private landed property and for individual farming’.ary. It is far more important to understand this fact than to know who is who. The reformers of his time however wanted freedom of thought on behalf of a hundred philosophical schools. Chou. Yang can thus be interpreted in different ways. The author was Yang Chung-kuo.. or that they have been created deliberately. Nonetheless. The correctness of this method is confirmed when we examine the anti-Confucius campaign. Another possibility is that these contradictions are either the pure consequence of the special Party-philosophical jargon.at a later date that the rift widened? In that case. Such descriptions don’t tell us anything of the social forces that drive the actors to appear before the footlights. Ruling classes never have an eye for the relativity of their own mastery. as predicted by Chairman Mao. Quoting Confucius. after all. it is more important to realise that there is a direct connection 9 between the anti-Confucius campaign and the issues of the Cultural Revolution. They were described as intrinsically reaction. The rule of the Party-bureaucracy or managerial rule? That is the question for the years to come. The battle for power is not important. Nevertheless. conclusions can be drawn that go far beyond the commonplace fixations about a ‘power battle’. looking at the Chinese smoke-screen. When he speaks of a less important philosopher. whose origin was the nonBolshevik Democratic League of China (which had once taken an intermediate position between the Communist Party and the Kuo Min-tang) seems to be a clear voice of the new class. in the long run the new class seems to have the best testimonials.Confucianism). It is also suggested that Mao wasn’t heading the radicalisation but merely tail-ending it. Nowhere was it treated from the point of view that human thought is connected with society. dispatched at Confucius’ command. The campaign was launched on August 7 1973 by an article in the Peking Peoples Paper. 1 theorist of anti. with different and opposite opinions. Such a treatment. quite apart from actual questions of policy. ‘the battle of words with Confucius has a very actual meaning.viction of the oppressed that neither society nor thought are invariable and eternal. Does this mean that Mao Tse-tung. The devil that looms up is a second Cultural Revolution. was raised from his grave and criticised. For times are turbulent in China. The campaign did not start as a pure philosophical discussion. ‘reserved absolute wisdom for the monarch. On to the Thesis on the Chinese revolution . one might believe that he is not only pointing at Lin Piao’s murder plot against Mao but that-from an opposite position-he is also referring to the rumour that Lin didn’t die in a plane crash but was done away with by Chou En-lai. To criticise his reactionary thoughts can be useful whenever one participates in present-day class struggle . he had his own responsibility for the rehabilitation of those who had been sacrificed in the Cultural Revolution. for reasons of safety in turbulent times.. one thing seems certain: the outcome of the struggle will not in the least change the (state) capitalist nature of Chinese society. That remains unchallenged. or at his living competitors.’ Confucius ‘promised his monarch all the land. who reflected the social relations and contradictions of the Chou dynasty in Chinese antiquity. seeking to ‘save’ him.
That negative has a positive dimension. It’s the first step to direct. Liberty and fraternity are lived through acts. Be they called a commune. solidarity relations. Democracy is a contradiction: it pretends to give and guarantee something essential which inevitably evades it. and any endeavour to create a world without exploitation. isn’t that what democracy is all about ? That assumption has the merit of simplicity: to change the world and live the best possible human life. very few are willing to discuss its nature. but also create their own organs of debating and decision-making. a council. because it appears as the best framework for human emancipation. the ideal that all human beings desire : the theory and practice of collective freedom. J. every participant in these bodies realizes his individual freedom as well as his collective existence. what better way than to base this life on institutions that will provide the largest number of people with the largest freedom on speech and decision-taking ? Besides. The endless struggle against factory despotism. Exercising one’s collective freedom. logically will oppose democracy. against boss rule on the shop floor and outside the factory. We’re entitled to ask where this social (and not just political) “fairness” is going to come from ? Democracy can’t achieve it on its own. which entail new ways of meeting. At the best. We’ll have a democracy that’s not just formal. But someone who firmly believes in this ability. but as the prime condition of social life (and therefore of all positive change). without classes. if “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. Rousseau No critique beyond this point This is where we bump into a logical flaw. Public opinion dislikes but understands those who despise democracy from a reactionary or elitist point of view. a little historical meandering. and also the most vital. at the worst. 10 Sharing is a basic and elementary necessary human attitude. without procedures and structures different from top-down ones. the critique of democracy is a lost or forgotten battle. the exploited must not only do away with the power structures that enslave them. is doomed to the dustbins of theory. Sweden on 1-2 November 2008 . Now. For all these reasons. but no-one seriously expects it to solve the social question. It’s very difficult to force into obedience whoever has no wish to command. and the only way to get it. discussing and making decisions. No moralist or prophet has ever convinced the rich and the mighty to divide their wealth and power fairly between all human beings. no more master and servant. This so-called “real” democracy lacks reality. non-competitive. But that ideal also claims that to be more than just an ideal.A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy by Gilles Dauve In a text written for a “Vår Makt” seminar . and also the struggle for rank and file control over a strike. the dominated masses generally declare their will to establish the authentic democracy that’s been so far lacking. Someone who denies the common man’s or woman’s ability to organize and run himself or herself. and yet regards democracy as unfit for human emancipation. to see what critique is not ours. it seems obvious that in order to emancipate themselves. the “lower classes” will eternally be treated as inferior. is faced with the hard fact of the exploiters’ control over the exploited. a local politician. a soviet. or even a union or party leader. No social movement. But first.held in Malmö.Dauve surveys the various theories of democracy and their limits. At best. can evade the issue: Who rules ? Otherwise. . Mere political equality gives each citizen rights but not effective powers: real democracy implies socio-economic equality. we’ll also have to show how this blinding light is even more attractively deceptive because the word “democracy” itself is confused and confusing. Any resistance to exploitation. he gets the reputation of a warped mind who’ll end up in the poor company of the archenemies of democracy: the fascists. Set the controls for the heart of the matter Democracy claims to be the most difficult objective to achieve. not as what it is. a collective. no more boss and employee. or a simple general meeting. this process of common decision-making should happen in conditions of equality between us all. go beyond the mere refusal to depend upon a boss. with no more rich and poor. without a State. and even more so if this critique is made by those who wish a world without capital and wage-labour. he is looked down upon as an idiot. Democracy is equated with organizing social life by common decisions which take into account everybody’s needs and desires as much as can be.-J. That’s what we’ll be discussing On the way. do these forms create the movement or just express and structure it ? It’s no use disclaiming our question on the grounds that these forms do both… …because the nature of democracy is to treat the space-time of debate and decision. Indeed. whenever they fight. Any critique of democracy arouses suspicion. Still. a component of social life (and therefore of all positive change). while most people go on at length about the failings of democracy. but real. big or small. a committee. it can alleviate it. So a fair total reorganization and sharing of riches will enable each of us to get a fair share in decision-making on big issues as well as on minor ones.
Karl Kraus: “Democracy is the right for everyone to be the slave of all. Communism opposes democracy because it is anti-State. He was not dealing with the social question. conquer. at the risk of losing one’s mind. Nietzsche’s critique more ridiculous than looking for truth in numbers (. this critique is still active today. That group can even be (German) labour in E. not a-political.e. the rest will follow.. where only slaves are to be found. is the possibility of the universal. what else ? The “slow revolutions” notion. and thus relieve us from the necessity of destroying the State. no longer based on birth. About fifty years later. Some individualists are more social than others. amounts to no revolution. late monarchists like Ch. i. I’ve seen Frenchmen. Nietzschean politics can’t be recuperated because it does not exist. to the more obviously abstract abstraction of the modern voting citizen. nor on money. and to anarchism (an “autonomous herd”. let’s make the bourgeois useless. This is precisely one of the variant of the democratic contract. Evolution instead of revolution. occupy and fortify. human beings can only be “brothers” and “sisters” if they belong to a certain group or origin. too. partly inspired by the situation in Mexico and taken up by some radicals. In the mid-19th century. it does away with political competition. but directly realized by work. the partisans of democracy have their answer ready. without the need for a potentially dictatorial break. All that was needed was to combine passions (Fourier). nor (as the Nazi interpretation would have it) on power. instead of addressing democracy. political power having little or nothing to do about it: therefore there was no need for revolution. Fascism only opposes democracy. Zarathustra’s author stood for a new aristocracy. Communists have had to deal with parliamentarianism as one of the forms (and not a feeble one) of government and repression. Proudhon believed that work gave the toiling masses a political capacity : let’s find a new way of producing goods. the flaw in Nietzsche’s vision does not lie in his elitism.)” (J. can only have meaning and value as an artist’s morals. Some even hoped that socialism could be founded (funded. these schools of thought agreed on the generalization of associations. It’s because he would like every one of us to rise above himself and above the “herd” that Nietzsche is hostile to socialism (he sees any collectivism as another type of gregariousness).. the natives. Ignoring democracy Before 1848. democratic or dictatorial. Communism. recently theorized by A. to have a directly social democracy. We take on democracy as a form of the State. Leroux) brought about by the triumph of industry and money. It wants more than the individual. and then develop as the bulk of society would follow its example. Russians. but mythical and poetic. creative minds and productive abilities (Saint-Simon). To them. in a different way from 1910 of course. “In my life. The communist perspective is anti-political. Junger’s The Worker (1932). J. some hoped to go round it. because they all dismiss the notion of the universality of the human species. thereby taking to their extreme potentials which exist in all parliamentary regimes.” Whatever element of truth this point of view may contain.) the ballot box is only the way to create a police force. on a small scale at first. actually) by generous enlightened bourgeois. Unlike the neobabouvists who’d inherited Babeuf’s experience and advocated the seizure of political power by organized mass violence. the people. the opponents of the French Revolution like Burke. His ethics is only to be lived by the individual.The traditionalist or reactionary critique In spite of their differences. For what concerns us here.. They want less than individuals. or if it had to go into an unpredictable congregation of individual atoms. because they stood outside politics. The individualist critique The democratic system is often blamed for crushing the individual under the collective. the Volk. The communist perspective aims to realize the individual’s aspirations to a freedom that is both personal and lived with others. Bartra. In Changing the World Without Taking Power (2002). and the workshop will replace government. Reactionary critique addresses the democratic State. The idea to absorb politics into the economy. as he calls it in Beyond Good & Evil). revolutionary syndicalism had a loathing for parliamentary . shared a common distaste for the Rights of Man. all the above mentioned thinkers believed in the supremacy of morals: a new world would be born less out of necessity than by an ethical impetus. but it’s still limited. because it is pro-State. More basically. or mutual bonds (Proudhon). Italians. This is neither a critique of politics nor of democracy. a society of masters ruling over slaves has been succeeded by the society of the average man. etc. perhaps one of the most progressive. 1796) They prefer the supposedly real abstraction of the soil. Our critique addresses the State. even less on race. Mussolini and Hitler destroyed parliamentarianism in order to create an almighty central executive and administrative power. In spite of their quarrels. as a remedy to the “dissociation” (P. as happened to the philosopher himself. They do not deny the pressure of democracy over the individual. but what he hates about the democratic system is parliamentary procedures.. Fascism has a deep hatred of democracy and. whereas reactionaries take it on as a political form they consider too feeble to defend the State. The poet and dandy Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) wrote: “Nothing 11 Though it may seem to have only a historical interest. Holloway argues that radical transformation is now so embedded in our daily lives that we’re gradually transforming the fabric of society. but on the free /mind/spirit/ who’s not afraid of solitude. or the German thinkers of the Conservative Revolution in the 20th century. large sectors of socialism did not expect anything from democracy. They say the democratic system gives everyone a larger scope for freedom than he would get if his individuality was locked within itself. is surfacing again in the current utopia of a seizure of local power so generalized that it would take away the substance of central political power (the State). the Third Reich did not distort his writings too much). Maurras. They suggest an association of freely consenting individuals. The Revolutionary Syndicalist critique : circumventing democracy In the eyes of Nietzsche. the nation. I must confess I’ve never met him (. Democracy was neither accepted nor fought against. not the State institutions which fascists seduce. on the contrary. the man of the masses. de Maistre.” And in the 20th century. a solution which is neither historical nor political. if it comes to power. Reaction denounces free will and bourgeois individualism to replace them with (old or new) forms of oppressive authority. which is undeniable (in that respect. as for Man. without any mediation. etc.
horizontal v. the Swiss self-government of the urban lower middle classes and the rich peasantry (praised by Rousseau in The Social Contract. one has to go into a class analysis. “Resistance bodies will finally enlarge their scope and range so much that they will absorb nearly all politics” in a successful “struggle to suck bourgeois political organization dry of all life”. H. Anarcho-syndicalism was adapted to the age of trusts and huge factories. and a centralized organization of distribution. the whole population of the country will be drawn into the general system of economic arrangement and self-government. each making his own opinion according to his free will. bourgeois democracy developed as “the weapon of defence” against class antagonisms. Kautsky opposed democracy and mass freedom to civil war and systematic use of violence. against Kautsky’s Terrorism & Communism published a year before. and thus remain democratic. Anti-parliamentarianism Understanding universal suffrage as the act by which that the workers swap their potential violence for a voting paper. without realizing that his critique could be applied as much to the unions (including a supposed revolutionary syndicalist French CGT on a fast road to bureaucratization and class collaboration) as to the parties of the Second International. and democracy as the mass of the people itself : to understand what is meant by “people”. “You can’t destroy a society by using the organs which are there to preserve it (. Revolutionary syndicalism discarded the voter and preferred the producer: it forgot that bourgeois society creates and lives off both. the modern metropolis falls prey to oligarchic tendencies: myriads of federated coops. is part of the essentials of social critique. “When the civil war is over (. up to a point. On one essential point. local community v. Trotsky wrote a book with the same title. because experience was also teaching the opposite of what he was expecting: the union failed as well as the party. like De Leon in the US. not in the democratic principle. Sorel had a point : “ Marx believed that the democratic regime has the advantage that as workers are no longer attracted to fighting the monarchy or the aristocracy. However. Bordiga’s critique: the opposite of democracy Amedeo Bordiga is one of the very few who took democracy seriously: he didn’t look at its methods.. he likened so much proletarian democracy to bourgeois democracy that he ended up missing the principle itself. The vehicle for change was to come from labour organized in industrial (as opposed to trade) unions. “(. skilled and unskilled. as capital and labour became “the polar classes of society”. As for Russia. but the principle was similar: a fusion between industry and government.. All left factions and parties in the Second International agreed that any parliament remains under the control of the ruling class. there were examples of early conservative democracy: the agrarian democracy of the farmers in the New England town meeting. decentralization v. Trotsky reminds the reader what Western civilized democracy has led to : a world war. and not the Parliament. and he succeeded. bred “a fair and real organized equality”. this remained a fundamental tenet of all varieties of communists. unlike parliament and party life. Georges Sorel (1847-1922) thought that the labour union. the notion of class becomes easier to grasp. centralization. before taking a decision (usually after a vote and according to majority rule: this is important. He is interested in the forms taken by democracy (and claims Bolshevism will later achieve a superior form). The anarchist critique : dispersing power Leninism is haunted by the seizure of power. Experience teaches us the opposite. We won’t solve the problem of power by spreading little bits of it everywhere. Trotsky justifies terror and coercion methods on the grounds that they’re the only methods available if the proletariat is to defend itself against a far more terrorist and bloodthirsty counter-revolution. So. Trotsky explains. as the political basis and organ of a future revolution. only scored a negative point against Marx. But most revolutionary syndicalists aimed at an active class conscious mass elite. Lagardelle wrote in 1908. bottom v. up. and it must be said. Proudhon had been the ideologue of craftsmen and small industry. Communism will go beyond both. Some syndicalists. His starting point is that democracy consists in individuals regarding themselves as equals. After 1917. If power is split between millions of elements. no more than despising the rich or hating money.” (1908) Sorel. Before parliamentarianism as we’ve known it since the end of the 19th century. by diverting workers’ minds toward trade-unionism under government protection.) we repudiate democracy in the name of the concentrated power of the proletariat”. it becomes harmless. but at its principle.” Knowing that Trotsky was at the same time advocating forced militarization of labour. rejecting parliament does not sum up nor define our perspective. then comparing it with the opinion of others. democracy is quite good at preventing the advance of socialism. Then. For what concerns us here. That being said. 1762). and election day is always a set back for radicalism. The “new political principle of the proletariat” is the “government by vocational groups” self-organized in the work place. top management. Revolutionary syndicalism has been reproached for its elitism. Attacking elections has been a constant theme for the anarchists. government. Trotsky only targets democracy because of what it’s become under capitalism: an “imperialist democracy”. the union would later manage the economy during and after the revolution.democracy. utterly different from what they saw as the passive mass of sheeplike social-democrat voters.) (B)y means of a systematically applied labour service. Trotsky distinguishes between democracy as universal suffrage. anarchism stands for the collective versus leadership. After acting as an egalitarian body fighting the bosses and police. however. Even those who advocated tactical use of elections regarded the soviets. mass electorate: a plurality of true democracies instead of a false one. Mussolini also wanted to bring down old bourgeois institutions.. Lots of small scale production and living units will be dynamic enough to get together without any of them alienating its autonomy. As a reply to authority and dictatorship. collectives and districts will be able to run themselves. which would unite the whole class.) any class who wants to liberate itself must create its own organ”. vertical. anarchism by its obsessive fear. as all members were wage-labourers and in solidarity with each other. one can only read those lines as statesman talk justifying his own power over the common people. yet not essential to the . commune v. but to them politics was clearly outside and against parliament. and was not uncommon among socialists before 1914. and ultimately the State will be destroyed by universalized democracy. self-management v. 12 The Bolshevik critique : dictatorship versus democracy In 1920. It’s true it emphasized the role of active minorities that would /spur/push/ the less advanced into action. Like the polis of Ancient times. and union self-organization was often sucked dry of all life by bourgeois democracy. wanted parallel political and industrial action.
No theory. except the theory of exchange. We only say that in any case such freedom can’t be guaranteed by the democratic principle. the group can’t carry on as a mere confrontation of free wills (unless it’s only a friendly debating society). He perceives of revolution as a succession of phases: first it would replace bourgeois power.. Nothing original in that last statement..) revolution is not a problem of forms of organization. power (and even more so State power) is not a tool waiting to be properly handled. even without being able of transforming the country in a communist way. but the deduction that follows is not so common : Bordiga thinks worker democracy is also to be rejected. That is the content. What has come to be known as “council communism” was one of the earliest critics of the failure of Bolshevism. with money as the universal mediator (and master). Dictatorship is the opposite of democracy. be they proletarians instead of bourgeois. When Jan Appel was staying in Moscow as a KAPD delegate in the Summer 1920. council communists have tended to be wary about anything that might be a constraint upon the working class. In all cases. Yet power is not something revolutionaries can hold on to with no revolution happening in their country or anywhere else. but on the ability of the organized proletariat to act as a centralizing body and a collective mind. worker democracy. needless to say.. which would help the group developing its own informal bureaucracy. What Bordiga fails to see. This is what happened in Russia. then it would create new social relations. After October 1917. the democratic principle has been suspended. He never understood that at the time he was writing The Democratic Principle. he would still justify the Bolshevik repression of the Kronstadt rising in February-March. The “party or autonomy” alternative was born out of our past failures. As soon as debate is not enough to result into a decision willingly accepted by the group as a whole. The critique of “formal” democracy Traditional Marxist analysis has the merit /of stressing/to stress/ that democracy gives possibilities that only become realities for those able to use them: in a class society. (Bordiga calls it “a party”. Or it forces a decision unto the participants. Either the group thinks that maintaining the community matters more than the disagreement. the Russian experience that he extensively used to back up his thesis was eliminating whatever revolution was left in Russia. and with work as a separate activity. Such a nontheory would of course be inaccessible to criticism. Some forms are incompatible with the content. Their critique of bureaucracy as the main obstacle to revolution led them to democracy. but his party is very different from the Leninist one. co-operative and fraternal social relations. the members of the ruling class will always be in a much better position to do so. Democracy means a reunion of equal rights and wills. the Russian workers would tell him. The opposite of democracy is not a critique of democracy. as some like Otto Rühle understood as early as 1920-21. We won’t reply (as Bordiga would) that individual freedom is an illusion and is irrelevant to communism. which is impossible in bourgeois parliamentarianism. Not bourgeois democracy. Certain means get us closer to the end we want.definition). you’ll send us spares and we’ll be able to operate these machines again. still promote world revolution. revolution is a problem of content. 1921. We can’t reason like the end was the only thing that mattered: the end is made out of means. 13 Like Trotsky. because it decomposes the proletarian fighting spirit into individual decisions. non-mercantile. Parliament stifles the proletarians by forcing them into a political partnership with the bourgeois. The ballot paper . it makes people do things. January 1922) Indeed communist revolution is the creation of non-profit. Like many others. It is not a “principle”. Everyone is (nearly) free to publish a paper. but in that respect both bourgeois and worker forms proclaim the same purpose: to prevent or limit encroachments on personal freedom. the “protection” provided for by democracy only works in the absence of any serious crisis among the persons concerned. This is why he has no trouble believing that the Bolsheviks could have ruled Russia for years and. It’s a social structure that does not remain on stand-by for long. The ultimate result of turning free will into an absolute would be for a radical group to do nothing but circulate data and information : no theory. power will manage that kind of labour and that kind of exchange. As it happens. a revolutionary structure is only defined by its acts. Bordiga equates power to an instrument. The communist movement is not democratic: neither is it dictatorial. the theory of the necessity of autonomy. and pointless in proletarian class activity: revolution does not depend on a mass of individual decisions getting together.)” (The Democratic Principle. Bordiga theorizes the necessity to do violence to particular proletarians in the name of the future interests of the proletarians in general: as late as 1960. On the contrary. except the theory that no theory must be imposed onto the working class. nor on majority or proportional procedures. A future revolutionary movement will have to go beyond that alternative. it imposes. Councilism evades it by waiting for such an overwhelming proletarian majority that all conflict will be resolved without any verbal or physical violence. Bordiga was attacking democratic formalism on behalf of a revolution that was already more formal than real. If what exists is wage-labour and commodity exchange. Lenin died a head of State. But as time passed. It has a function: it connects. is that this content won’t come out of any kind of form. The disagreement focused on worker democracy.) “(. and if it does not act it soon withers. which implies smashing the State apparatus and doing away with the division between firms. On the contrary. Bordiga lacks a critique of politics. Bordiga never openly criticized Lenin’s conception of the party. it organizes what exists. since it is not based on socialist intellectuals introducing socialism into the working class from outside. but the ads necessary to finance a daily or a magazine won’t go to an anti-capitalist press. a problem of the movement and action of revolutionary forces in an unending process (. Bordiga’s theory of the party denies the problem. Soon enough that part loses whatever proletarian character it had and turns into a privileged group telling people what to do. Council communism : the quest for non-violence The “German” Communist Left agreed with the “Italian” Left on the rejection of bourgeois democracy. while others make it more and more remote and finally destroy its possibility. Or it splits.) the principle of democracy has no intrinsic value. What this quest for non-pressure boils down to is the desire to avoid the ill effects of conflicts. but rather a simple mechanism of organization (. To make things more complicated. the Bolsheviks must have thought of themselves as something similar: a machinery still partly idle but preparing for world revolution. if the dictator is one part of the proletariat oppressing the rest. The content of communism (which Bordiga was right to emphasize) can only be born out of the self-organized action of “the vast majority” of the proletariat (Communist Manifesto). he was shown factories with well-oiled machines that could not be operated for lack of spare parts: when the revolution breaks out in Europe. and remains one of the best. even in the original and makeshift existence it had in Russia in 1920. Unfortunately.
C. by using and enlarging possibilities left to them. citizenship comes down to the right to be represented. True. The ideal of radical democrats is a demos that would welcome all human beings living on a given territory. legal unions. On the contrary. etc. Let’s go back to the word itself.) Democracy is not a show.not just a show. with Felipe Gonzales than Franco. The distortion does not consist in an outright lie like the Maoist descriptions of life in China. let’s get together the votes of millions of workers and we’ll be stronger than the Ford family. in history. In an unequal society. as well as local authorities. Everybody knows that freedom of speech favours the business lawyer more than his cleaning lady. members of parliament or even governments favourable to labour have helped channel these demands. In Europe or the US today.. and rejoices over the openness of modern democracy to larger and larger sections of the population.I. parties or political campaigns. with one reservation: everybody thinks he has the solution to really get the best out of this lesser evil. We’ll turn into reality the appearance of power that the bourgeois have granted us.” This second sentence is less often quoted: the scorn it displays for the actors – extras would be more appropriate – of democracy might discredit the first definition. differentiated between democracy. Democracy and reformism have led a couple’s life for nearly 150 years now. the common people have been able to better their lot. this one points to an essential feature of democracy. small or big. It’s often said that the liberties allowed by a democratic regime are only cosmetic: that is true. They forget that the Ancient Athenian fortunate enough to enjoy citizenship was not a citizen because he was a human being. 1947: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all other forms. but because he happened to be a co-owner of the polis : he was a landowner. labour has the strength of numbers: speaking in public. litigation bodies. there wouldn’t be any more parliaments.. today as yesterday. and they wouldn’t still rally voters. with a reality of their own. and freedom of speech only a deception. with De Gaulle than Pétain. (It’s also significant that the famous British statesman should have added cynicism to pragmatism in another phrase: “The best argument against democracy is a fiveminute conversation with the average voter. only proves that so-called political equality does not make for social inequality. The people who would never dare talk about a prehistoric “economy” or “work” among New Guinea tribesmen see no anachronism in applying the same term to a system where citizenship meant an ability (theoretical but also partly effective) to govern and be governed. inexorably divided by a growing unequal distribution of fortune. culture. Modern times have given an utterly new usage to a notion born in Ancient Greece.. but its shortcoming is to treat democratic forms as if they lacked reality. As the S. (Unless we think this is due to continuous crafty bourgeois conditioning: but surely over a century of democratic regime should have acted as an eye opener. but Mr Ford will hold more sway on public affairs than any of his workers. Nowadays.” It’s significant that the best known definition of democracy should be based on a paradox. nothing can be compared to the demos of Pericles’ time.) 14 If we wish to stick to the word communism and object to democracy.. It’s only because it was limited to a group that shared something vital (a superior social position. The word and the notion were meaningful (that is. and to a system where. In general. In spite of its imperfections. If parliament was only a sham.. are after all easier in democracy. Westminster is not on the Acropolis If we put back in its place. albeit undermined by money differences) that Greek democracy could afford to be participatory (which did not save it from periodic crises). summed up by W. When it’s applied to societies ruled by the capital-labour relationship. Common wisdom bemoans the limits of a Greek democracy closed to women. it’s not for tradition’s sake. organizing in the workplace. although they’ve often been strange bedfellows. the word “democracy” tells us more about what these societies think of themselves than about their reality. Athens and 21st century Italy or Sweden. slaves and foreigners. democracy has become a mere synonym for power vested in the people. one of the founding fathers of the US Constitution. whereas they are real.e. this reality commonly called democracy. captive words become like prisoners put to hard labour: they too are forced to work for the benefit of those who’ve captured them. but only part of the truth. or even of thousands of them. meeting and demonstrating in the street. loaded the term with a totally different meaning. that have been tried from time to time. the workers. even a play on words. everybody makes fun of Churchill’s phrase. but in . everyone uses the word democracy for 5th century B. once explained. i. A question of words ? This brief survey seems to leave us with only one option. With the passing of time and the rise of the modern bureaucratic State (which Madison opposed). this betterment was caused more by direct often violent action than by democracy properly speaking: nevertheless. In fact.” Against the might of capital.of Henry Ford is counted as one vote like the ballot paper of one of his workers. Like some previous critiques. the academic or the political activist. as the exploited and oppressed have experienced. democracy has been a distorted word ever since its return in the mouth of bourgeois revolutionaries from the 18th century onwards. The revolution that failed in Russia. the mass of the population has more ways to improve its conditions of work and life with Adenauer than Hitler. and thus they’ve given some content to liberties that aren’t just empty shells. for 99% of the citizens. politics and access to the public scene are also unequal. with Allende than Pinochet. They say: “Since Mr Ford’s ballot paper weighs a million times more than one of his workers’. but for historical motives. knowledge. Yet reformists have never said the opposite. debatable and debated) in 1850 or 1900. and republic (a term of Roman and not Greek origin). and even stir passions. and yet everybody accepts it. where “the people meet and exercise their government in person”. Churchill in the House of Commons on November 11. the man in the street. and of most (but not all) socialists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Communism is not bureaucratic by nature. where “they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents”. having papers independent from the bosses’ press. Yet. we realize how poorly the word is adapted to what it has labelled for a couple of centuries. and Stalinism later. moderating them and pushing them forward at the same time. The democratic system emerged as a way to manage as smoothly as possible the contradictions within a community of male family heads. So Churchill was right ?. communism expresses the endeavour of the exploited and of the human species to liberate itself. This gap was more readily admitted in the early days. James Madison. Explaining that a worker’s ballot paper only formally weigh the same as his boss’s.
media and lobbies. but also “political” (instead of someone making decisions about his life. political leaders and masters of the land. Chomsky expose the conditioning of public opinion by the State. German opinion is reported to have been indifferent or hostile to Hitler in 1923. in the vast majority of cases. Only an altogether different world will no longer be obsessed with power. of trade and of manufacturing go hand in hand or come down to the same thing. have divorced debating. in my place and for my benefit). But class societies. Ancient Greece’s real contribution to history was not the principle of democracy as a set of rules and institutions by which citizens make collective decisions. Power does not create itself. poverty and misery exist because a few privileged ones make decisions for us all ? Or have these happy few got a near monopoly over decisions because they already are rich and therefore powerful ? The question is sterile. before moving away from him for good after the fall of the Third Reich. Logically. is something else than this concern for the global. Let’s not try and decide which one logically or chronologically comes first. from fortune and status differences. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Commanding men usually goes together with putting them to work. nor domination without exploitation: the same groups have direct or indirect control over wealth and power. otherwise they go bankrupt. so it transfers the antagonism onto a parallel level that’s supposed to be neutral. in certain conditions. It’s this separation that Marx’s early writings were dealing with. then after 1945 by bourgeois in the West and by bureaucrats in the East. but in modern society there’s neither exploitation without domination. 15 Politics as the foundation of democracy If politics means taking into account society as a whole (including the reality of power). Profit-making strictly speaking does not account for (local or world) wars. it compresses history and confuses us. and distinct from the rest of social life. any social critique is political. can only be understood by the link between exploitation and domination. But it deals with them by shifting them on a level where the roots of these conflicts will never be changed. however. Political rule and possession of the means of production rarely coincide. and as it suggests the modern one has a lot more power. in Africa and in the East. from his social superiority or inferiority. The exploiter needs to be able to put pressure on the person he exploits: he only exploits what he has supremacy over. Athenian citizen. only their consequences. it’s not uncommon for political rulers to dispossess the rich. and the 21st century citizen to a 5th century B. I take the decisions myself. September 21. where conflicts are acknowledged and softened in the best possible interest of the continuation of the system as a whole. Politics. Society is fully aware of its inability to suppress group or class antagonism. There is no need to oppose exploitation to domination. as if these events were within its reach one day. Firms are not just profit makers: they are also power structures. Direct or worker people’s democracy maintains the separation while it claims to go beyond it by involving everyone in the democratic process. That special dimension cannot ignore socioeconomic hierarchies and oppositions. or scattering it. Unfortunately. forcing the general interest of the system upon reluctant industrialists or businessmen. Yet. In that specific sphere. into an activity removed from direct social interests. Bloch. but not for long: one consolidates the other. the critique of democracy will only become effective by the communizing of society. Exploitation and / or domination ? Do inequality. Opinion is thought of as a collective motley and fickle spirit that sometimes determines events and sometimes is tossed about by them. these societies regard this dissociation as the “natural” and universally desirable best possible way of solving human conflicts. Exploitation is never just “economic” (I have someone work for me. by bourgeois. the total. Domination is a precondition and a necessary form of exploitation. Any human group thinks of and reacts to the whole of its situation. managing and decision-making from the rest. they fail to ask themselves what is being conditioned. Or rather. as if popular empowerment could solve the problem of power. the general. and capitalism in particular. Faced with a large strike in the Ruhr. and revolution has to do with politics. getting everybody inside a separate sphere does not suppress separation. sharing it. for instance I decide when to hire and fire him). Who ever made such a claim ? “According to the materialist conception of history. then to have listened to him after 1929. because it turns this totality into a new specialization. power is often the quick way to fortune. History provides us with many examples of non-coincidence between economic might and political authority. Human societies in general. and of a modern State occasionally ruling against the bourgeois. this division exists. Mountains of books and articles have been and are still written to refute the alleged Marxist claim that “the economy” explains next to everything. Capitalist Germany was successively run by a monarchist caste. as we’ve seen in Russia over the last ten or twenty years. Democracy is not to be denounced and smashed. Also. a person is taken away from his private interests. but superseded.a mental displacement of reality: as it identifies modern parliaments to Ancient agoras. and placed on an equal footing with all the other citizens. Class divisions. have created politics: doing away with class divisions will entail going beyond politics. 1890) The “economy” surely does not explain power. by the leaders of a nationalist-racist one-party State. For instance. Equality of rights alongside social inequality: that is the definition of politics. the ultimately determining factor is the production and reproduction of real life. Manufacturing consent… and dissent When writers like N. Although usually in Europe money brings about power. they inevitably also go for a “fair” redistribution of power. letter to J. The two forms of control can clash with one another. We’ll solve the political question when we stop treating it as the prime issue.” (Engels. with taking it. as Castoriadis thought in the 1960s. The innovation went deeper. then any social change is political. A similar socio-economic “infrastructure” can coexist with very different and opposed political forms. Society is not divided. Like other essential critiques. but they remain in business as long as they create and accumulate value. in a thousand ways and through trial and error. It’s like these successive points of view had been taken . then again by bourgeois when the country was reunified.C. It invented what democracy is based upon: a special time-space reserved for confrontation. but these “orders” have to do with what structures today’s world: the capital-wage labour relation (which does not mean it determines everything). with family or clan misappropriating public funds or siphoning off foreign trade. between order-givers and order-takers. and out of reach the next. and not just as an addition of local or technical issues. Bismark himself compelled the bosses to grant a wage rise. As long as people content themselves with a “fair” redistribution of wealth.
S. Parties don’t promote programs. A few days later. reformist or conservative) solution to its crisis. they promote meaning and imagery. the CGT. In those days. pressed some of their demands and structured their struggles. If very few workers had confidence in it. But both think the only way to free thought is to be correctly educated or even better. and no voter expects the presidential candidate to keep all his promises. the word and the reality of propaganda are now commonly looked down upon. to fight alongside persons like P. and only afterwards to compare them to other persons’ ideas. and more counselling. from beginning to end. Bois. they sell lifestyles. partly managed by the rank and file. The CGT defended and represented them better than a union which was a small minority in Renault and had hardly any support in the rest of the country. Modern management has become the ideal model of all relations. groups. therefore. divide society between two parts. classes. Pierre Bois. Chakotin was theorizing his own practice: he’d been in charge of anti-fascist propaganda for the German SPD in the early 1930s. the pressure of their conditions of work and life. and the union van was turned over by rebellious workers. a few strikers debated about manufacturing firearms. In April. The reason is more down to earth: the CGT was better in tune with the needs of the proletarians. he argued that totalitarian (especially Nazi) methods of mind control were based on the use of emotional urges to create conditioned reflexes. unions. Commercials don’t sell goods. The teacher aims at bringing out his student’s autonomy. as the CGT held sway over the running of the plant. in France as elsewhere. and created despair among the rebels but also numerous rebounds over the next ten years. this self being here again preferably collective. The worker bureaucracy got back its influence over the mass of the workforce. and heralded ours. and by similar methods.regardless of what German individuals. the satisfaction of seeing their demands at least partly met) wore out the revolt and enabled conservative forces to get a grip on themselves. there was more militancy on the premises in 1947 than in 1968: in 47. Admittedly. Ed.. the CGT took on a tougher antibourgeois line. etc. and the tiny revolutionary minority could only answer back by poorly distributed leaflets. it works both ways. The content of the message is far less important than popular participation in and acceptance of the whole system. which struggled along for a couple of years before dying away.” (Marx. it’s not because Stalinist slander would have retrieved the efficiency it had lost in the Spring 1947. and treat as comrades those they distrusted before. with the CP being expelled from government and the beginning of the Cold War. In some ways. sorry. Yet this shows what public opinion really is. A couple of weeks later. He said he appealed to reason. The psychologist (counsel. had unrelentingly and usually successfully prevented work stoppages: “The strike is the weapon of big business…” In the Spring 1947. it was still a novelty to “sell” a candidate to the White House like a soft drink. III) Nobody believes much of what commercial or political advertising says. By the same logic. had already described in Propaganda (1928) how an “invisible government” ruled democratic society. Thus. If in such negative circumstances. most future rebels had no idea they would be soon marching in the street or stopping work. one of which is superior to society. The “progressive” boss gives the staff a large margin of self-organizing in their work… as long as they reach the objective set by the company. today’s most advanced political advertising does not pretend to change our views : it presents itself as a helping hand that will allow us to make up our own opinions. May 30. Because of the rise and fall of totalitarianism in the 20th century. and their own resistance to exploitation led them to disobey union orders. 1982): a disciple of Pavlov. more bureaucratic guidelines in schools. Men’s “social being determines their consciousness”.. he was instrumental in destabilizing the (democratic) government of Guatemala that the US finally toppled. Representative democracy wishes each of us to form his ideas on his own. More simply. “The more information and discussion there is. Another example is the day there was a reversal of French opinion in 1968: the huge rightwing demonstration on the Champs Elysées. the Billancourt workers went on a two-week strike. How could it be otherwise ? The critique of “education first” (or self-education first) was expressed as early as 1845: “The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. Theses on Feuerbach. but people buy cars.) repeats to his patient : Be Yourself !The contradiction remains the same in every field of activity and ends up in more control over staff (particularly thanks to computerization). it’s not because they would have had access at last to Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed or other critical analyses of the bureaucracy. In 1939. Unpalatable Bernays was ahead of his time. millions of people discovered what they wanted to do and could do. Chakotin published The Rape of the Masses (translated into English in 1940. but that did not prevent him from devising crowd conditioning techniques for mass meetings. From propagandist to educationist Opinion is a set of (individual or group) ideas about the world. a substantial number of workers dared lay down tools and designate a Trotskyst to represent them.. on the strike committee. the shock of the largest general strike in history determined the flow of events. enabled law and order supporters to resurface. Chakotin’s failure to beat the Nazis at their own game is a sign that Hitler’s success was only marginally caused by crowd manipulation techniques. when no party dares engage into propaganda: it communicates. perhaps the first professional advertiser on public relations. and invented advertising techniques that he sold to big business as well as politicians. Not entirely. the better…” . not to the senses as the Nazis did. The CPled union. No driver watching a Peugeot TV commercial regards the new SW 407 as the best estate car ever made. Everything is supposed to be “bottom up”. Bernays. Direct democracy prefers a collective 16 making of ideas. self-taught. He claimed to be able to act on the collective subconscious with a combination of Freudism and crowd psychology. Advertising now calls itself information. After 1945. Yet they’d been “conditioned” by years of propaganda. Germany turned to Hitler when the Weimar republic proved incapable of offering any other (radical. pushed on by the early street fighting and the initiative of a minority of workers. This doctrine must. and elected a well known Trotskyst. Unlike the simplistic agit-prop of yesteryear. were doing each time. yet it works. take part in elections. and successively made people aware of possible changes. new edition by Haskell House. but certainly a lot more this way than the other. One reason (or pretext) for the government getting rid of its CP ministers was the Stalinists’ getting on the bandwagon and siding with the strikers. parties. is described as the death knell for the rebellion in the streets and in the factories. when the strike was over. needless to say interactive information. though: the Trotskysts tried to take advantage of the strike to launch a small union (called Syndicat Démocratique Renault). with the risk of being beaten up or sacked. In 1954. the workers at the Billancourt Renault plant near Paris had been fed with Stalinist slander depicting (real or /invented/imagined/) Trotskysts as fascists and agents provocateurs in the pay of the boss and the police. and that’s what matters. the ebb of the strike wave (and for many.
an antiglobalizer. At the click of a mouse. This vision is to be expected from party professional organizers.) it is an axiom of political science in the United States that the only way to neutralize the impact of newspapers is to multiply them” (Democracy in America.”  The primacy of a collective will. and have my own views on these events circulated worldwide in a matter of minutes. in order to avoid pressure and violence: “Let’s talk first. television is no longer the main popular screen it was in 1960 or 1990. The difference is that billions of ideas are now being circulated and (nearly) universally available. The public sphere passes off as a reality that can put a check on State power. The organization of the Internet is equally beyond the reach of a website browser or writer : for a start. on phones. “The idea of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas”: this is as much true as in 1845. But it is surprising that so many revolutionaries also should regard getting and exchanging ideas as the prime mover of history. etc. I can get loads of data and differing views on what’s going on today in Peking or La Paz. but there’s more on the Internet now than on any single public library… or of course newspaper kiosk. but when did it really determine the course of events. Unless I have a special fondness for the canals in Amsterdam. At the same time. among neighbours. and they’re not decisive. The less power we have over our lives.I.1835) Most of all. a businesswoman. it’s not just there to be read. Saying the Internet was created by (and would not exist without) millions of Internauts. The contemporary citizen is dissatisfied with heavy and remote traditional democratic mechanisms. the second world war. He’s not just asked his political preferences every four or five years: every day is now election day. in a couple. here is what direct democracy is aiming at :  The respect of a majority. This instant and universal availability also applies to the past. or sometimes an anarchist. or (better and more interactive) by chatting about it in cyberspace. Modern man is a paradox. In the early 21st century. Making a principle of maximum information and discussion. between cultures. in the classroom. Most of all. He could be more optimistic today. but he had hardly any influence on the structure and evolution of the press. . the figure is likely to be higher than in 1970.e. everywhere.Democrats. but this freedom must be properly fuelled by the largest possible information and discussion. media people. but exchanged and debated. everything ought to be discussed and all information to be shared. not much. Since everything is made measurable these days. between professions. When Habermas extolled the virtues of the “public sphere” in 1962. i. or colonial and post-colonial massacres ? Giving one’s opinion is as relevant as opinions are decisive. he also bemoaned its undermining by commercial mass media.. moderate or radical. and the rest is an accessory to the rhyme. but how could they be if the whole life of the communicators is “top down” organized ? Society is not the addition of millions of publicly shared experiences or views. all think that the inadequacies of democracy come from the fact that there is never enough of it: not enough good schooling.) has taken the form of a constant show of activity. in a family. everyone wishes the channels of communication to be as much “bottom up” as possible. Neither is it made today on the Internet. when universal debate seems to revive the “openness” he favours : a citizen is now a person with access to the press. religions. But who has the power ? The political system is still tuned to general and presidential elections. Mixing Latin and Greek. Everyone of us becomes a selfappointed reporter : Don’t hate the media: Be the media ! To impose us what to think. Democracy is indeed based on (individual and/or collective) free will. he is given a continuous instant democracy made of opinion polls. an unemployed. Yet this new citizenship amounts to the liberty to voice our views on world affairs.  The expression of minorities. Even taking into account the growth in population. people have direct access to forums where thousands of talks take place between a government minister. when his workday is over. we could say we now live in a home centred domocracy which gives us the liberty to change things from our own home : I help solve environmental world problems by buying energy saving light bulbs for my living-room. I no longer visit the International Institute of Social History to know about the Ruhr Red Army in 1920. between performers and spectators. The 1900 paper reader could choose to buy a socialist or a rightwing daily. a gay activist. The 1999 Kosovo war was the first with mass Internaut involvement.) taking place at one particular moment on this planet. on what is currently being said on world affairs by the press. the media and on the Internet. Spectacle-induced passivity (as analysed by the S. so no-one could monopolize it. he feels he is repossessing his existence by reading about dispossession in the paper.  The respect of decisions taken in common. He keeps repeating he is increasingly being dispossessed (and he puts the blame on entities he calls the economy. Hitler. A few more clicks. an ecologist. no enough quality papers. People used to make fun of Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park as a symbol of socially harmless free speech. is inevitably prioritizing the framework where information circulates and discussion takes place. webtalk. the more we talk about it. and I challenge these data and views in the company of an Internaut from Sydney or Montreal. so that power should constantly 17 flow and never crystallize. no enough serious talks on TV… and our information resources are never wide and varied enough. at home or on portable cell phones. to the media and to the Internet. On the Internet. democracy tells us what we have to think about. The liberal conservative Tocqueville was more to the point : “(. teachers. or was able to stop the descent into catastrophes like 1914. Winston is watched by a telescreen forcibly installed in his livingroom and which he is forbidden to switch off. Today’s generalized self-managed speech is universally and immediately circulated. Of course. publishers and all those who make a living (and a sense) out of communication. participatory radio and TV. and tele-reality shows. media. How about taking direct democracy at its word ? According to its supporters. it’s likely someone will invent a system that monitors and quantifies all verbal exchange (including conversations on the web. which are granted a large latitude of action. Not everything is available on-line. In 1900 or 1950. not the will of an individual or of a handful of persons. In the workplace. is as true as saying that millions of drivers are responsible for the development of the car industry. In Orwell’s 1984. democracy triumphs by telling us where to think. politics was talked about but not made in village hall debates. finance or globalization) and yet.  The possibility of free speech. he was never asked about the birth of the web itself.
The point we are making is that historical evolution is not the result of a majority rule based on a confrontation of opinions and on the maximum availability and sharing of information. Making it a principle of having any action decided upon by the whole group. Democrats might argue that the strike is supported by a great majority of the workforce : that would be forgetting that democracy is also the protector of minorities. verbal exchange did occur. Nevertheless. Any deep movement. Consistency-reaching is not a peaceful process. strengthen (or sometimes weaken) our behaviour. The participants in a picket line put their interests (and the interest of labour as whole) above the interests of the non-strikers: they do not respect the right to work of those who want to work. The majority/minority duality functions in combination as well as in opposition. Nobody ever thinks about this in a vacuum. urging the participants to get together and speak can result in the movement becoming more aware of itself and stronger. example mentioned above.  Majority rule.000 others. and when a majority gets big enough to be considered as the common will ?  Minority rights. partake of events. In 1936. or an army officer calling his soldiers to order : they expect other proletarians to fulfil their obligation to the piqueteros as well as to themselves. Those groups who say they operate on such a total self-management basis only self-manage their own speech. One of Thatcher’s main anti-strike measures was to make it illegal to go on strike without a secret ballot procedure. Most bureaucrats do not build up their authority by positioning themselves above the mass. opting for the best. there’s no need to be afraid of individual initiatives either. but before the decision to strike. The existence of a majority and a minority is not a valid enough indicator helping us to assess a situation and to deal with it. The action that was born out of them spoke for itself. but they do not create. these encounters can be called democratic. In such a case. There are differences between the bulk of the rank and file and its most active elements: for these elements to turn into a new ruling elite in the plant and possibly in society. In the 1930s. because democrats treat each other as equals. and it can rise out of activist minorities as well as of consenting majorities. whether for simple demands or more. Debate is never good or bad in itself. a more numerous one…  Free speech. By the way. If we equate democracy with exchange. human words express ideas.. Acting on behalf of others does not necessarily turn anyone into a leader.000 people were started in Akron by half a dozen workers.Let’s take them one by one. If democracy means choosing between options with the only guidance of individual free will and not outside interference. but it was not the democratic principle that made it possible. Ideas won’t meet on neutral ground until one is recognized as the best because of its inner logical superiority. by mere reasoning and with no outside interference. This is NOT saying that information and discussion are pointless. not the other way round. True. looking for “more information” can be an excellent way of forgetting the essential information: the common determination to fight on. 1843). . But it does not relate to them like a philosopher or scientist testing a set of hypotheses and then. When piqueteros go round the neighbourhood and ask for 50 people to come and reinforce their road block. Democracy always presents itself as a protection. all the work force gathered for a general meeting but. 98 unskilled workers laid down tools. it takes more than them initiating unrest on the shop floor. 18 Unlike God’s Word that was turned into flesh. nor is its meaning so obvious that it would require no expression at all. often a very small one. at the time of large strikes by unskilled labour in the US. and a sit-down strike started. in the General Motors plant at Toledo. will pull along in its wake a number of yet undecided persons and ask them to do what they did not previously feel like doing. An expression which ceases to be action and experience dissolves into free-wheeling talk. you “naturally” tend to believe it comes out of a sufficient number of people. On the other hand. or it may have deflected it.) It possesses me” (Marx. In a social movement. Social critique usually rejects the secret ballot paper in favour of open public voting that does not cut up the continuity of the voters’ action. in relation to their past and present. No act is sufficient in itself. a minority only initiates actions soon taken up by a majority. Exchanging words then was unnecessary because it had taken place before. While we’re certainly not looking for charismatic figures. they’d like another. Truth belongs to no-one. a game in which Stalinists had become experts. A strike or a riot is forced to take action and to choose between options. at Goodyear. rather by sheltering behind the mass. after or during the act of rebellion. In 1936. means no action. someone often becomes aware of an opportunity before the others: trying to convince the others that this opportunity must be seized won’t be a purely intellectual exercise. respecting democracy would have meant forcing a discussion upon the workforce: this may have revealed the determination of the workers. and then any change of action also debated and re-decided upon by a new group meeting (or some general consultation). in many conflicts. as a participant said. It’s pointless to wonder if speech takes place before. while the union was negotiating with the boss about wages. which forced the management to yield after 36 hours. Those who disagree are inclined to believe the opposite: to them. Those workers were not brainless robots. “Let the workers themselves decide…” Who’ll decide when a minority ceases to be a minority and starts becoming a majority. A lot of social movements have been launched by a minority. Insisting on community as a principle leaves us stuck with the majority versus minority intractable dilemma already discussed. In the General Motors. in hundreds of informal discussions and small meetings. as the means to secure non-violence among its participants. but this very fact shows how little relevant the majority criterion is. If you agree with a decision. two sit-downs involving about 10. Bureaucratization is nearly always the result of reformism. then truth is not democratic. The election moment separates each voter from the others and from the rest of his life (the polling booth is called an isolator in French). or losing its momentum when it was just starting to gather speed. Arguments are going to be thrown about and it’s likely there will be a conflict of wills at some point. speech helps sort out what has been maturing in the participants’ mind. One might object that in all such cases. history provides us with a many examples of people – and workers – being manipulated by a public show of hands. A bureaucrat pretends to have no personal ambition and to serve the interests of the rank and file. followed by 7. what is a majority ? 51% ? 60% ? 95% ? We are faced with the inadequacy of the self principle. “it was like everyone had made up his mind before a single word was uttered”. It rushes and shoves.  Common will. 1936. and it contributed to the decision. Among those who share a common perspective. In the same way. “Truth is as immodest as light (. An essential idea shatters my certainties and does not come to me without some violence. the picket members are not acting as a boss summoning his personnel. this majority is not enough of a majority.
Actually. Or totally. but he’ll say democratic standards are not to be taken as absolutes: it’s the guideline behind them that matters. when experience proves democratic standards don’t work. Assessing these five criterions shows first that a lot of positive events have happened without or against them.” (Saint Paul. from Ireland to Silesia.. Besides. and targeting politics through the critique of the State. The return to work only took place on June 20. we’ve got to invent a life with neither State nor democracy. a groundswell of social movements. and this confrontation resulted in a critique . one of the biggest concentrations of skilled workers in that country) went on a sit-down strike on May 20. in the mid-19th century. the murder of a Maoist worker by a security guard hardly caused any reaction among his work mates. “the democratic State [is] the real State”. when Marx presents democracy as “the resolved mystery of all constitutions”. and the context often blurs the message. and took over power. When a great majority of the labour force voted to return to work on June 10. and for that reason are false to the extent that they are not democratic. March 14. Whatever positive content democracy (if we wish to keep the word) may have. To understand these conflicting views. but rallied what had been until then a minority of isolated extremists. as he writes. both at the same time. the form in which it will die. Galatians. we must bear in mind that. This letter versus spirit is a contradiction for democracy. democracy says we can do without them… or even that we must do without them. True. in 1972. The bourgeois have no qualms provisionally turning into dictators… in the long-term interest of democracy: “no democracy for the antidemocrats”. Marx was only indirectly addressing democracy through a critique of bureaucracy. a minority re-occupied the premises. In 1968. Being a lesser evil. In France. It says society is based on its political organization (top down or bottom up). which (better than democratic procedures) paved the way for an apparently spontaneous outburst. Contradiction in communist theory… Even a cursory reading of Marx is enough to realize he was at the same time a staunch supporter and an enemy of democracy. Democracy is there to solve conflicts. Also. He might even agree with most of the points we’ve been making. yet when they’re too serious. They know perfectly well that democracy has to be and will be suspended in times of crisis. And then. If. the free product of men” (Critique of Hegel’s philosophy of Right. and was violently expelled by the police in the early hours of the 11th. At that moment. As his texts can be found in paperback or on the Internet. combined and opposed. a large proportion of the labour force not only decided not to go back.) One last quote. and that a political emancipation is partial.) social relationships to 19 create the organization best fitted to them. it can’t solve them any more. these rumours show how tough the fighting was. a defender of direct democracy won’t ask for them to be fully implemented. Suspended partly. However.” (Engels.) The democratic republic always remains the last form of bourgeois domination. Democracy is not the ad hoc running of social life. when the Algerian army cancelled the 1991 elections after the first round had been won by the Islamists. Rumours later said that some rioters had used guns. At the Billancourt Renault plant. None of the standards of direct democracy really works. they immediately joined the ex-occupiers and fought the police with them for the whole day. 5 : 18) That’s the whole point : this tricky interplay between the letter and the spirit. letter to Bernstein. 1968. unlike what the democratic principle maintains. without having had a proper meeting. a hundred radicals had set up a short lived “forum” that served as a medium for open discussions on a variety of controversial issues. What’s the use of a principle that can only be applied when social life runs smoothly and we don’t need the principle ? Democracy functions as far as society can remain democratic. It’s communism that relies on the ability of fraternal (non competitive. etc. The local working class lived the event as an outright confrontation with bosses and State. shows that. with 3. was pressing for radical democratic demands and social demands. and that cops had been killed but the police would not admit it.000 persons. democracy sometimes ceases to be democratic to avoid a worse evil. can’t be the result of democracy. the Peugeot plant at Sochaux (at the time. So this sudden non-formality goes against how democracy defines itself. The first occupation had involved between 100 and 1. “Faceless resistance” is not just canteen or coffee machine conversations: it serves as a springboard for open conflict. particularly through its theorization by Hegel: “All forms of State have democracy for their truth. Besides. but democratic rulers left or right – can manage it. 1884) Intuitions leave much room for interpretation. the debating and voting spacetime is not decisive. Everybody’s all for respecting common decisions… unless or until the decision is deemed wrong. who were indifferent to what they saw as useless leftist troublemaking. whereby “The constitution appears as what it is. There is one for democracy. Democracy is the exact opposite: it sets procedures and institutions as a prerequisite and a condition of the rest. the emancipation of the bourgeois.” (Id. But the very fact of contradicting one’s vote. interesting because it’s written decades after the early works. What happened was not simply a reflex of instinctive worker solidarity. thousands on non-strikers were arriving by bus for the morning shift: instead of resuming work as they had intended to. he is opposing real democracy to the existence of the State. the impetus: “But if ye be led by the Spirit. the Peugeot workers felt they had something in common with a radical minority that was not alien to them. non profit-seeking. a few years before. The June 11 eruption did not come out of the blue : it had been prepared by past informal debates and unofficial meetings. assuming we want a world without a State. and therefore supporting democracy. with full support from Western countries. selfish. this contradiction is a trap: they won’t get a full and permanent reality out of a system that can’t provide it. 1843). and what’s more. however. wildcat strikes had broken out at Sochaux. a few very short quotes will suffice here. the motive. Two workers got killed. Marx argues that democracy is the culmination of politics. often initiated by young workers. secondly that they have often failed to prevent what they were supposed to prevent. out of a workforce of over 35. True or (probably) false. after voting to go back. bourgeois emancipation. and labour got a better deal than had been granted nationally. and by someone who was coming close to admitting the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism: “One must never forget that the logical form of bourgeois domination is precisely the democratic republic (. during the first 1968 occupation. the general meetings could be called non-democratic: they took place under the combined pressure of the CGT and the media. because it is indeed the quest for formal criterions: it pretends to give us rules of conduct that provide the best possible freedom. In other words. There was no contradiction for Saint Paul. Prioritizing direct democracy does not produce direct democracy. For radicals who believe in direct democracy. ye are not under the law. the law and the Spirit.000 union members.000. when Britain fought the IRA.
and possibly over the borders too. unlike the post-1917 period. as Marx called it. it turned out to be a zenith of democracy (though. Those pages are to be read in connection with The Jewish Question. The proletarians can’t use their social role to emancipate themselves. we should bear in mind what existed before. Marx reflected a contradiction: the self-awareness and the “community culture” (Selbstverständigung and Versammlungskultur. because this role is given to them by capital.e. Most famous French writers treated the Paris Commune fighters as if they’d been outside or below human standards. it’s because he was a concentrated expression of the forced situation in which the proletariat used to live and still lives. public libraries and museums. but not only. As for the worldwide 1960-80 earthquake. For example. Indeed. the earthly realization of a brotherhood and sisterhood that religion offers in its own way. Yet every time the movement re-emerged. The theoretical inroads made over 150 years ago have yet to be taken up. democratic reunion is enough for the bourgeoisie. and a few years later he became the editor of a liberal progressive paper. as separate science and technique. and of course a growing press : the rising merchant and industrial classes were building up a new type of sociability that helped them challenge monarchs and aristocrats. and now nearly everyone in a Western-type democracy accepts at least verbally the notion that one human being is worth another. the latter sees each man as politically equal to others (every citizen has a right to vote and be elected).e. in Germany for instance. by the material conditions of their lives. hatred of the workers was widespread among the middle and upper classes. as they were called in Germany around 1900). there was no revolutionary attempt to take over political power in the 1960s and 70s). the higher its contradictions are. Marx happens to be among the few thinkers who come closest to a synthesis and therefore inevitably combine its most opposing elements. confused yet deep communist movement that developed in the first half of the 19th century initiated an equally confused yet persistent critique of democracy. The “real movement”. The King of Prussia & Social Reform. the Neue Reinische Zeitung. and revived some aspects of the critique of democracy. but by the social relations by which human beings organize their lives and. The partial. It was enough for the bourgeois to get together and find the means to run society: so creating suitable decision-making institutions was enough (though it took centuries). political) equality was unheard of. but many thinkers and artists showed open contempt for the mass of peasants and workmen that were thought of as an inferior species. Luxemburg later. Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. It was not only for the sake of culture and knowledge that from the 18th century onward the ascending elites promoted networks of debating and scientific societies. Its appeal is to provide everyone with the means to go beyond the restricting circles of family. For what’s it worth. Intellectual discrepancies mirror a practical dilemma which the proletarians have to solve to emancipate themselves. when formal (i. Modern citizenship is the bourgeois form of freedom. Like others in his time. The bourgeoisie was able to use its socioeconomic power as the main instrument of its political ascent. There’s no way out of this contradiction. clubs. Yet at the time he was describing the political sphere as another form of alienation. but also the Rights of Man. The proletarians also need to get together : but for them. There’s no need to be an expert in Marxology to know that most of these fundamentals fell into oblivion: some texts got hardly any response. Bolshevik practice after October 1917 could fall within Marx’s critique of the French revolution and of Jacobinism. Proletarian self-organization which fails to develop into a self-critique of wage-labour reinforces labour as the partner of the capital-labour couple: the forced coupling goes on and so does the management of the couple. Or rather. above all. The proletariat needs something else. theses 87 & 88. In the first half of the 20th century. Marx was not the only one to emphasize the intimate connection between Christianity and the modern State: the former sees each man as the bearer of an individual soul that makes him equal to others in spirit (everyone can be saved). to meet others. but he points to something essential in The Society of the Spectacle. and reject a revolution that would only have “a political soul”. the toiling masses of the world behaved in a patriotic way. Until the mid-20th century. like R. The bourgeois won by asserting themselves on the basis of what they already socially were. seemed to have very little use for these writings. but failed to be up to them. new proletarian shock waves led to a reborn critique that (re)discovered these long-forgotten intuitions. Contribution to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. But using one’s condition as a major weapon is a double-edged sword for the proletarians. To fully appreciate the democratic appeal. religion. So their only radical weapon is their negative potential… closely linked to the positive part they play in the reproduction of capital. while others were put aside by Marx and Engels and published much later. in his early works) and welcomed the advent of capitalism as a world system. each human person is my fellow being inasmuch as his vote and mine are added and then computed. just getting together is staying within 20 Democracy is attractive because it gives more than the right to select leaders now and then. The proletarians can only win by fighting against themselves. The democratic appeal If Marx was perhaps the writer who went the furthest in extolling and rejecting democracy. like the German Left after 1914-18. Not just the ruling elite. It’s no accident that Karl Marx should have given one of the best approaches of communism (in particular. 1939-45 was the definitive taming of the rabble: with few exceptions. the only way out is communist revolution.of politics as a separate sphere. Yet this equivalence is achieved by comparing quantified items. Both movement and critique were soon pushed in the background by the rise of organized labour that tried to make the most of bourgeois democracy. The same thinkers and groups often mixed these demands and that critique. but also to the question of power and to politics as a field of special knowledge. the Theses on Feuerbach and other similar texts which address the democratic bourgeois revolution. Guy Debord may not be the most acute critique of democracy. and to interrelate. The deeper the communist movement goes. There’s little doubt that Marx wished to apply his “materialist” method not only to history. i. Marx sees 1789 and especially the 1793-94 Terror in France as the culmination of political will that deludes itself into believing it can change the world from the top. subtitled “Organ Of Democracy”. so the bourgeois stopped being scared of a populace that looked like it was accepting law and order at last. confront bourgeois democracy with proletarian community. not just those who are close. In democratic capitalism. it got back to basics. The purpose of The German Ideology was to prove that history cannot be explained by the conflicts of ideas or political platforms. neighbourhood and work. in spite. he was also pressing on with the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution. The democratic dream promises a potential universality. but all those living on the same territory. hence the peaceful coexistence of opposites called democracy. . philosophy and the economy. against what they are forced to do and be as producers (and as consumers…). …and contradiction in proletarian practice capitalism. in the workplace and in the workers’ district. or rather because of its anti-bureaucratic stand. the dimensions our movement is at most pain to reconcile. Let’s not idealize our past.
but a world war. and this “communization” process will eventually help people realize that democracy is an alienated form of freedom. because the participants consider as identical democracy and collective freedom. So. the person marching beside him. Accepting or trying to reform capitalism implies accepting or trying to reform its most adequate political form. as a fellow human being. but out of strikes. It was not forums or ballot papers that toppled Mussolini in 1943. When the fact of asking the rank and file for its opinion breaks the determination of the rank and file. and it took a civil war and a dictatorship to restore order. therefore with capitalism. Civil rights rarely came out of elections or peaceful debates. including endeavours to make some revolutionary use of the universal franchise by radicals from Proudhon to Lenin. because it fits in with the inner logic of the industrial. If the structure of political rule is in jeopardy. Not all capitalism is democratic. as is shown by Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. and pluto-bureaucratic China’s boom will only go on if it accepts substantial doses of freedom of speech. It would be pointless for us to go into a head-on confrontation with him to try and persuade him to stop using the word “democracy”. and started realizing the colonial era was over. When. also required by the necessary forced relationship between labour and capital. actually. Capitalism is economic competition and there can be no efficient competition among capital (as well as an efficient labour market) without some competition in politics too. organization and reorganization. So when these workers ideologize their own behaviour as democratic. the ultimate smokescreen that veils the proletarian eyes. There are no “anti-democratic” specific actions to be invented. 21 To put it bluntly. no more than systematic campaigns against advertising billboards or TV . democracy and self-organization. that in Paris politicians were forced to institute a more stable political system. they are not “wrong”: they reason according to the actual limits of their behaviour. . it’s usually because this determination has already declined. and in what is known as the developed or rich countries. our best contribution will be to push for the most radical possible changes. far from it. and because the general meeting (unlike parliament) is an assembly of equals: so they often believe they are at last giving reality to what is /a sham/make belief/ in the bourgeois world. They say they are practising true democracy because they self-manage their struggle. the unveiling of which would at long last clear the path to revolution. Democracy is a remarkable violence filter. Biologists say that one of the definitions of a life form is its ability at reproduction. riots. merchant and wage-labour civilization. But there’s no point either in declaring oneself an anti-democrat. Each of them regards democracy as the fact of treating his workmate. and this is bound to be often the case. This is true so long as the mere balance of power is upset. Whenever a movement keeps moving forward and confronting boss and State power. it only overcomes its tragedies by giving way to more violence. up to a point. In a large part of the world. flying pickets. usually violent.both closely linked to democracy. it’s a completely different matter. As democracy has not got its cause in itself. insurrections. however. modern democracy still soldiers on… and thrives. Reality is put on its head. Universal franchise never created itself. The advent of the Spanish republic in 1931 was caused by decades of strife. are well aware that these practices have little to do with parliamentary games. But because it is born out of violence. The unions retaliated by having a second referendum: it confirmed the first. it was finishing it off. only a transformation of the social content will put back form where it belongs. It was only when the French army illegally took over civilian power in Algiers. democracy is an excellent expression of life under capitalism. It was not a return to the Weimar republic that put an end to Nazism. and a desirable one. and indeed that they’re the exact opposite of parliamentary games. and in spite of a thousand betrayals and renunciations of its own principles. There’s no point in sorting out bad (bourgeois) democracy and good (direct.A system which is not its own cause… nor its own cure Democracy is not responsible for what is or what might be regarded as its positive aspects. democracy remains a reality. socially (and intellectually) valid is a phenomenon that’s unable to explain itself and to cure itself ? How consistent is it ? What sort of reality are democracy supporters talking about ? And yet it holds out… After nearly two centuries of electoral and parliamentary experiences. While democracy is one of the obstacles that stand in the way of communist revolution. it is not democratic. The meeting is seen as a cause of the strike. do away with the separation between those represented and their representatives. Later. “Company (or plant) democracy” was not killing the conflict. the cooling down of social conflicts made possible the transition to a parliamentary system that (unlike in the 1930s) could work as a pacifier and conciliator. and now by China. neither has it got the remedy: the solution has to come from outside electoral procedures and parliamentary institutions. May 1958. or even as its essence. Knowing it does not stop them from calling such practices democratic. Democrats contend that. Politics claims to be the basis of social life. and the dissolution of potentialities in forms. more exactly as the cause of its continuation: because it can put an end to the strike. But the Third Reich and the USSR yielded to their democratic rivals. The participants in millions of acts of resistance or of attack. It helps maintaining the degree of liberty and equality required by capitalist production and consumption and. be they strikes. After Franco’s death. it does serve the interests of labour in its daily inevitable “reformist” action. Democracy’s shortcoming is to treat an indispensable element of revolutionary change as the primary condition of change. Democracy is not the Number One enemy. demonstrations. then it’s normal that form and procedure should come to the fore. Democracy is the separation between action and decision. but it results from causes that it merely structures. popular) democracy. in future troubled times. the energy and transport multinational Alstom terminated a strike by calling for a referendum : the personnel voted to return to work. Democracy is the most adequate political capitalist form. democracy has the merit of being able to correct itself. once installed. in one of its French plants. or arguing with him in a public meeting. the content of the movement is compatible with “industrial dispute” arbitration and conciliation. which include the destruction of the State machinery. contrary to dictatorship. erecting a barricade with him. In 1994. Democracy is the supremacy of means over the end. In the eyes of nearly all participants. Whether we like it or not. there’s no practical critique of democracy unless there’s a critique of capitalism. a forerunner of 20th century industrialized slaughter. The subtleties of Capitol Hill political bargaining were unable to solve the crisis between North and South in the 1860s: it took no less than a bloody civil war. but a succession of uncontrollable strikes. often with bloodshed. If democracy means giving priority to form over content. democracy forgets about its origin and says “the source of power is not be found in the street”… where indeed it came from. organizing the general meeting according to rules becomes more important than what the meeting decides. How politically. and from regarding these practices as the only true democracy. demonstrations. rioting and class war that the new regime proved incapable to control. it is now perceived of as its detonator. worker.
the list becomes endless and. This he does not mean male. The whole political spectrum could be defined by how much is included in the list. The popularity of this notion may be a sign of growing radicalism. Is this what happens in real life ? Everybody wishes collective decisions. the Internet. Modern democrats will ask for equal pay. It certainly also has a lot to do with contemporary daily life and the spaces of freedom it grants us: more open communication channels. Camatte. and to stop or avoid doing whatever cannot be decided upon in common. The obsession with equality is born out of a world laden with inequality. The solution can only come. like nearly every politician looking for working class vote talked of “socialism” in 22 1910. or to take power from them (as Lenin and his party did). See also J. equal job offers. as well as by starting to change the material basis of social relationship. a multinational or the BBC will never come under the management of its personnel. in an endless debate between personal freedom and social fairness. and the search for social (and not just political) equality are two sides of the same coin. composed of two texts by Wildcat (Britain) and Against Sleep And Nightmare (US). . sexual preferences. equal rights in court. colour. the old fashioned neuter form has at least the advantage of not giving us the illusion of false equality in speech. Is this “self” strong enough ? Autonomists have their answer ready. Old time democracy contented itself with “One man. but the collective self is strong. No revolution without autonomy: quite ! Autonomy is necessary. we still have to make the decision. without firms as competing poles of value accumulation. That is fine. Only a bank that confines itself to micro-credit can remain under some degree of control by the people working there and by those who receive its micro-loans. Communism is not a question of finding the government or self-government best suited to social reorganization. “man & woman”. this essay uses “he” and “man” as a means to say “he & she”. Available on the Treason website. P. The essence of political thought is to wonder how to organize people’s lives. after an initial militant phase. to be comprehensive. This is not out of neglect of the other half of our species. new types of leisure. inevitably contain the acts and the intentions that bring about such a change. etc. the “network society”. it has to be negative at some point : equality implies the right not to be discriminated against on account of one’s sex. Communism as activity Equality is a vital tenet of democracy. is bound to leave it in the hands of those who possess power. A revolutionary movement is more than a liberated area or a hundred liberated areas. A school can be selfmanaged (by staff and schoolkids) as long as it refrains from selecting. and first of all over the production of the material basis of these conditions. the strike had lost its vigour. equal social promotion. without a State. The reader who’s gone that far would not expect us to believe in democracy in language. a nuclear power station. But it’s not enough. Many radicals believe in the equation – autonomy + anti-State violence = revolutionary movement and see it vindicated for instance in the Oaxaca protracted insurrection. while far left reformists extend equality to a guaranteed substantial income. not from what autonomy is supposed to give us.S. Who’s being naïve here ? Adding individual wills only transforms them into something qualitatively different if and when they act differently. When a co-op operates on a scale that enables it to rival large companies. While this event is one of the strongest outbursts of proletarian activity in the recent years. and wonders if each of them is either inferior or superior to the other according to the chosen criterion. equal schooling. a revolution that is born out of a common refusal to submit. Australia. however indispensable they are. It develops by fighting public and private repression. out of the hope to get to a point of no return where people transform themselves and gain a sense of their own power as they transform reality. one vote”. Trotskysts are not authoritarian any more. So it’s the nature of the change we’ve got to insist upon: creating a world without money. without work as separate from the rest of our activities. It is not a matter of institutions. making friends and travelling. Its starting point is the existence of individuals: it compares them from a criterion. but that won’t change the school system. Treason Press. or to try and share it with them (as social-democracy does). job protection. A community that agrees to give only individual opinions no longer exists as a community. By submitting to an individual secret ballot. And the best way to get it is for each of us to take part in the decision-making. it demonstrates that autonomous violence is necessary and insufficient. etc. All these activities have one thing in common: everyone is at the same time constantly on his own and constantly relating to everyone and everything. 1 The best concise pamphlet on the subject that we know of is Communism Against Democracy. No self-managed street fighting and grassroots district solidarity. We’d rather start by considering what the members of society are doing together. the workers confirmed they had ceased to think of themselves as an acting collective. new ways of meeting. A factory run according to Taylor’s methods. but from what it is founded upon. 1969. The Democratic mystification. As soon as we get into real social and daily life. So do we. Aggregating selves widens the scope of the problem without solving it. some would say an equal share of existing wealth. equal opportunity to create one’s business. without labour being bought and sold. without a specialized political sphere supposedly cut off from our social relationships… In other words. Self is not enough It seems only die-hard party builders could object to autonomy: who wants to be a dependant ? Yet we may wonder why autonomy has become a buzzword lately.S. A better society will create better words. 2005. religion. without commodity exchange. and what they have and don’t have in common. Autonomy means giving oneself one’s own law (nomos). equal access to health service. Autonomy in itself is no more creative than any form of organization. a home. a world that dreams of reducing inequality by giving more to each individual. but to do what can be decided upon in common. Human beings lose their mastery over the running of their personal and group life when they lose the mastery over their conditions of existence. But once you and I are part of it. nationality. and it’s probably better to be a teenager in Summerhill than at Eton. Most of the time. The rejection of. grading and streaming. Any leftwinger now is all for “autonomy”.. more rights… and more money. but of activity. instead of considering first what those to-be-organized people do. Rightwing liberals might limit equality rights to electoral rights. Whoever does not situate the problem of power where it belongs. Canberra. etc. It’s based on the self (auto). P. For the time being. the individual self may be weak. So we’re back to where we started. It is not the principle on which everything can or must be based. its special “democratic” features begin to fade.In fact. We’re well aware that no grammar is socially or sexually neutral. Equality protects individuals. Our problem is not to find how to make common decisions about what we do. It’s the grammatical neuter which encompasses both masculine and feminine. 2 for (possible) political correctors.
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