The Political Process
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The Political Process 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 liber tarian socialists. December 1968
hat is basically wrong with capitalism? Ask a number o socialists and
o social change. Capitalism allegedly cannot any longer develop production
you will get a number o dierent answers. These will depend on their
(Anyone ever caught in a trafc jam, or in a working class shopping area on
vision o what social ism might be like and on their ideas as to what
a Saturday aternoon, will fnd this a strange proposition.) It seems to be o
political action is all about. Revolutionary libertarian socialists see these things
secondary importance to this kind o socialist that under modern capitalism
very dierently rom the trad “let”. This article is not an attempt to counterpoise
people are brutalised at work, manipulated in consumption and in leisure, their
two conceptions conceptions o socialism and political action. It is an attempt to stress a acet
intellectual capacity stunted or their taste corrupted by a commercial culture.
o socialist thought that is in danger o being orgotten.
One must be “sot” it is implied, i one considers the systematic destruction o human beings to be worth a big song and dance. Those who talk o socialist
When one scratches beneath the surace, “progressive” capitalists, liberals, Labor
objectives as being reedom in production (as well as out o it) are dismissed as
reormists, “communist” macro-bureaucrats and Trotskyist mini-bureaucrats all
see the evils o capitalism in much the same way. They all see them as primarily economic ills, owing rom a particular pattern o ownership o the means o
Were it not that misrepresentation -is now an established way o lie on the “let”,
production. When Khrushchev equated socialism with “more goulash or
it would seem unnecessary to stress that as long as millions o the world’s
everyone” he was voicing a widespread view. Innumerable quotations could be
population have insufcient ood and clothing, the satisaction o basic material
ound to substantiate this assertion.
needs must be an essential part o the socialist program (and in act o any social program whatsoever, which does not extol the virtues o poverty.) The
I you don’t believe that traditional socialists think in this way, try suggesting to one
point is that by concentr concentrating ating entirely on this aspect o the critique o capitalism
o them that modern capitalism is beginning to solve some economic problems.
the propaganda o the traditional “let” deprives itsel o one o the most telling
He will immediately denounce you as having “given up the struggle or socialism”.
weapons o socialist criticism, namely an exposure o what capitalism does to
He cannot grasp that slumps were a eature o societies that state capitalism
people, particularly in countries where basic needs have by and large been met.
had not sufciently permeated and that they are not intrinsic eatures o capitalist
And whether Guevarist or Maoist riends like it or not, it is in these countries,
society. “No economic crisis” is, or the traditional socialist tantamount to “no
where there there is a proletariat, that the socialist uture o mankind will be decided.
crisis”. It is synonymous with “capitalism has solved its problems”. The traditional socialist eels insecure, as a socialist, i told that capitalism can solve this kind o
This particular emphasis in the propaganda o the traditional organisations is
problem, because or him this i s the problem problem,, par excellen excellence, ce, aecting capitalist
not accidental. When they talk o increasing production in order to increase
consumption, reormists and bureaucrats o one kind or another eel on airly sae ground. Despite the nonsense talked by many “Marxists” about “stagnation o
The traditional “let” today has a crude vision o man, o his aspirations and his
the productive orces” bureaucratic capitalism (o both the Eastern and Western
needs, a vision molded by the rotten society in which we live. It has a narrow
types) can develop the means o production, has done so and is still doing so on
concept o class consciousness. For them class consciousness is primarily
a gigantic scale. It can provide (and historically has provided) a gradual increase
an awareness o “non-ownership”. They see the “social problem” being solved
in the standard o living - at the cost o intensifed exploitation exploitation during the working
as the majority o the population gain access to material wealth. All would be
day. It can provide a airly steady level o employment, so can a well-run gaol.
well, they say or imply, i as a result o their capture o state power (and o their
But on the ground o the subjection o man to institutions which are not o his
particular brand o planning) the masses could only be ensure ensured d a higher level o
choice, the socialist critiques o capitalism and bureaucratic society retain all
consumption. consump tion. “Socialism” is equated with ull bellies. The flling o these bellies is
their validity. In act, their validity increases as modern society simultaneously
seen as the undamental task o the Socialist revolution.
solves the problem o mass poverty and becomes increasingly bureaucratic and totalitarian.
Intimatel y related to this concept o man as essential ly a producing and consuming machine is the whole traditional “let” critique o laissez-aire capitalism. Many on
It will probably be objected that some obeat trends in the “Marxist” movement
the “let” continue to think we live under this kind o capitalism and continue to
do indulge in this wider kind o critique and in a sense this is true. Yet whatever
criticize it because it is i nefcient (in the domain o production). production). The whole o John
the institutions criticized, their critique usually hinges, ultimately, on the notion
Strachey’s writings prior to World War II were dominated by these conceptions.
o the unequal distribution o wealth. It consists in variations on the theme o the
His Why You Should Be a Socialist sold nearly a million copies - and yet the
corrupting inuence o money. When they talk or instance o the sexual problem
ideas o reedom or sel-management sel-management do not appear in it, as part o the socialist
or o the amily, they talk o the economic barriers to sexual emancipation, o
Objective. Many o the leaders o today’s “let” graduated at his school, including
hunger pushing women to prostitution, o the poor young girl sold to the wealthy
the so-called revolutionaries. Even the usual vision o communism, “rom each
man, o the domestic tragedies resulting rom poverty. When they denounce what
according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, usually relates, in the
capitalism does to culture they will do so in terms o the obstacles that economic
minds o “Marxists” to the division o the cake and not at all to the relations o man
needs puts in the way o talent, or they will talk o the venality o artists. All this is
with man and between man and his environment.
undoubtedly undoubt edly o great importance. But i t is only the surace o the problem. Those socialists who can only speak in these terms see man in much less than his ull
For the traditional socialist “raising the standard o living” is the main purpose
stature. They see him as the bourgeoisie does, as a consumer (o ood, o wealth, 2
o culture, etc.). The essential, however, or man is to ulfll himsel. Socialism must
enjoyment o his activity and even to make him accept this deprivation as
give man an opportunity to create, not only in the economic feld but in all felds o
something intrinsically good. In the past this job was assisted by religion. Today
human endeavor. Let the cynics smile and pretend that all this is petty-bourgeois
the same role is played by “socialist” and “communist” ideologies. But man is not
utopianism. “The problem” Marx said, “is to organise the world in such a manner
infnitely malleable. This is why the bureaucratic project will come unstuck; its
that man experiences in it the truly human, becomes accustomed to experience
objectives are in conict with undamental human aspirations.
himsel as a man, to assert his true individuality”. We mention all this only to underline the essential identity o relations o Conicts in class society do not simply result rom inequalities o distribution, or
domination - whether they maniest themselves in the capitalist actory, in the
ow rom a given division o the surplus value, itsel the result o a given pattern
patriarchal amily, in the authoritarian upbringing o children or in “aristocratic”
o ownership o the means o production. Exploitation does not only result in a
cultural traditions. We also mention these acts to show that the socialist revolution
limitation o consumption or the many and fnancial enrichment or the ew. This
will have to take all these felds within its compass, and immediately, not in some
is but one aspect o the problem. Equally important are the attempts by both
ar distant uture.
private and bureaucratic capitalism to limit -- and fnally to suppress altogether, the human role o man in the productive process. Man is increasingly expropriated
The revolution must o course start with the overthrow o the exploiting class and
rom the very management o his own acts. He is increasingly alienated during all
with the institution o workers’ management o production. But it will immediately
his activities, whether individual or collective. By subjecting man to the machine
have to tackle the reconstruction o social lie in all its aspects. I it does not, it
- and through the machine to an abstract and hostile will - class society deprives
will surely die.
man o the real purpose o human endeavor, which is the constant, conscious transormation o the world around him. That men resist this process (and that their resistance implicitly raises the question o sel-management) is as much a driving orce in the class struggle as the conict over the distribution o the surplus. Marx doubtless had these i deas in mind when he wrote that the proletariat “regards its independence and sense o personal dignity as more essential than its daily bread”. Class society prooundly inhibits the natural tendency o man to ulfll himsel in the objects o his activity. In every country o the world this state o aairs is experienced day ater day by the working class as an absolute misortune, as a permanent mutilation. It results in a constant struggle at the most undamental level o production: that o conscious, willing participation. The producers utterly reject (and quite rightly so) a system o production which is imposed upon them rom above and in which they are mere cogs. Their inventiveness, their creative ability, their ingenuity, their initiative may be shown in their own lives, but are certainly not shown in production. In the actory these aptitudes may be used, but to quite dierent and “non productive” ends! They maniest themselves in a resistance to production. This results in a constant and antastic waste compared with which the wastage resulting rom capitalist crises or capitalist wars is really quite trivial! Alienation in capitalist society is not simply economic. It maniests itsel in many other ways. The conict in production does not “create” or “determine” secondary conicts in other felds. Class domination maniests itsel in all felds, at one and the Same time. Its eects could not otherwise be understood. Exploitation, or instance, can only occur i the producers are expropriated rom the management o production. But this presupposes that they are partly expropriated at least rom the capacities o management - in other words rom culture. And this cultural expropriation in turn reinorces those in command o the productive machine. Similarly a society in which relations between people are based on domination will maintain authoritarian attitudes in relation to sex and to education, attitudes creating deep inhibitions, rustrations and much unhappiness. The conicts engendered by class society take Place in every one o us. A social structure containing deep antagonisms reproduces these antagonisms in variable degrees in each o the individuals comprising it. There is a proound dialectical inter-relationship between the social structure o a society and the attitudes and behavior o its members. “The dominant ideas o each epoch are the ideas o its ruling class”, whatever modern sociologists may think. Class society can only exist to the extent that it succeeds in imposing a widespread acceptance o its norms. From his earliest days man is subjected to constant pressures designed to mould his views in relation to work, to culture, to leisure, to thought itsel. These pressures tend to deprive him o the natural 3
Theses On the Chinese Revolution and Cultural Revolution By Cajo Brendel Solidarity (U.K.) Pamphlet # 46 (1974) Preface to the Second English Edition
brought him to certain conclusions concerning the Chinese Revolution as a
In the last quarter o the eighteenth century the USA, under George Washington,
whole. The author’s views dier undamentally not only rom those o the Maoists,
threw o the British colonial yoke. Even beore the French people had made
but also rom those o all sorts o Leninists (Trotskyists included). Unlike what
their own middle-class revolution, the Americans had sent to the courts and
they think-and in contradistinction too to bourgeois appreciations-the Theses
governments o a predominantly eudal* (*The British Kingdom (since the
don’t accept that the political aims o the Chinese Communist Party determined
revolutions o 1641 and 1688) and the Dutch Republic were the sole exceptions.)
the Chinese events. On the contrary, those political aims and the events that
Europe their own diplomatic representatives.
he Theses on the Chinese Revolution were written during the spring and summer o 1967, when China was in the threes o the so-called ‘Cultural Revolution’. Inormation concerning these historic events was insufcient
1) Some Reections on the Counter-Revolutionary Nature o Chinese Diplomacy
at the time. The author nevertheless made an attempt at a social analysis, that
really occurred were both aspects o the stage o development o the Chinese Revolution. This revolutionary process is none other than the transition rom pre-
To the Paris court o Louis XVI there came in this role one o America’s most able
capitalist orms o production into a modern society, based on wage-labour, and
ambassadors: none other than Benjamin Franklin. In the preceding years he had
on its way to something like state- capitalism.
not only been a red-hot champion o American independence, but he had also acquired an international reputation as a physical scientist. In his person two
The Theses on the Chinese Revolution were frst published in Dutch in the monthly
things ound themselves combined. He was enveloped in the lustre o the young
Daad en Gedachte (Act and Thought’). in the spring o 1969 they were published
Transatlantic Republic which, by its very existence, announced to the absolutist
in France in Cahiers du Communisme de Consei ls. In 1971 the frst Englis h edition
princes that their reign had come to an end. On the other hand, Franklin was the
appeared as an Aberdeen Solidarity pamphlet. In 1973 an Italian edition was
personifcation o pure science, unobstructed by ecclesiastical dogma. Technical
published in Caserta. In one respect this second English edition is like the frst; in
progress, based on the new science, had enabled the rising bourgeoisie to build
the Theses proper, nothing has been changed. Although the author resorted to
up its own orms o` production in countries that were still dominated by the
several sources, among them some well known sinologists, outstanding Chinese
nobility and clergy.
communist writers (such as Mao himsel), pamphlets (published in English in the People’s Republic o China) and articles rom Peking Review, he desisted rom
The act that it was Benjamin Franklin who had set oot on the French shore
ootnotes. He preerred to convince, not by mentioning names or titles, but by the
as the ambassador o the despised American Republic, had to be tolerated by
inherent logic o the series o events that have been recorded.
the worn out order. It also stimulated the sel-consciousness o the French Third Estate. The stimulus was made even stronger by the behaviour o this diplomatic
True enough, many explanations could now be expanded on the basis o greater
representative o the early. American employers.
knowledge. But to do so would have taken us ar beyond the original character o the Theses, although it would not have meant any undamental reappraisal. The
Benjamin Franklin had always led a simple lie. This was, on the one hand,
new acts at the author’s disposal have not basically transormed his views. On
the result o puritanism (the product o rising capitalism). On the other, it was
the contrary, as he sees it the latest developments in China have only confrmed
explicable by the demands o thrit, created by the problem o accumulation in
a country o middle-class pioneers. Franklin would never have dreamt o giving up his way o lie, ater moving to the extravagant neighbourhood o the French
This is best understood i one looks at two o his other writings, added here to the
royal household. He went about Paris and Versailles in a dress readily recognised
primary text by way o introduction. The frst deals with some aspects o Chinese
by all as Third Estate garb. He wore his clothes with the same pride with which
oreign policy. It was fnished shortly ater the restoration o diplomatic relations
the marquesses and dukes o France wore their silk coats. Deeply convinced
that his middle-class country-and the republican orm o government-represented the uture, Franklin orced, by his appearance, the French nobility to honour his
People’s Republic o China and the USA. The main point is a critical look at
personality. In the process, he also orced it to recognise a new class, that was
Chou-En-lai’s attitude to the Ceylon and Bangladesh revolutions. The second
laying an increasing claim to its rightul position in society.
point-specially dealt with or this edition-describes the conicts within the Chinese Communist Party as they became apparent at its Tenth Congress and through
Acting in this manner, Franklin gave an example o revolutionary diplomacy that
the anti-Conucius campaign. Both essays must be considered as a link between
the world has never seen since. He could be characterised as a middle-class
the seven year old Theses and the present state o aairs. The author hopes that
prove. He daily defed his detested class enemy and put new heart into his French
they will contribute to making current events more easily understood.
class-comrades. Later (ater the bourgeois revolution had triumphed in France and elsewhere) such a conduct totally lost its meaning. The bourgeoisie, itsel 4
becoming the ruling class, was no longer engaged in revolutionary practice. It
the reality o bestowing avours upon that particular class in Eastern society that
started imitating the manners and style o its ormer class enemy. Nothing could
tended to slow down the break- through o modern capitalism (with the aid o
be ound anymore o revolutionary diplomacy.
western imperialism). This harmonised better with Russia’s own interests and with the oreign policy which the Kremlin had opted or ever since 1921.
Much later, the world was led or a moment to believe that the Russian Bolsheviks (in dierent circumstances but in a similar way) had repeated what Benjamin
So it is today with Chinese oreign policy and Chinese diplomacy. The Chinese
Franklin had done to intimidate the nobility and to activate the Third Estate. In
Revolution had essentially (not in details) the same character as that in Russia in
March 1918, when the Soviet government was negotiating at Brest-Litovsk with
1917. There may indeed be dierences between Moscow and Peking, but China
German imperialism, the Muscovite representatives came to this Polish town
just like Russia is on its way to state-capitalism. Just as Moscow does, Peking
with working-class caps and peasant ur coats. Bolshevik Russia had barely
pursues a oreign policy that has little to do with revolution elsewhere in Asia (not
introduced the New Economic Policy, had scarcely taken the road to state-
even middle-class revolution).
capitalism, than its diplomats star ted behaving just as the ofcial representatives o a state-capitalist republic might be expected to do. The delegation that sat at
Like Russia in the thirties, modern Maoist China has or over 20 years been
Brest-Litovsk, in ront o the German imperial generals, was composed o political
seeking membership o the United Nations. Chinese oreign policy is not directed
idealists. When idealism had gone, and the bourgeois character o the Russian
at the stimulation o the bourgeois revolution throughout the rest o Asia and in
Revolution had become obvious, the suits o the Russian diplomats became as
Arica. It is directed at obtaining alliances. It is a policy in which Mao Tse-tung and
starched and conventional as one can imagine. At the same time, the thoroughly
Chou En-lai display as little fnesse as Stalin and Litvinov displayed in their time.
bourgeois character o Russian oreign policy and the bourgeois traits o Russian diplomacy appeared.
The true character o Chinese oreign policy and o Chinese diplomacy can be seen in the light o two examples drawn rom very recent history. We mean
It is not hard to illustrate this with some examples. In eudal, pre-revolutionary
Peking’s attitude to the revolutionary events in Ceylon and Pakistan respectively.
France, Benjamin Franklin would have guarded himsel against the smallest
In Ceylon, where the coalition government o the so-called United Let Front
gesture that might have been understood as a sign o alliance or sympathy
under Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike clashed with the revolutionary
with those in power. On the other hand, the diplomats o state- capitalist
movement that stood or a state-capitalist uture, Peking did not take the side o
Russia (at the time o Lenin and Trotsky, as well as at the time o Stalin and his
the revolutionaries. It gave ull support to Mrs. Bandaranaike. The same happened
successors) displayed day ater day their inner afnity with capitalism and with
in Pakistan when a civil war broke out between the reactionary eudal dictatorship
o General Yahya Khan and the population o East Pakistan. The armed revolt in East Pakistan was the desperate answer to the colonial exploitation o the
Chicherin, as a People’s Commissar or oreign relations, expressed his warm
country by the West Pakistan clique. It was directed against the pattern o large
sympathy towards the liberal German Secretary o State, Dr. Stresemann, over
landownership and against social conditions that intentionally kept the country
the death o President Ebert (a man who once declared that he ‘hated revolution
backward. Sheik Mujibur Rahman headed the uprising or a short time. Even i
like sin’). Later on there were many expressions o sympathy at the death o other
the insurrection had not been beaten down, he never could have maintained that
dignitaries o the European middle-class. The Kremlin diplomats kept up very
position. Behind him (and behind the social orces that he represented) more
riendly relations with Chiang Kai-Shek and with Kemal Pasha, while the latter
radical orces were looming up, just as in Russia. The Bolsheviks had loomed up
respectively massacred Chinese and Turkish communists. Representatives o the
behind those political orces that had emerged ater the February Revolution.
Kremlin honoured Mussolini, Churchill, and Roosevelt. They entered into a pact with Hitler. In the early thirties they made their way into the League o Nations,
However, the coming to power o Sheik Mujibur would have meant progress
which in their revolutionary heyday they had called the ‘thieves kitchen’.
compared to the brutal rule o Yahya Khan, who was linked with imperialism. (We speak o course o progress within the ramework o bourgeois development.)
From where did these clear and important dierences with the revolutionary
Mujibur called himsel` a ‘socialist’. Neither he nor those who are called on to
diplomacy o Benjamin Franklin arise? The explanation is simple. Franklin in
complete the East Pakistan revolution deserve any such denomination. Neither in
eighteenth century France was surrounded by his class enemies. The diplomats
East nor West Pakistan was socialism on the agenda. Sheik Mujibur represents
o state- capitalist Russia moved in middle-class Western Europe, among people
the East Pakistani bourgeoisie. This bourgeoisie is weak, just as it is in most Asian
o a similar political and social background. Far rom having made diplomatic
countries. That explains why middle-class revolution in this part o the world tends
or psychological mistakes, the Russian representatives did just what they were
to be enacted in orms that frst maniested themselves in Russia, and later in
expected to do.
For some time the Russian (bourgeois) revolution seemed to have great
I-and or convenience only-anyone wanted to give names to the actors in the
consequences or similar bourgeois developments in Asia and Arica. Bolsheviks,
Pakistan drama, one might call Sheik Mujibur a Menshevik. One might designate
like the previously mentioned Chicherin, or like Borodin (who in the twenties
as Bolsheviks the revolutionary orces in the background, to which Tariq All, the
was the political adviser to the Chinese Kuo Min Tang) were political idealists.
London political writer, belongs. General Yahya Khan could be compared to
They dreamed o an anti-colonial struggle in which Eastern peoples would strike
some Tsarist general or other, perhaps to a Kornilov (a Kornilov successul in the
a heavy blow at Western capitalism. But this dream had one pre-condition: the
western part o Ids bi-partite country but who ran up against serious resistance
political idealists in Russia needed the reassurance that they would not suddenly
ill its eastern hal).
and horribly be awoken rom another dream, the dream that they weren’t living, anyhow, in a capitalist country.
Peking-whose policy is our subject-didn’t support the Pakistan ‘Bolsheviks’. It didn’t even support the ‘Menshevik’ Sheik Mujibur. Peking gave diplomatic,
As soon as the capitalist nature o Bolshevik society came to the ore, the time or
political and military aid to the Pakistan ‘Kornilov’, General Yahya Khan. The
political dreams came to an end. The political idealists made way or the realists.
Chinese Minister or Foreign Aairs, Chou En-lai, sent a message to Yahya Khan
Instead o illusions about revolutionary support or Asia or Arica there came
that was frst published in the Peking Review, then in the Pakistan Times (the 5
mouth-piece o the reactionary West Pakistan government). In this message Chou
would eel like another Duke Solinus who, surrounded by two pairs o twins, didn’t
En-lai declared: ‘Your Excellency and leaders o various quarters in Pakistan have
know which was which.
done a lot o useul work to uphold the unifcation o Pakistan and to prevent it rom moving towards a split. We believe that through the wise consultations
Wasn’t there the Chinese Foreign Secretary, Chou En-lai, declaring that ‘the
and eorts o Your Excellency and leaders o various quarters in Pakistan, the
struggle o the Asian, Arican and Latin American peoples to obtain or deend
situation in Pakistan will certainly be restored to normal. In our opinion the
national independenc e was deepening and enlarging as the result o an irresistibl e
unifcation o Pakistan and the unity o the people o East and West Pakistan are
historical trend’? Didn’t Chou simultaneously express his ‘solidarity with oppressed
the basic guarantees or Pakistan to attain prosperity and strength.’ The meaning
nations all over the world, those countries that were exposed to tyranny and
was clear enough: Peking was opposed to the national, middle-class uprising
domination’ and deplore what he called ‘the mutilation o Pakistan’ caused by (a
in East Pakistan. The People’s Republic o China considered the East Pakistan
act, o course, which he didn’t mention) a social uprising or autonomy, a social
(bourgeois) revolutionaries as ‘a handul o persons who want to sabotage the
uprising that he (Chou En-lai himsel) had vainly helped to suppress? From such
unifcation o Pakistan’(1) Hence Chou’s words in the quoted message.
words ordinary people might conclude that by Chinese standards ‘solidarity with the oppressed’ doesn’t mean what it means to the oppressed themselves. They
China, as we have said, did more. She supplied the counter-revolutionary
might conclude that behind the walls o Peking reigns a conusion o tongues.
government o Yahya Khan with weapons and equipment. These weapons-tanks
That frst impression would be strengthened by everything the Congress revealed
made in China-were not only used against the East Pakistan insurgents. They
about what was logically its main concern: the Chinese scene itsel.
were also used against West Pakistan workers, fghting a class-struggle against their rulers.
On that score the Congress attached the greatest possible importance to the doings o the late Lin Piao, once Chair man Mao’s ‘close comrade in arms’. Killed in
In other words Chinese policy towards Pakistan was just like Moscow’s policy
a plane crash as he was ying to Russia on September 13 1971 (and consequent-
towards China in the late twenties. At that time Russian aid enabled Chang Kai-
ly dead or two years), Lin Piao’s ghost overshadowed the Peking conerence.
shek to massacre the workers o Shanghai. General Yahya Khan massacred the
The meeting so remembered him, and was so dominated by his personality, that
Pakistani workers with Chinese aid.
the 1249 delegates even proceeded to expel him rom the party ‘once and or all’, as i he were still in the world o the living. Wasn’t it conusing that this man, Lin
At a public meeting in Amsterdam the West Pakistani Trotskyist, Tariq All, pointed
Piao, who as recently as a year beore had been posthumously charged with ‘let-
out these acts. The Dutch Maoists present were scandalised. Evidently they
extremism’, was now being called a ‘right-wing criminal’ who had always (!) had a
hadn’t yet read Chou En-lai’s letter to Yahya Khan, a letter that had appeared in
bourgeois outlook and who had aim- ed at the restoration o capitalism in China.
the Peking Review. They behaved like Stalinists in the thirties, unaware o Stalin’s
(Incidentally, the orms o production existing in China, based on wage-slavery,
latest changes o line. A Maoist sympathiser, writing in the British paper New
didn’t need such a ‘restoration’, being in their very essence capitalist.
Society(and much better inormed about what had really happened), suggested that the Chinese might have backed Yahya or ‘long- term motives’, namely to
Wasn’t it even more conusing that Lin Piao (a ervent champion o the so-called
enable him to smash the (‘Menshevik’)Awarmi League o Sheik Mujibur and pave
‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’),whose rise to power had taken place
the way or the Bengal let. (2) One might ask such a simpleton why Lenin in 1917
during and immediately ater that political tempest that had strengthened the
didn’t back Kornilov, thereby Enabling him (Lenin) to settle with the Kerensky
Party’s position, could have been described as the leader o an anti-Party group?
government, ater a successul coup!
Liu Shao-chi, Lin Piao’s opponent in those crucial years rom 1966 to 68, and against whom the whole weight o the Party had been launched, was on the other
Tariq Ali doesn’t talk such nonsense. He considers Chinese oreign policy towards
hand merely described as a ‘revisionist’, serious as such a charge may be. Wasn’t
Ceylon and Pakistan as ‘wrong’ policies. We reject his Bolshevik opinions. We
it embarrassing that Wang Hung-wen, a young Shanghai worker who played an
see the policy that we denounce as the logical consequence o the state-capitalist
important role in the battle against that ormer head o state, Liu Shao-chi, was
character o the Chinese Republic.
chosen as one o the fve (instead o one) Vice-Chairmen o the Party, and as a member o its Central Committee, only to be conronted outside the meeting by
The latest example o this-strictly logical-policy is the Chinese approach to the
ormer political riends o Liu, like Teng Chiau-ping, rehabilitated as were many
United Nations and the USA. Peking wants to keep up good relations with both.
others o his kind, despite a rontal attack on Liu Shao-chi by Chou En-lai?
(3) When a number o young supporters o the American let (and sympathisers o Mao) were recently in Peking, Chou En-lai made it clear to them that their
One can’t avoid asking what, in the Chinese jargon, terms like ‘socialism’ and
resistance to Nixon was, o course, just their own problem. China was looking or
‘capitalism’, ‘revisionism’ and ‘anti-Party clique’ really mean. Can it be that the
riendly relations with the White House. Such an attitude is similar to Moscow’s
conusion o tongues in Peking is as great as it was in state-capitalist Russia in
attitude to Hitler and to Mussolini. It is the cynical policy o diplomatic zig-zags
the early sixties, when the Moscow leaders were fghting out their dierences
in ront o the worst enemies o the working-class. Neither Mao nor Chou En-lai
hidden behind deceptive defnitions? Didn’t the same abuse o ‘anti-Party groups’
can be blamed or it, or they are not in ofce to promote the interests o the
indicate on that occasion something very dierent rom what one might have
Chinese working-class. They are in ofce to promote the interests o Chinese
expected? Indeed, a short but close examination o those mimic-battles is very
state-capitalism. It is not they, the Chinese leaders, who are going the ‘wrong way’.
useul to clariy their present Chinese counterpart. The spectacular Russian play
Those who are on the wrong path are those who expect a revolutionary policy or
had been preceded by another. In the twenties and thirties the contradiction
revolutionary diplomacy rom Maoist China.
between social reality and Bolshevik reality had given rise to a theoretical discussion about Leninist thought, the real issue o which was the class structure
2) The Tenth Congress o the Chinese Party and Ater
o the so-called soviet state. In the early sixties the interpretation o Leninism wasn’t at issue. Though Leninism (whatever that happened to be) remained the
I anyone wishes to characterise the play acted behind closed doors in Peking
ofcial Bolshevik theory, its special social unction (namely, to hold back the truth
last summer (under the title o ‘Tenth Congress o the Chinese Communist Party’)
about state-capitalist exploitation by discussing it in ‘socialist’ phraseology), had
he would have to defne it as a ‘Comedy o Errors’. Although a mere spectator, he
become less urgent. O course Leninism still supplied this ideological need, but 6
at the same time another need had come into being.
management): ‘Members o the anti-Party group opposed everything that was new or progressive. By such an attitude, in act, they wrecked the economic
In the past the theoretical battles mainly reected developing contradictions
policy o the Party and o the country ... ‘ (‘The anti-Party group opposed the
between Russian workers and a new rising ruling class. By the second hal o
rise o the new class o managers and wrecked its economic policy’).’They
the century, these contradictions had become a widespread reality. The new
were against any proposal that could have improved the soviet economy’ (‘They
ruling class was in the process o becoming a dominant and inuential actor in
opposed proposals not in accordance with the policy o the new class’). ‘Molotov
society. Against this social background Party traditions, born in entirely dierent
opposed the new economic and agricultural policy’ (‘Molotov was an adversary
social circumstances, were elt to be theoretical humbug, a stumbling block in the
o management’). MIKOYAN (the most outstanding champion o the new class):
new class’s way to genuine development. The new ruling class could no longer
‘They-the members o the anti-Party group-cling to conservative, dogmatic
collaborate with a bureaucracy that indulged in practices in no way adapted to
points o view that prevent the introduction o innovations’ (‘They stood or the
the new situation, practices that hindered the development o production.
past and opposed any accommodation to the reality o the growing power o the new class’). ‘Molotov is the ideologist o bygone times’ (‘Molotov’s thought
What the new class wanted was a more or less ‘new’ Bolshevik Party adapted
is adapted to yesterday’s reality. That reality does not exist any longer because
to the current situation, a Party that would recognise the new class’s powerul
o the increasing inuence o the managerial class’). MOLOTOV (in deence o
position. The requirements o the new class led to an interesting struggle between
the anti-Party group): ‘The Party’s new programme is a revisionist and counter-
the old Party bureaucracy and the representatives o the actory management that
revolutionary one’ (‘The Party’s new programme aims to make the Party a tool
had come into being, and that ormed the basis o the new class. The struggle
o the new class. It transorms the principles o Stalinism. It is directed against
lasted many years. Both actions balancing one another, the outcome was or a
everything the old Party represented’). SATJUKOV: ‘Molotov has always been a
long time undecided. At one time the old Party held the strongest positions, at
bungler in home aairs’ (‘Political knowledge is strictly reserved or the class
other times the managerial action did.
that has power and rules’). KHRUSCHEV: ‘The Soviet Union is in great need o capital’ (‘The accumulation o capital doesn’t keep pace with the needs o the
All this started in darkness, beore Stalin’s death. It became visible in the post-
new managerial class’).
Stalin era. It reached its culminating point in the days o Khruschev, who won power because he was the right man at that particular time. His personality-as his
Joining the debate in this way, Khruschev in act took the victors’ side.’Long live
biographer, George Paloczi-Horvath, wrote-was just as enigmatic as the Soviet
the new ruling class’ was the true meaning o his belated intervention. Beore long
world. The true content o this enigma was that the Russian situation had produced
he ound out that he had acted too late. He was dismissed as soon as the new
the unstable character o Nikita Sergeyevich Khruschev, and that conversely,
ruling class no longer elt itsel seriously threatened. With Kosygin’s appointment
an unstable man like Khruschev (more than anyone else among government
as Prime Minister there started a new chapter in Russian history. Could it be that
notables), was suited to a situation in which neither the bureaucracy nor the new
last year’s happenings in China resemble in some way what we have described
ruling class could claima fnal victory. Khruschev was a misft in the bureaucracy
as happening in Russia? In present day China, too, there are orces at work more
to which he ormally belonged. But he didn’t identiy himsel with the Russian
or less avourable to the rise o a ‘new class’. Attempts to analyse these orces
management, nor did the managerial strata regard him as a reliable supporter.
have been made in the Theses. There is no need to repeat the argument. Nor is
Perhaps just because o these qualities, Khruschev had an unmistakable eeling
it necessary again to explain-as was done in the Theses-why the Great Cultural
about what was up. When his adversaries boxed his ears with quotations rom the
Revolution can be regarded as the response to social developments similar to
dead Lenin. Kruschev pointed out that people were living in another time: what
those that, in Russia, had strengthened managerial positions. There have been
was valid then had lost its value. With those words he accurately divulged what
many subsequent indications suggesting that the Cultural Revolution wasn’t as
was going on behind the scenes.
successul as Chou En-lai would have had the delegates to the Tenth Congress believe. Those social orces in the background which even i they didn’t give
With Khruschev in ofce, the struggle between the new class and the old
rise to a ‘new class’ nevertheless prepared its way (pushing orward individual
Party reached its fnal stage. Lengthy trench warare made way or a war o
managers), still exist. They proved themselves stronger than the violence o the
movement. So oten and so quickly did positions in the Kremlin change that
Red Guards and appeared to be totally interwoven with Chinese social relations.
when Suslov and Mikoyan returned to Moscow rom a short visit to Budapest
However, unlike the ‘new class’ in Russia, its Chinese counterpart has not so ar
(where, as representatives o the new class, they were prepared or a exible
proved stronger than the Chinese Party. In the course o the Cultural Revolution
attitude towards the government o Imre Nagy, to whom they had guaranteed
the Party was transormed or the purpose o better resistance. Such acts should
the withdrawal o Russian troops) they were conronted with an entirely dierent
be a warning against too simplifed an analogy.
mood.* (*Background inormation given by Tibor Meray in one o the most interesting books on the Hungarian Revolution: Thirteen Days that Shook the
Things in China are not what they had previously been in Russia. Nevertheless,
Kremlin (Thames & Hudson, 1958).)
the phenomenon o a (uture) managerial class holds the key to every Chinese problem. For instance, Chou En-lai was very clearly criticising the managerial point
During this period the attack rom the new management on the Party traditionalists
o view in his speech to the Tenth Congress when he addressed himsel to ‘those
became fercer. The embarrassment provoked by its mystiying slogans was
who pretended that ater the Ninth Congress (held in April 1969) the development
greater than ever beore. Those who avoured the domination o the new ruling
o production should be the Party’s main task’ and to those ‘who claimed that
class over the old bureaucracy never tired o proclaiming their legal heritage rom
it was not the antagonism between the working class and the bourgeoisie that
the Party. At the same time the deenders o the Party (old style) were stigmatised
was the most important contradiction in China, but the contradiction between the
as the ‘anti-Party group’. What lay behind the slogans and stigmatisations was
advanced socialist system and the backward productive orces in society’.
clear enough in the debate (though it wasn’t carried on in plain Russian but in a language one might defne as Party-Chinese). We here give some quotations with
But in China things are ar more complicated than this. The same Chou En-lai,
(in brackets) translations into everyday speech.
in the same speech, underlines the necessity or a ‘transormation o all part s o the superstructure that are not co-ordinsted with the economic oundation’. That
KOSYGIN (member o the Presidium o the Central Committee, deending
sounds like a concession to managerial demands. Apparently matters were not 7
pushed to extremes. The orementioned presence o rehabilitated adherents o
None o them contain the least indication to such a change o ront.
managerial champion Liu Shao-chi and the act that some o those men had again been able to obtain inuential positions in the country point in the same
At most, 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. But he did so with the ull agreement o Mao himsel, and
The only possible explanation is that hitherto the pro- managerial and pro-
o the Party. Could it be that Lin Piao didn’t agree with this moderate policy? I so
bureaucratic orces were balanced. One must not orget that these are not the
that might explain why the Party frst accused him o ‘let extremism’. It doesn’t
only social orces in China, where there is also a very large peasantry. Finally,
explain however why such a reproach was only heard three years later.
i the Party was reormed during the Cultural Revolution, partly in response to the views o the peasants, it was just to take the wind out o the management’s
Or was Lin Piao really as moderate as he showed himsel to be? Hadn’t he been
sails. To conclude: the antagonism between the Party and the new class in China
on the Party’s let long beore the Cultural Revolution, whose ruits didn’t prove to
hasn’t by a long way reached the point that had been reached in Russia some
be as red as many people had expected? What supports this view is the position
fteen years earlier. This is the situation that accounts or various declarations
o his alleged number one accomplice, Chen Po-ta, another head o the Cultural
about perect Party-unity applauded by the delegates in Peking.
Revolution drat and a aithul transmitter o Mao-thought at every moment o his lie. There are good reasons or the view that Lin Piao was a tempered radical and
How does one reconcile the act that this unity has been so loudly trumpeted
that this led him to being seen as on the let when the Party, withdrawing rom
with the act that delegates were pro- claiming, in the same breath, ‘the inevitable
the Cultural Revolution line, veered to the right. Ater Lin Piao’s death, his position
necessity or many more struggles in the uture’? And why, i unity was as solid as
seemed to be on the right because the pendulum had oscillated and because the
one was made to believe, were the deliberations strictly secret, with only the texts
Party, in reaction to another new class danger, had undergone a radicalisation.
o the speeches and the new constitution published, together with a meaningless ofcial postscript?
Against this view one might quote Lin Piao’s more or less ‘managerial’ position concerning production. But this is rather uncertain as Chou En-lai’s reproaches
The implied contradiction is nothing but a paradox. The appearance o unity
on this point were directed rather against Liu Shoa-chi, with whom Lin Piao was
stands out because Party and management are equally strong. Hampered by the
linked only by means o a political manoeuvre. In avour o this view, on the other
peasantry, they don’t ace each other in the same way as they did in Russia. This is
hand, are Chou’s own words, that the so-called anti-Party line ‘had been and still
why the Cultural Revolution remained unfnished. Behind the scenes, managerial
was one o the two lines inside the Party’. Be this as it may, the Party’s radicalisation
tendencies (the orces that led to the development o the new class) are still at
was obvious. The appointment to its leadership o Wang Hung-wen, who had had
work. Sooner or later the equilibrium will be upset. The Party’s new constitution
to be called to order because he had gone ‘too ar’ during the Cultural Revolution,
stressed classic Leninist ‘democratic centralism’ as the basic organisational
was thereore symptomatic. But let nobody think that the radicalisation in question
principle, while at the same time adding that it would be ‘absolutely impermissible
has anything to do with the working-class struggle against capitalism. At the Tenth
to suppress criticism and to retaliate’ and that, on the contrary, ‘the Party should
Congress no word was spoken either about the exercise o power by the workers
encourage other views and great debates’. This was an attempt to delay the clash
themselves or about the abolition o the wages system, or o a society based on
or as long as possible.
production. Chou En-lai commented with satisaction about ‘the stability o prices and the market’s prosperous position’. His statement was characteristic both in
Nevertheless the ofcials are well aware that such a postponement cannot be
its lack o any working-class analysis and because o what it revealed concerning
permanent. ‘The downall o the anti-Party group’ Chou En-lai told the delegates,
the true nature o Chinese economic and social relations.
‘doesn’t end the struggle between the two Party lines’. It wasn’t unity that characterised the Tenth Congress but the sound judgment that the tendencies
These basic economic and social relations are evidently not at stake. Consequently
representing the new class could not be made to disappear and that the fght
the real issue is not the choice between a proletarian or a bourgeois alternative.
against them would decide the Party’s uture. To put it in Mao’s words:’within a
Everything depends on whether the trans ormed (or even more transormed) Party
number o years another revolution will probably have to be carried out. Demons
or whether management will rule the roost. That is what lies behind the Party’s
and devils will break the surace’. Since then, history has borne out that i one
radicalisation, whatever Chou may have been saying about ‘a conict between
talks o the devil he is sure to come.
proletarian and bourgeois interests, in which one would have to distinguish alse communists rom sincere ones’. Speaking thus, Chou was just churning out Party-
Beore concerning ourselves with the devil, let us talk o the demons. Just as
jargon, whose deceptive appearance masked real dierences. When the process
Molotov in Russia, the ghost o Lin Piao was hammered with the charge o
o radicalisation had started, where did the traditional and outstanding leaders
deending an ‘anti-Party line’. What strikes one is the ormal resemblance o the
like Mao and Chou really stand? At the Congress the latter never tired o quoting
indictments. True enough, the Chinese at their Congress were speaking Party-
Mao and o stressing his hostility to Lin or Liu. But that doesn’t necessarily argue
Russian just as the Russians had been speaking Party-Chinese. This doesn’t
his real position ** (**Chou told the delegates, that the ofcial’Report to the Ninth
automatically imply that words in Party Chinese have the same meaning as in
National Congress’, delivered by Lin Piao, had actually been written by Mao; that
Lin himsel, in collaboration with Chen Po-ta, had drated another document (that had been cancelled); and that Lin didn’t agree with the text he was delivering.
In Russia the ‘anti-Party group’ deended the (old) Party. It was thereore attacked
Whatever the truth o this story may be (and whatever it may not be) it remains
by the new class. In China the new class was attacked by the reormed Party that
that what could be true or Lin, might also be true or Chou.) What exactly Chou
sought new strength through its sel-reorm. Did Lin Piao resist? I so, his position
represents is unclear. This is partly due to the act that, since some time beore
would have been the opposite to that o Molotov. Instead o deending the Party
the Tenth Congress, everything in China’s social and political lie has again been
against the management as Molotov had done, Lin Piao would have stood at the
on the move. Firm positions will become visible as time goes by. That applies to
side o the new class. He would have stood at the side o Liu Shao-chi, who was
everyone on the Chinese scene.
his bitter enemy in the Cultural Revolution. Though their names were linked at the last Congress, such a conclusion isn’t strengthened by Lin Piao’s speeches.
Concerning Mao or instance, Chou inormed the delegates that ater the Ninth 8
Congress the Chairman had given several warnings to Lin Piao, all o them in
between the anti-Conucius campaign and the issues o the Cultural Revolution.
vain, seeking to ‘save’ him. Does this mean that Mao Tse-tung, Lin Piao and Chen
‘Conucius’, we are told by Philosopher Yang, ‘reserved absolute wisdom or
Po-ta hadn’t such undamental dierences ater all? Was it only.at a later date
the monarch. The reormers o his time however wanted reedom o thought on
that the rit widened? In that case, it isn’t only the ofcial statement about Lin
behal o a hundred philosophical schools, with dierent and opposite opinions.’
Piao that stands contradicted. It is also suggested that Mao wasn’t heading the
Conucius ‘promised his monarch all the land. The reormers on the contrary
radicalisation but merely tail-ending it.
were fghting or private landed property and or individual arming’.
How, in connection with all this , should one seek to under- stand the three attempts
The themes hardly need urther explanation. Yang, whose origin was the non-
on Mao’s lie, in which Lin Piao is said to have been closely involved as the main
Bolshevik Democratic League o China (which had once taken an intermediate
conspirator? Were these attempts made because the Chairman tended to an
position between the Communist Party and the Kuo Min-tang) seems to be a
even more managerial point o view? Or were they made because Mao frmly
clear voice o the new class. When he speaks o a less important philosopher,
reused to adopt such a position? Listening to the Party-jargon, looking at the
dispatched at Conucius’ command, one might believe that he is not only pointing
Chinese smoke-screen, happenings remain obscure. Nevertheless, conclusions
at Lin Piao’s murder plot against Mao but that-rom an opposite position-he is also
can be drawn that go ar beyond the commonplace fxations about a ‘power
reerring to the rumour that Lin didn’t die in a plane crash but was done away
battle’. Such descriptions don’t tell us anything o the social orces that drive the
with by Chou En-lai. I Yang condemns Conucius or calling back ‘those who
actors to appear beore the ootlights. It is ar more important to understand this
were already buried in oblivion, aiming to restore the old order’, that too seems
act than to know who is who. From the historical point o view it doesn’t matter so
to concern Chou. Chou, ater all, was the man who or many years had been the
much whether this one or that one represents the Party or the management. The
architect o the new class policy. Moreover, he had his own responsibility or the
actors are o secondary interest. The play: that’s the point. The battle or power is
rehabilitation o those who had been sacrifced in the Cultural Revolution.
not important. What are important are the economic and social rameworks that determine its limits and by which it is characterised. It is or this reason that we
Yang can thus be interpreted in dierent ways, possibly because his
have placed in the centre o our analysis the struggle between the new class and
philosophical contribution to an actual struggle suers rom the contradictions
the Party bureaucracy, quite apart rom actua l questions o polic y. The correctness
o the struggle itsel. Another possibility i s that these contradictions are either the
o this method is confrmed when we examine the anti-Conucius campaign, a
pure consequence o the special Party-philosophical jargon, or that they have
campaign that reached its ull development ater the Tenth Congress.
been created deliberately, or reasons o saety in turbulent times. For times are turbulent in China. Quoting Conucius, bureaucrats and managers march against
The campaign was launched on August 7 1973 by an article in the Peking Peoples
each other. The devil that looms up is a second Cultural Revolution, as predicted
Paper. The author was Yang Chung-kuo, deccan o the Philosophy Faculty o
by Chairman Mao. Whose uture is at stake? That o Chou or that o Mao? Time
the Canton Sun Yat-sen University (and since reerred to as the No. 1 theorist
will tell. Nonetheless, one thing seems certain: the outcome o the struggle will
o anti- Conucianism). The campaign did not start as a pure philosophical
not in the least change the (state) capitalist nature o Chinese society. The rule
discussion. Philosopher Yang said, ‘the battle o words with Conucius has a very
o the Party-bureaucracy or managerial rule? That is the question or the years to
actual meaning. To criticise his reactionary thoughts can be useul whenever one
come. Whatever the answer, in the long run the new class seems to have the best
participates in present-day class struggle ...’ What sort o class struggle could
testimonials. On to the Thesis on the Chinese revolution
Yang be reerring to? Neither in his article nor in the debate that ollowed was the subject touched upon. Nowhere was it treated rom the point o view that human thought is connected with society, and thereore is right as long as the society exists that gave birth to it, becoming incorrect to the extent that a given society is lost in its successor. Such a treatment, linked with the con- viction o the oppressed that neither society nor thought are invariable and eternal, doesn’t suit any ruling class. Ruling classes never have an eye or the relativity o their own mastery. From the mere act that things were not put in this way one can draw some plausible conclusions. Conucius wasn’t interpreted as a child o his time, who reected the social relations and contradictions o the Chou dynasty in Chinese antiquity. His ideas were considered apart rom their soil. They were described as intrinsically reaction- ary. No attempt was made to understand Conucius rom within Chinese society. On the contrary, Chinese society was explained by stressing Conucius’ inuence. This method naturally led to the substitution o social comprehension by moral judgement. Consequently the anti-Conucius campaign wasn’t a philosophical attack on the essential roots o class power. That remains unchallenged. The discussions became moral condemnations o certain politicians on behal o others. For this purpose, Conucius, who had died 2000 years previously, was raised rom his grave and criticised. Whether all this was really being aimed at the dead Lin Piao, or at his living competitors, is less clear. But once again this is o secondary signifcance. For our purpose, it is more important to realise that there is a direct connection 9
A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy by Gilles Dauve In a text written for a “Vår Makt” seminar - held in Malmö, Sweden on 1-2 November 2008 - Dauve surveys the various theories of democracy and their limits. It’s very difcult to orce into obedience whoever has no wish to command. J.-J. Rousseau No critique beyond this point
This is where we bump into a logical aw. Any critique o democracy arouses suspicion, and even more so i this critique is made by those who wish a world without capital and wage-labour, without
Sharing is a basic and elementary necessary human attitude, but no-one seriously
classes, without a State.
expects it to solve the social question. At best, it can alleviate it. No moralist or prophet has ever convinced the rich and the mighty to divide their wealth and
Public opinion dislikes but understands those who despise democracy rom
power airly between all human beings. We’re entitled to ask where this social
a reactionary or elitist point o view. Someone who denies the common man’s
(and not just political) “airness” is going to come rom ? Democracy can’t achieve
or woman’s ability to organize and run himsel or hersel, logically will oppose
it on its own. This so-called “real” democracy lacks reality.
democracy. But someone who frmly believes in this ability, and yet regards democracy as unft or human emancipation, is doomed to the dustbins o
Democracy is a contradiction: it pretends to give and guarantee something
theory. At the best, he is looked down upon as an idiot; at the worst, he gets
essential which inevitably evades it.
the reputation o a warped mind who’ll end up in the poor company o the archenemies o democracy: the ascists.
Still, while most people go on at length about the ailings o democracy, very ew are willing to discuss its nature, because it appears as the best ramework or
Indeed, i “the emancipation o the working classes must be conquered by the
human emancipation, and the only way to get it. Any resistance to exploitation,
working classes themselves”, it seems obvious that in order to emancipate
and any endeavour to create a world without exploitation, is aced with the hard
themselves, the exploited must not only do away with the power structures that
act o the exploiters’ control over the exploited. The endless struggle against
enslave them, but also create their own organs o debating and decision-making.
actory despotism, against boss rule on the shop oor and outside the actory,
Exercising one’s collective reedom, isn’t that what democracy is all about ? That
and also the struggle or rank and fle control over a strike, go beyond the mere
assumption has the merit o simplicity: to change the world and live the best
reusal to depend upon a boss, a local politician, or even a union or party leader.
possible human lie, what better way than to base this lie on institutions that will
That negative has a positive dimension. It’s the frst step to direct, non-competitive,
provide the largest number o people with the largest reedom on speech and
solidarity relations, which entail new ways o meeting, discussing and making
decision-taking ? Besides, whenever they fght, the dominated masses generally
decisions. No social movement, big or small, can evade the issue: Who rules ?
declare their will to establish the authentic democracy that’s been so ar lacking.
Otherwise, without procedures and structures dierent rom top-down ones, the “lower classes” will eternally be treated as inerior. Be they called a commune, a
For all these reasons, the critique o democracy is a lost or orgotten battle.
committee, a collective, a soviet, a council, or a simple general meeting, every participant in these bodies realizes his individual reedom as well as his collective
Set the controls for the heart of the matter
existence. Liberty and raternity are lived through acts.
Democracy claims to be the most difcult objective to achieve, and also the most
Now, do these orms create the movement or just express and structure it ?
vital, the ideal that all human beings desire : the theory and practice o collective reedom. Democracy is equated with organizing social lie by common decisions
It’s no use disclaiming our question on the grounds that these orms do both…
which take into account everybody’s needs and desires as much as can be. …because the nature o democracy is to treat the space-time o debate and But that ideal also claims that to be more than just an ideal, this process o
decision, not as what it is, a component o social lie (and thereore o all positive
common decision-making should happen in conditions o equality between us
change), but as the prime condition o social lie (and thereore o all positive
all. Mere political equality gives each citizen rights but not eective powers: real
change). That’s what we’ll be discussing
democracy implies socio-economic equality, with no more rich and poor, no more master and servant, no more boss and employee. So a air total reorganization
On the way, we’ll also have to show how this blinding light is even more attractively
and sharing o riches will enable each o us to get a air share in decision-making
deceptive because the word “democracy” itsel is conused and conusing.
on big issues as well as on minor ones. We’ll have a democracy that’s not just ormal, but real.
But frst, a lit tle historical meandering, to see what critique is not ours.
more ridiculous than looking or truth in numbers (..) the ballot box is only the way
The traditionalist or reactionary critique
to create a police orce.” And in the 20th century, Karl Kraus: “Democracy is the In spite o their dierences, the opponents o the French Revolution like Burke,
right or everyone to be the slave o all.”
late monarchists like Ch. Maurras, or the German thinkers o the Conservative Revolution in the 20th century, shared a common distaste or the Rights o Man,
Whatever element o truth this point o view may contain, the partisans o
because they all dismiss the notion o the universality o the human species. “In
democracy have their answer ready. They do not deny the pressure o democracy
my lie, I’ve seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc.; as or Man, I must coness
over the individual. They say the democratic system gives everyone a larger
I’ve never met him (..)” (J. de Maistre, 1796) They preer the supposedly real
scope or reedom than he would get i his individuality was locked within itsel, or
abstraction o the soil, the nation, the people, the Volk, the natives, etc., to the
i it had to go into an unpredictable congregation o individual atoms.
more obviously abstract abstraction o the modern voting citizen. To them, human beings can only be “brothers” and “sisters” i they belong to a certain group
Some individualists are more social than others. They suggest an association o
or origin. That group can even be (German) labour in E. Junger’s The Worker
reely consenting individuals. This is precisely one o the variant o the democratic
(1932), but it’s still limited. Communism, on the contrary, is the possibility o the
contract, perhaps one o the most progressive.
universal. Ignoring democracy
Our critique addresses the State, democratic or dictatorial. Reactionary critique addresses the democratic State. Fascism has a deep hatred o democracy
Beore 1848, large sectors o socialism did not expect anything rom democracy,
and, i it comes to power, it does away with political competition, but what he
because they stood outside politics. In spite o their quarrels, these schools
hates about the democratic system is parliamentary procedures, not the State
o thought agreed on the generalization o associations, as a remedy to the
institutions which ascists seduce, conquer, occupy and ortiy, thereby taking to
“dissociation” (P. Leroux) brought about by the triumph o industry and money.
their extreme potentials which exist in all parliamentary regimes.
All that was needed was to combine passions (Fourier), creative minds and productive abilities (Saint-Simon), or mutual bonds (Proudhon). Unlike the neo-
Communism opposes democracy because it is anti-State. Fascism only opposes
babouvists who’d inherited Babeu’s experience and advocated the seizure o
democracy, because it is pro-State. We take on democracy as a orm o the State,
political power by organized mass violence, all the above mentioned thinkers
whereas reactionaries take it on as a political orm they consider too eeble to
believed in the supremacy o morals: a new world would be born less out o
deend the State. Mussolini and Hitler destroyed parliamentarianism in order
necessity than by an ethical impetus. Some even hoped that socialism could
to create an almighty central executive and administrative power. Communists
be ounded (unded, actually) by generous enlightened bourgeois, on a small
have had to deal with parliamentarianism as one o the orms (and not a eeble
scale at frst, and then develop as the bulk o society would ollow its example,
one) o government and repression. Reaction denounces ree will and bourgeois
political power having little or nothing to do about it: thereore there was no need
individualism to replace them with (old or new) orms o oppressive authority.
They want less than individuals. The communist perspective aims to realize the individual’s aspirations to a reedom that is both personal and lived with others. It
This is neither a critique o politics nor o democracy.
wants more than the individual. The communist perspective is anti-political, not a-political. Nietzsche’s critique The Revolutionary Syndicalist critique : circumventing democracy
In the eyes o Nietzsche, a society o masters ruling over slaves has been succeeded by the society o the average man, the man o the masses, where
Though it may seem to have only a historical interest, this critique is still active
only slaves are to be ound. Zarathustra’s author stood or a new aristocracy, no
today, in a dierent way rom 1910 o course. The idea to absorb politics into
longer based on birth, nor on money, nor (as the Nazi interpretation would have
the economy, i.e. to have a directly social democracy, is suracing again in the
it) on power, even less on race, but on the ree /mind/spirit/ who’s not araid o
current utopia o a seizure o local power so generalized that it would take away
solitude. It’s because he would like every one o us to rise above himsel and
the substance o central political power (the State), and thus relieve us rom the
above the “herd” that Nietzsche is hostile to socialism (he sees any collectivism
necessity o destroying the State. In Changing the World Without Taking Power
as another type o gregariousness), and to anarchism (an “autonomous herd”, as
(2002), J. Holloway argues that radical transormation is now so embedded in our
he calls it in Beyond Good & Evil).
daily lives that we’re gradually transorming the abric o society, without the need or a potentially dictatorial break. Evolution instead o revolution, what else ? The
For what concerns us here, the aw in Nietzsche’s vision does not lie in his elitism,
“slow revolutions” notion, recently theorized by A. Bartra, partly inspired by the
which is undeniable (in that respect, the Third Reich did not distort his writings
situation in Mexico and taken up by some radicals, amounts to no revolution.
too much). More basically, a solution which is neither historical nor political, but mythical and poetic, can only have meaning and value as an artist’s morals.
In the mid-19th century, too, instead o addressing democracy, some hoped to
Nietzschean politics can’t be recuperated because it does not exist. He was not
go round it.
dealing with the social question. His ethics is only to be lived by the individual, at the risk o losing one’s mind, as happened to the philosopher himsel.
Proudhon believed that work gave the toiling masses a political capacity : let’s fnd a new way o producing goods, let’s make the bourgeois useless, the rest will ollow, and the workshop will replace government. Democracy was
The individualist critique
neither accepted nor ought against, but directly realized by work, without any The democratic system is oten blamed or crushing the individual under the
collective. The poet and dandy Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) wrote: “Nothing About fty years later, revolutionary syndicalism had a loathing or parliamentary 11
democracy. The vehicle or change was to come rom labour organized in
The Bolshevik critique : dictatorship versus democracy
industrial (as opposed to trade) unions, which would unite the whole class, skilled and unskilled. Proudhon had been the ideologue o cratsmen and small industry.
In 1920, against Kautsky’s Terrorism & Communism published a year beore,
Anarcho-syndicalism was adapted to the age o trusts and huge actories, but the
Trotsky wrote a book with the same title. Kautsky opposed democracy and mass
principle was similar: a usion between industry and government. Ater acting as
reedom to civil war and systematic use o violence. Trotsky distinguishes between
an egalitarian body fghting the bosses and police, the union would later manage
democracy as universal surage, and democracy as the mass o the people itsel
the economy during and ater the revolution. Some syndicalists, like De Leon in
: to understand what is meant by “people”, one has to go into a class analysis.
the US, wanted parallel political and industrial action, but to them politics was clearly outside and against parliament.
Beore parliamentarianism as we’ve known it since the end o the 19th century, Trotsky explains, there were examples o early conservative democracy: the
Revolutionary syndicalism has been reproached or its elitism. It’s true it
agrarian democracy o the armers in the New England town meeting, the Swiss
emphasized the role o active minorities that would /spur/push/ the less
sel-government o the urban l ower middle classes and the rich peasantry (praised
advanced into action. But most revolutionary syndicalists aimed at an active class
by Rousseau in The Social Contract, 1762). Then, as capital and labour became
conscious mass elite, utterly dierent rom what they saw as the passive mass o
“the polar classes o society”, bourgeois democracy developed as “the weapon
sheeplike social-democrat voters. Georges Sorel (1847-1922) thought that the
o deence” against class antagonisms. Trotsky reminds the reader what Western
labour union, unlike parliament and party lie, bred “a air and real organized
civilized democracy has led to : a world war.
equality”, as all members were wage-labourers and in solidarity with each other. The “new political principle o the proletariat” is the “government by vocational
As or Russia, Trotsky justifes terror and coercion methods on the grounds that
groups” sel-organized in the work place. “Resistance bodies will fnally enlarge
they’re the only methods available i the proletariat is to deend itsel against a
their scope and range so much that they will absorb nearly all politics” in a
ar more terrorist and bloodthirsty counter-revolution. “When the civil war is over
successul “struggle to suck bourgeois political organization dry o all lie”.
(..) (B)y means o a systematically applied labour service, and a centralized organization o distribution, the whole population o the country will be drawn into
On one essential point, Sorel had a point : “ Marx believed that the democratic
the general system o economic arrangement and sel-government.”
regime has the advantage that as workers are no longer attracted to fghting the monarchy or the aristocracy, the notion o class becomes easier to grasp.
Knowing that Trotsky was at the same time advocating orced militarization o
Experience teaches us the opposite; democracy is quite good at preventing the
labour, one can only read those lines as statesman talk justiying his own power
advance o socialism, by diverting workers’ minds toward trade-unionism under
over the common people. For what concerns us here, Trotsky only targets
government protection.” (1908)
democracy because o what it’s become under capitalism: an “imperialist democracy”. So, “(..) we repudiate democracy in the name o the concentrated
Sorel, however, only scored a negative point against Marx, because experience
power o the proletariat”. He is interested in the orms taken by democracy (and
was also teaching the opposite o what he was expecting: the union ailed as
claims Bolshevism will later achieve a superior orm), not in the democratic
well as the party, and union sel-organization was oten sucked dry o all lie by
bourgeois democracy. The anarchist critique : dispersing power
“You can’t destroy a society by using the organs which are there to preserve it (..) any class who wants to liberate itsel must create its own organ”, H. Lagardelle
Leninism is haunted by the seizure o power, anarchism by its obsessive ear.
wrote in 1908, without realizing that his critique could be applied as much to
As a reply to authority and dictatorship, anarchism stands or the collective
the unions (including a supposed revolutionary syndicalist French CGT on a ast
versus leadership, bottom v. up, horizontal v. vertical, commune v. government,
road to bureaucratization and class collaboration) as to the parties o the Second
decentralization v. centralization, sel-management v. top management, local
International. Revolutionary syndicalism discarded the voter and preerred the
community v. mass electorate: a plurality o true democracies instead o a alse
producer: it orgot that bourgeois society creates and lives o both. Communism
one, and ultimately the State will be destroyed by universalized democracy. Lots
will go beyond both.
o small scale production and living units will be dynamic enough to get together without any o them alienating its autonomy. Like the polis o Ancient times, the modern metropolis alls prey to oligarchic tendencies: myriads o ederated co-
ops, collectives and districts will be able to run themselves, and thus remain Understanding universal surage as the act by which that the workers swap their
democratic. I power is split between millions o elements, it becomes harmless.
potential violence or a voting paper, is part o the essentials o social critique. Attacking elections has been a constant theme or the anarchists, and was not
We won’t solve the problem o power by spreading little bits o it everywhere.
uncommon among socialists beore 1914. All let actions and parties in the Second International agreed that any parliament remains under the control o
Bordiga’s critique: the opposite of democracy
the ruling class, and election day is always a set back or radicalism. Ater 1917, this remained a undamental tenet o all varieties o communists. Even those who
Amedeo Bordiga is one o the very ew who took democracy seriously: he didn’t
advocated tactical use o elections regarded the soviets, and not the Parliament,
look at its methods, but at its principle. However, he likened so much proletarian
as the political basis and organ o a uture revolution.
democracy to bourgeois democracy that he ended up missing the principle itsel.
That being said, and it must be said, rejecting parliament does not sum up nor defne our perspective, no more than despisi ng the rich or hating money. Mussolini
His starting point is that democracy consists in individuals regarding themselves
also wanted to bring down old bourgeois institutions, and he succeeded, up to
as equals, each making his own opinion according to his ree will, then
comparing it with the opinion o others, beore taking a decision (usually ater a vote and according to majority rule: this is important, yet not essential to the 12
defnition). Parliament sties the proletarians by orcing them into a political
Like Trotsky, Bordiga theorizes the necessity to do violence to particular
partnership with the bourgeois. Nothing original in that last statement, but the
proletarians in the name o the uture interests o the proletarians in general: as
deduction that ollows is not so common : Bordiga thinks worker democracy is
late as 1960, he would still justiy the Bolshevik repression o the Kronstadt rising
also to be rejected, because it decomposes the proletarian fghting spirit into
in February-March, 1921. He never understood that at the time he was writing The
individual decisions. Democracy means a reunion o equal rights and wills, which
Democratic Principle, the Russian experience that he extensively used to back
is impossible in bourgeois parliamentarianism, and pointless in proletarian class
up his thesis was eliminating whatever revolution was let in Russia. Bordiga was
activity: revolution does not depend on a mass o individual decisions getting
attacking democratic ormalism on behal o a revolution that was already more
together, nor on majority or proportional procedures, but on the ability o the
ormal than real.
organized proletariat to act as a centralizing body and a collective mind. (Bordiga calls it “a party”, but his party is very dierent rom the Leninist one, since it is
Dictatorship is the opposite o democracy. The opposite o democracy is not a
not based on socialist intellectuals introducing socialism into the working class
critique o democracy.
rom outside. To make things more complicated, Bordiga never openly criticized Lenin’s conception o the party.)
Council communism : the quest for non-violence
“(..) the principle o democracy has no intrinsic value. It is not a “principle”, but
The “German” Communist Let agreed with the “Italian” Let on the rejection o
rather a simple mechanism o organization (..) revolution is not a problem o orms
bourgeois democracy. The disagreement ocused on worker democracy.
o organization. On the contrary, revolution is a problem o content, a problem o the movement and action o revolutionary orces in an unending process (..)” (The
What has come to be known as “council communism” was one o the earliest
Democratic Principle, January 1922)
critics o the ailure o Bolshevism, and remains one o the best. But as time passed, council communists have tended to be wary about anything that might
Indeed communist revolution is the creation o non-proft, non-mercantile,
be a constraint upon the working class. Their critique o bureaucracy as the
co-operative and raternal social relations, which implies smashing the State
main obstacle to revolution led them to democracy. Not bourgeois democracy,
apparatus and doing away with the division between frms, with money as the
needless to say, worker democracy, but in that respect both bourgeois and
universal mediator (and master), and with work as a separate activity. That is the
worker orms proclaim the same purpose: to prevent or limit encroachments on
What Bordiga ails to see, is that this content won’t come out o any kind o orm.
We won’t reply (as Bordiga would) that individual reedom is an illusion and is
Some orms are incompatible with the content. We can’t reason like the end was
irrelevant to communism. We only say that in any case such reedom can’t be
the only thing that mattered: the end is made out o means. Certain means get
guaranteed by the democratic principle.
us closer to the end we want, while others make it more and more remote and fnally destroy its possibility. The content o communism (which Bordiga was
What this quest or non-pressure boils down to is the desire to avoid the ill
right to emphasize) can only be born out o the sel-organized action o “the vast
eects o conicts. As it happens, the “protection” provided or by democracy
majority” o the proletariat (Communist Maniesto). The communist movement is
only works in the absence o any serious crisis among the persons concerned,
not democratic: neither is it dictatorial, i the dictator is one part o the proletariat
be they proletarians instead o bourgeois. As soon as debate is not enough to
oppressing the rest. Soon enough that part loses whatever proletarian character
result into a decision willingly accepted by the group as a whole, the group can’t
it had and turns into a privileged group telling people what to do. This is what
carry on as a mere conrontation o ree wills (unless it’s only a riendly debating
happened in Russia, as some like Otto Rühle understood as early as 1920-21.
society). Either the group thinks that maintaining the community matters more than the disagreement. Or it splits. Or it orces a decision unto the participants. In
Bordiga lacks a critique o politics. He perceives o revolution as a succession o
all cases, the democratic principle has been suspended.
phases: frst it would replace bourgeois power, then it would create new social relations. This is why he has no trouble believing that the Bolsheviks could have
The ultimate result o turning ree will into an absolute would be or a radical
ruled Russia or years and, even without being able o transorming the country
group to do nothing but circulate data and inormation : no theory, except the
in a communist way, still promote world revolution. Yet power is not something
theory o exchange, the theory o the necessity o autonomy. No theory, except
revolutionaries can hold on to with no revolution happening in their country or
the theory that no theory must be imposed onto the working class. Such a non-
anywhere else. Like many others, Bordiga equates power to an instrument. When
theory would o course be inaccessible to criticism, which would help the group
Jan Appel was staying in Moscow as a KAPD delegate in the Summer 1920, he
developing its own inormal bureaucracy.
was shown actories with well-oiled machines that could not be operated or lack o spare parts: when the revolution breaks out in Europe, the Russian workers
Bordiga’s theory o the party denies the problem. Councilism evades it by waiting
would tell him, you’ll send us spares and we’ll be able to operate these machines
or such an overwhelming proletarian majority that all conict will be resolved
again. Ater October 1917, the Bolsheviks must have thought o themselves as
without any verbal or physical violence. The “party or autonomy” alternative was
something similar: a machinery still partly idle but preparing or world revolution.
born out o our past ailures. A uture revolutionary movement will have to go
Unortunately, power (and even more so State power) is not a tool waiting to be
beyond that alternative.
properly handled. It’s a social structure that does not remain on stand-by or long. It has a unction: it connects, it makes people do things, it imposes, it organizes
The critique of “formal” democracy
what exists. I what exists is wage-labour and commodity exchange, even in the original and makeshit existence it had in Russia in 1920, power will manage
Traditional Marxist analysis has the merit /o stressing/to stress/ that democracy
that kind o labour and that kind o exchange. Lenin died a head o State. On the
gives possibilities that only become realities or those able to use them: in a class
contrary, a revolutionary structure is only defned by its acts, and i it does not act
society, the members o the ruling class will always be in a much better position
it soon withers.
to do so. Everyone is (nearly) ree to publish a paper, but the ads necessary to fnance a daily or a magazine won’t go to an anti-capitalist press. The ballot paper 13
o Henry Ford is counted as one vote like the ballot paper o one o his workers,
Let’s go back to the word itsel.
but Mr Ford will hold more sway on public aairs than any o his workers, or even o thousands o them.
Westminster is not on the Acropolis
Like some previous critiques, this one points to an essential eature o democracy,
I we put back in its place, i.e. in history, this reality commonly called democracy,
but its shortcoming is to treat democratic orms as i they lacked reality, whereas
we realize how poorly the word is adapted to what it has labelled or a couple o
they are real, with a reality o their own.
It’s oten said that the liberties allowed by a democratic regime are only cosmetic:
Modern times have given an utterly new usage to a notion born in Ancient Greece.
that is true, but only part o the truth. Everybody knows that reedom o speech
Nowadays, the man in the street, the academic or the political activist, everyone
avours the business lawyer more than his cleaning lady. In an unequal society,
uses the word democracy or 5th century B.C. Athens and 21st century Italy or
knowledge, culture, politics and access to the public scene are also unequal. Yet,
Sweden. The people who would never dare talk about a prehistoric “economy”
today as yesterday, by using and enlarging possibilities let to them, the workers,
or “work” among New Guinea tribesmen see no anachronism in applying the
the common people have been able to better their lot, and thus they’ve given
same term to a system where citizenship meant an ability (theoretical but also
some content to liberties that aren’t just empty shells. True, this betterment was
partly eective) to govern and be governed, and to a system where, or 99% o the
caused more by direct oten violent action than by democracy properly speaking:
citizens, citizenship comes down to the right to be represented.
nevertheless, legal unions, litigation bodies, as well as local authorities, members o parliament or even governments avourable to labour have helped channel
This gap was more readily admitted in the early days. James Madison, one o the
these demands, moderating them and pushing them orward at the same time.
ounding athers o the US Constitution, dierentiated between democracy, where
Democracy and reormism have led a couple’s lie or nearly 150 years now,
“the people meet and exercise their government in person”, and republic (a term
although they’ve oten been strange bedellows.
o Roman and not Greek origin), where “they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents”. With the passing o time and the rise o the modern
Explaining that a worker’s ballot paper only ormally weigh the same as his boss’s,
bureaucratic State (which Madison opposed), democracy has become a mere
only proves that so-called political equality does not make or social inequality. Yet
synonym or power vested in the people.
reormists have never said the opposite. They say: “Since Mr Ford’s ballot paper weighs a million times more than one o his workers’, let’s get together the votes
Common wisdom bemoans the limits o a Greek democracy closed to women,
o millions o workers and we’ll be stronger than the Ford amily. We’ll turn into
slaves and oreigners, and rejoices over the openness o modern democracy to
reality the appearance o power that the bourgeois have granted us.” Against the
larger and larger sections o the population. The ideal o radical democrats is
might o capital, labour has the strength o numbers: speaking in public, having
a demos that would welcome all human beings living on a given territory. They
papers independent rom the bosses’ press, organizing in the workplace, meeting
orget that the Ancient Athenian ortunate enough to enjoy citizenship was not
and demonstrating in the street, are ater all easier i n democracy, as the exploited
a citizen because he was a human being, but because he happened to be a
and oppressed have experienced. In general, the mass o the population has
co-owner o the polis : he was a landowner, small or big. The democratic system
more ways to improve its conditions o work and lie with Adenauer than Hitler,
emerged as a way to manage as smoothly as possible the contradictions within
with De Gaulle than Pétain, with Allende than Pinochet, with Felipe Gonzales than
a community o male amily heads, inexorably divided by a growing unequal
distribution o ortune.
I parliament was only a sham, and reedom o speech only a deception, there
It’s only because it was limited to a group that shared something vital (a superior
wouldn’t be any more parliaments, parties or political campaigns, and they
social position, albeit undermined by money di erences) that Greek democracy
wouldn’t still rally voters, and even stir passions. (Unless we think this is due to
could aord to be participatory (which did not save it rom periodic crises). In
continuous craty bourgeois conditioning: but surely over a century o democratic
Europe or the US today, nothing can be compared to the demos o Pericles’ time.
regime should have acted as an eye opener...) Democracy is not a show,- not just
When it’s applied to societies ruled by the capital-labour relationship, the word
“democracy” tells us more about what these societies think o themselves than about their reality.
So Churchill was right ?... A question of words ?
This brie survey seems to leave us with only one option, summed up by W. Churchill in the House o Commons on November 11, 1947: “Democracy is the
I we wish to stick to the word communism and object to democracy, it’s not or
worst orm o government – except or all other orms, that have been tried rom
tradition’s sake, but or historical motives. In spite o i ts imperections, communism
time to time.”
expresses the endeavour o the exploited and o the human species to liberate itsel. The word and the notion were meaningul (that is, debatable and debated)
It’s signifcant that the best known defnition o democracy should be based on
in 1850 or 1900. The revolution that ailed in Russia, and Stalinism later, loaded
a paradox, even a play on words. In act, everybody makes un o Churchill’s
the term with a totally dierent meaning. As the S.I. once explained, captive
phrase, and yet everybody accepts it, with one reservation: everybody thinks he
words become like prisoners put to hard labour: they too are orced to work or
has the solution to really get the best out o this lesser evil.
the beneft o those who’ve captured them. Communism is not bureaucratic by nature.
(It’s also signifcant that the amous British statesman should have added cynicism to pragmatism in another phrase: “The best argument against democracy is a fve-
On the contrary, democracy has been a distorted word ever since its return in
minute conversation with the average voter.” This second sentence is less oten
the mouth o bourgeois revolutionaries rom the 18th century onwards, and o
quoted: the scorn it displays or the actors – extras would be more appropriate
most (but not all) socialists in the 19th and 20th centuries. The distortion does
– o democracy might discredit the frst defnition.)
not consist in an outright lie like the Maoist descriptions o lie in China, but in 14
a mental displacement o reality: as it identifes modern parliaments to Ancient
Politics as the foundation of democracy
agoras, and the 21st century citizen to a 5th century B.C. Athenian citizen, and as it suggests the modern one has a lot more power, it compresses history and
I politics means taking into account society as a whole (including the reality o
power), and not just as an addition o local or technical issues, then any social change is political, any social critique is political, and revolution has to do with
Exploitation and / or domination ?
Do inequality, poverty and misery exist because a ew privileged ones make
Politics, however, is something else than this concern or the global, the general,
decisions or us all ? Or have these happy ew got a near monopoly over decisions
the total, because it turns this totality into a new specialization, into an activity
because they already are rich and thereore powerul ? The question is sterile.
removed rom direct social interests. That special dimension cannot ignore socioeconomic hierarchies and oppositions. But it deals with them by shiting them
Mountains o books and articles have been and are still written to reute the
on a level where the roots o these conicts will never be changed, only their
alleged Marxist claim that “the economy” explains next to everything. Who ever
made such a claim ? Ancient Greece’s real contribution to history was not the principle o democracy “According to the materialist conception o history, the ultimately determining
as a set o rules and institutions by which citizens make collective decisions. The
actor is the production and reproduction o real lie. Other than this neither Marx
innovation went deeper. It invented what democracy is based upon: a special
nor I have ever asserted.” (Engels, letter to J. Bloch, September 21, 1890)
time-space reserved or conrontation, and distinct rom the rest o social lie. In that specifc sphere, a person is taken away rom his private interests, rom
The “economy” surely does not explain power. Proft-maki ng strictly speak ing does
ortune and status dierences, rom his social superiority or ineriority, and placed
not account or (local or world) wars. A similar socio-economic “inrastructure”
on an equal ooting with all the other citizens. Equality o rights alongside social
can coexist with very dierent and opposed political orms. Capitalist Germany
inequality: that is the defnition o politics. Society is ully aware o its inability
was successively run by a monarchist caste, by bourgeois, by the leaders o a
to suppress group or class antagonism, so it transers the antagonism onto a
nationalist-racist one-party State, then ater 1945 by bourgeois in the West and by
parallel level that’s supposed to be neutral, where conicts are acknowledged
bureaucrats in the East, then again by bourgeois when the country was reunifed.
and sotened in the best possible interest o the continuation o the system as a
History provides us with many examples o non-coincidence between economic
whole. It’s this separation that Marx’s early writings were dealing with. Direct or
might and political authority, and o a modern State occasionally ruling against the
worker people’s democracy maintains the separation while it claims to go beyond
bourgeois, orcing the general interest o the system upon reluctant industrialists
it by involving everyone in the democratic process, as i popular empowerment
or businessmen. Faced with a large strike in the Ruhr, Bismark himsel compelled
could solve the problem o power. Unortunately, getting everybody inside a
the bosses to grant a wage rise. Although usually in Europe money brings about
separate sphere does not suppress separation.
power, in Arica and in the East, power is oten the quick way to ortune, with amily or clan misappropriating public unds or siphoning o oreign trade. Also,
Any human group thinks o and reacts to the whole o its situation. But class
it’s not uncommon or political rulers to dispossess the rich, as we’ve seen in
societies, in a thousand ways and through trial and error, have divorced debating,
Russia over the last ten or twenty years.
managing and decision-making rom the rest. Logically, these societies regard this dissociation as the “natural” and universally desirable best possible way o
Yet, in the vast majority o cases, political leaders and masters o the land, o
solving human conicts.
trade and o manuacturing go hand in hand or come down to the same thing. Commanding men usually goes together with putting them to work. The two
Class divisions, in certain conditions, have created politics: doing away with class
orms o control can clash with one another, but not or long: one consolidates
divisions will entail going beyond politics.
the other. Power does not create itsel. Political rule and possession o the means o production rarely coincide, but in modern society there’s neither exploitation
Democracy is not to be denounced and smashed, but superseded. Like other
without domination, nor domination without exploitation: the same groups have
essential critiques, the critique o democracy will only become eective by the
direct or indirect control over wealth and power.
communizing o society.
The exploiter needs to be able to put pressure on the person he exploits: he
As long as people content themselves with a “air” redistribution o wealth, they
only exploits what he has supremacy over. Domination is a precondition and a
inevitably also go or a “air” redistribution o power. Only an altogether dierent
necessary orm o exploitation. Let’s not try and decide which one logically or
world will no longer be obsessed with power, with taking it, sharing it, or scattering
chronologically comes frst. Exploitation is never just “economic” (I have someone
it. We’ll solve the political question when we stop treating it as the prime issue.
work or me, in my place and or my beneft), but also “political” (instead o someone making decisions about his lie, I take the decisions mysel, or instance
Manufacturing consent… and dissent
I decide when to hire and fre him). Society is not divided, as Castoriadis thought in the 1960s, between order-givers and order-takers. Or rather, this division exists,
When writers like N. Chomsky expose the conditioning o public opinion by the
but these “orders” have to do with what structures today’s world: the capital-wage
State, media and lobbies, they ail to ask themselves what is being conditioned.
labour relation (which does not mean it determines everything). There is no need to oppose exploitation to domination. Human societies in general, and capitalism
Opinion is thought o as a collective motley and fckle spirit that sometimes
in particular, can only be understood by the link between exploitation and
determines events and sometimes is tossed about by them, as i these events
domination. Firms are not just proft makers: they are also power structures, but
were within its reach one day, and out o reach the next. For instance, German
they remain in business as long as they create and accumulate value, otherwise
opinion is reported to have been indierent or hostile to Hitler in 1923, then to
they go bankrupt.
have listened to him ater 1929, beore moving away rom him or good ater the all o the Third Reich. It’s like these successive points o view had been taken 15
regardless o what German individuals, groups, classes, unions, parties, etc.,
making o ideas. But both think the only way to ree thought is to be correctly
were doing each time.
educated or even better, sel-taught, this sel being here again preerably collective.
Another example is the day there was a reversal o French opinion in 1968: the huge rightwing demonstration on the Champs Elysées, May 30, is described as
Because o the rise and all o totalitarianism in the 20th century, the word and
the death knell or the rebellion in the streets and in the actories. Yet this shows
the reality o propaganda are now commonly looked down upon. In 1939, S.
what public opinion really is. In April, most uture rebels had no idea they would
Chakotin published The Rape o the Masses (translated into English in 1940; new
be soon marching in the street or stopping work. A ew days later, pushed on
edition by Haskell House, 1982): a disciple o Pavlov, he argued that totalitarian
by the early street fghting and the initiative o a minority o workers, millions o
(especially Nazi) methods o mind control were based on the use o emotional
people discovered what they wanted to do and could do. A couple o weeks later,
urges to create conditioned reexes. Chakotin was theorizing his own practice:
the ebb o the strike wave (and or many, the satisaction o seeing their demands
he’d been in charge o anti-ascist propaganda or the German SPD in the early
at least partly met) wore out the revolt and enabled conservative orces to get a
1930s. He said he appealed to reason, not to the senses as the Nazis did, but
grip on themselves. Thus, rom beginning to end, the shock o the largest general
that did not prevent him rom devising crowd conditioning techniques or mass
strike in history determined the ow o events, and successively made people
meetings. Chakotin’s ailure to beat the Nazis at their own game is a sign that
aware o possible changes, enabled law and order supporters to resurace, and
Hitler’s success was only marginally caused by crowd manipulation techniques.
created despair among the rebels but also numerous rebounds over the next ten
Germany turned to Hitler when the Weimar republic proved incapable o oering
any other (radical, reormist or conservative) solution to its crisis.
Men’s “social being determines their consciousness”. Admittedly, it works both
Ed. Bernays, perhaps the frst proessional advertiser on public relations, had
ways, but certainly a lot more this way than the other. Ater 1945, in France as
already described in Propaganda (1928) how an “invisible government” ruled
elsewhere, the workers at the Billancourt Renault plant near Paris had been
democratic society. He claimed to be able to act on the collective subconscious
ed with Stalinist slander depicting (real or /invented/imagined/) Trotskysts as
with a combination o Freudism and crowd psychology, and invented advertising
ascists and agents provocateurs in the pay o the boss and the police. The CP-
techniques that he sold to big business as well as politicians. In 1954, he was
led union, the CGT, had unrelentingly and usually successully prevented work
instrumental in destabilizing the (democratic) government o Guatemala that the
stoppages: “The strike is the weapon o big business…” In the Spring 1947, the
US fnally toppled. In those days, it was still a novelty to “sell” a candidate to
Billancourt workers went on a two-week strike, partly managed by the rank and
the White House like a sot drink, and by similar methods. Unpalatable Bernays
fle, and elected a well known Trotskyst, Pierre Bois, on the strike committee.
was ahead o his time, and heralded ours, when no party dares engage into
Yet they’d been “conditioned” by years o propaganda, and the tiny revolutionary
propaganda: it communicates. Commercials don’t sell goods, they sell liestyles.
minority could only answer back by poorly distributed leaets, with the risk o
Parties don’t promote programs, they promote meaning and imagery.
being beaten up or sacked, as the CGT held sway over the running o the plant. I in such negative circumstances, a substantial number o workers dared lay down
Unlike the simplistic agit-prop o yesteryear, today’s most advanced political
tools and designate a Trotskyst to represent them, it’s not because they would
advertising does not pretend to change our views : it presents itsel as a helping
have had access at last to Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed or other critical analyses
hand that will allow us to make up our own opinions. Advertising now calls itsel
o the bureaucracy. More simply, the pressure o their conditions o work and
inormation, needless to say interactive inormation. Everything is supposed
lie, and their own resistance to exploitation led them to disobey union orders, to
to be “bottom up”. Modern management has become the ideal model o all
fght alongside persons like P. Bois, and treat as comrades those they distrusted
relations. The “progressive” boss gives the sta a large margin o sel-organizing
beore. In some ways, there was more militancy on the premises in 1947 than in
in their work… as long as they reach the objective set by the company. The
1968: in 47, a ew strikers debated about manuacturing frearms, and the union
teacher aims at bringing out his student’s autonomy. The psychologist (counsel,
van was turned over by rebellious workers.
sorry...) repeats to his patient : Be Yoursel !The contradiction remains the same in every feld o activity and ends up in more control over sta (particularly
By the same logic, when the strike was over, with the CP being expelled rom
thanks to computerization), more bureaucratic guidelines in schools, and more
government and the beginning o the Cold War, the CGT took on a tougher anti-
bourgeois line. One reason (or pretext) or the government getting rid o its CP ministers was the Stalinists’ getting on the bandwagon and siding with the strikers.
How could it be otherwise ? The critique o “education frst” (or sel-education
The worker bureaucracy got back its inuence over the mass o the workorce.
frst) was expressed as early as 1845:
Not entirely, though: the Trotskysts tried to take advantage o the strike to launch a small union (called Syndicat Démocratique Renault), which struggled along or
“The materialist doctrine concerning the changing o circumstances and
a couple o years beore dying away. I very ew workers had confdence in it, it’s
upbringing orgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is
not because Stalinist slander would have retrieved the efciency it had lost in the
essential to educate the educator himsel. This doctrine must, thereore, divide
Spring 1947. The reason is more down to earth: the CGT was better in tune with
society between two parts, one o which is superior to society.” (Marx, Theses on
the needs o the proletarians, pressed some o their demands and structured
their struggles. The CGT deended and represented them better than a union which was a small minority in Renault and had hardly any support in the rest o
Nobody believes much o what commercial or political advertising says, yet it
works. No driver watching a Peugeot TV commercial regards the new SW 407 as the best estate car ever made, and no voter expects the presidential candidate to keep all his promises, but people buy cars, take part in elections, and that’s
From propagandist to educationist
what matters. The content o the message is ar less important than popular Opinion is a set o (individual or group) ideas about the world. Representative
participation in and acceptance o the whole system.
democracy wishes each o us to orm his ideas on his own, and only aterwards to compare them to other persons’ ideas. Direct democracy preers a collective
“The more inormation and discussion there is, the better…” 16
ow and never crystallize, so no-one could monopolize it. The 1999 Kosovo war Democrats, moderate or radical, all think that the inadequacies o democracy
was the frst with mass Internaut involvement. Everyone o us becomes a sel-
come rom the act that there is never enough o it: not enough good schooling,
appointed reporter : Don’t hate the media: Be the media !
no enough quality papers, no enough serious talks on TV… and our inormation resources are never wide and varied enough.
To impose us what to think, democracy tells us what we have to think about. When Habermas extolled the virtues o the “public sphere” in 1962, he also bemoaned
Democracy is indeed based on (individual and/or collective) ree will, but
its undermining by commercial mass media. He could be more optimistic today,
this reedom must be properly uelled by the largest possible inormation and
when universal debate seems to revive the “openness” he avours : a citizen is
now a person with access to the press, to the media and to the Internet. Yet this new citizenship amounts to the liberty to voice our views on world aairs, i.e. on
This vision is to be expected rom party proessional organizers, teachers,
what is currently being said on world aairs by the press, the media and on the
media people, publishers and all those who make a living (and a sense) out
Internet. The public sphere passes o as a reality that can put a check on State
o communication. But it is surprising that so many revolutionaries also should
power, but when did it really determine the course o events, or was able to stop
regard getting and exchanging ideas as the prime mover o history.
the descent into catastrophes like 1914, Hitler, the second world war, or colonial and post-colonial massacres ? Giving one’s opinion is as relevant as opinions are
In Orwell’s 1984, Winston is watched by a telescreen orcibly installed in his living-
decisive, and they’re not decisive, not much. The liberal conservative Tocqueville
room and which he is orbidden to switch o. In the early 21st century, television
was more to the point :
is no longer the main popular screen it was in 1960 or 1990. On the Internet, at home or on portable cell phones, people have direct access to orums where
“(..) it is an axiom o political science in the United States that the only way
thousands o talks take place between a government minister, an ecologist, a
to neutralize the impact o newspapers is to multiply them” (Democracy in
businesswoman, a gay activist, an unemployed, an antiglobalizer, or sometimes
an anarchist. At the click o a mouse, I can get loads o data and diering views on what’s going on today in Peking or La Paz. A ew more clicks, and
Most o all, democracy triumphs by telling us where to think. The 1900 paper
I challenge these data and views in the company o an Internaut rom Sydney
reader could choose to buy a socialist or a rightwing daily, but he had hardly
or Montreal, and have my own views on these events circulated worldwide in a
any inuence on the structure and evolution o the press. The organization o the
matter o minutes. This instant and universal availability also applies to the past.
Internet is equally beyond the reach o a website browser or writer : or a start, he
Unless I have a special ondness or the canals in Amsterdam, I no longer visit the
was never asked about the birth o the web itsel. Saying the Internet was created
International Institute o Social History to know about the Ruhr Red Army in 1920.
by (and would not exist without) millions o Internauts, is as true as saying that
Not everything is available on-line, but there’s more on the Internet now than on
millions o drivers are responsible or the development o the car industry. Making
any single public library… or o course newspaper kiosk. Most o all, it’s not just
a principle o maximum inormation and discussion, is inevitably prioritizing the
there to be read, but exchanged and debated.
ramework where inormation circulates and discussion takes place. O course, everyone wishes the channels o communication to be as much “bottom up” as
Since everything is made measurable these days, it’s likely someone will invent a
possible, but how could they be i the whole lie o the communicators is “top
system that monitors and quantifes all verbal exchange (including conversations
down” organized ? Society is not the addition o millions o publicly shared
on the web, on phones, etc.) taking place at one particular moment on this planet.
experiences or views.
Even taking into account the growth in population, the fgure is likely to be higher than in 1970.
“The idea o the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas”: this is as much true as in 1845. The dierence is that billions o ideas are now being circulated
Modern man is a paradox. He keeps repeating he is increasingly being
and (nearly) universally available. But who has the power ? The political system
dispossessed (and he puts the blame on entities he calls the economy, fnance
is still tuned to general and presidential elections, and the rest is an accessory to
or globalization) and yet, when his workday is over, he eels he is repossessing
the rhyme. In 1900 or 1950, politics was talked about but not made in village hall
his existence by reading about dispossession in the paper, or (better and more
debates. Neither is it made today on the Internet. Spectacle-induced passivity (as
interactive) by chatting about it i n cyberspace.
analysed by the S.I.) has taken the orm o a constant show o activity.
The less power we have over our lives, the more we talk a bout it. The contemporar y
How about taking direct democracy at its word ?
citizen is dissatisfed with heavy and remote traditional democratic mechanisms. At the same time, he is given a continuous instant democracy made o opinion
According to its supporters, here is what direct democracy is ai ming at :
polls, webtalk, participatory radio and TV, and tele-reality shows. He’s not just asked his political preerences every our or fve years: every day is now election
 The respect o a majority.
day. Mixing Latin and Greek, we could say we now live in a home centred domocracy which gives us the liberty to change things rom our own home : I
 The expression o minorities, which are granted a large latitude o action.
help solve environmental world problems by buying energy saving light bulbs or my living-room.
 The possibility o ree speech, in order to avoid pressure and violence: “Let’s talk frst.”
People used to make un o Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park as a symbol o socially harmless ree speech. Today’s generalized sel-managed speech is universally
 The primacy o a collective will, not the will o an i ndividual or o a handul o
and immediately circulated. In the workplace, in the classroom, in a couple, in
a amily, between proessions, between perormers and spectators, between cultures, religions, media, among neighbours, everywhere, everything ought to
 The respect o decisions taken in common.
be discussed and all inormation to be shared, so that power should constantly 17
Let’s take them one by one. Unlike God’s Word that was turned into esh, human words express ideas,  Majority rule. A lot o social movements have been launched by a minority,
partake o events, strengthen (or sometimes weaken) our behaviour, but they do
oten a very small one. In the 1930s, at the time o large strikes by unskilled labour
in the US, t wo sit-downs involving about 10.000 people were started in Akron by hal a dozen workers. In 1936, at Goodyear, while the union was negotiating with
A strike or a riot is orced to take action and to choose between options. But it
the boss about wages, 98 unskilled workers laid down tools, ollowed by 7.000
does not relate to them like a philosopher or scientist testing a set o hypotheses
others, which orced the management to yield ater 36 hours. One might object
and then, by mere reasoning and with no outside intererence, opting or the
that in all such cases, a minority only i nitiates actions soon taken up by a majority.
best. In a social movement, speech helps sort out what has been maturing in the
True, but this very act shows how little relevant the majority criterion is.
participants’ mind, in relation to their past and present.
The participants in a picket line put their interests (and the interest o labour as
Social critique usually rejects the secret ballot paper in avour o open public
whole) above the interests o the non-strikers: they do not respect the right to work
voting that does not cut up the continuity o the voters’ action. The election
o those who want to work. Democrats might argue that the strike is supported by
moment separates each voter rom the others and rom the rest o his lie (the
a great majority o the workorce : that would be orgetting that democracy is also
polling booth is called an isolator in French). One o Thatcher’s main anti-strike
the protector o minorities. By the way, what is a majority ? 51% ? 60% ? 95% ? We
measures was to make it illegal to go on strike without a secret ballot procedure.
are aced with the inadequacy o the sel principle. “Let the workers themselves
Nevertheless, history provides us with a many examples o people – and workers
decide…” Who’ll decide when a minority ceases to be a minority and starts
– being manipulated by a public show o hands, a game in which Stalinists had
becoming a majority, and when a majority gets big enough to be considered as
the common will ? The point we are making is that historical evolution is not the result o a majority  Minority rights. Any deep movement, whether or simple demands or more,
rule based on a conrontation o opinions and on the maximum availability and
will pull along in its wake a number o yet undecided persons and ask them to
sharing o inormation. This is NOT saying that inormation and discussion are
do what they did not previously eel like doing. When piqueteros go round the
pointless. No act is sufcient in itsel, nor is its meaning so obvious that it would
neighbourhood and ask or 50 people to come and reinorce their road block, the
require no expression at all. In the General Motors, 1936, example mentioned
picket members are not acting as a boss summoning his personnel, or an army
above, verbal exchange did occur, but beore the decision to strike, and it
ofcer calling his soldiers to order : they expect other proletarians to ulfl their
contributed to the decision. In such a case, respecting democracy would have
obligation to the piqueteros as well as to themselves.
meant orcing a discussion upon the workorce: this may have revealed the determination o the workers, or it may have deected it. Debate is never good
There are dierences between the bulk o the rank and fle and its most active
or bad in itsel.
elements: or these elements to turn into a new ruling elite in the plant and possibly in society, it takes more than them initiating unrest on the shop oor.
 Common will. Democracy always presents itsel as a protection, as the means
Bureaucratization is nearly always the result o reormism, not the other way
to secure non-violence among its participants, because democrats treat each
round, and it can rise out o activist minorities as well as o consenting majorities.
other as equals.
The existence o a majority and a minority is not a valid enough indicator helping us to assess a sit uation and to deal with it. The majority/minority duality unctions
Acting on behal o others does not necessarily turn anyone into a leader. Most
in combination as well as in opposition. Nobody ever thinks about this in a
bureaucrats do not build up their authority by positioning themselves above the
vacuum. I you agree with a decision, you “naturally” tend to believe it comes out
mass, rather by sheltering behind the mass. A bureaucrat pretends to have no
o a sufcient number o people. Those who disagree are inclined to believe the
personal ambition and to serve the interests o the rank and fle. While we’re
opposite: to them, this majority is not enough o a majority, they’d like another, a
certainly not looking or charismatic fgures, there’s no need to be araid o
more numerous one…
individual initiatives either.
 Free speech. It’s pointless to wonder i speech takes place beore, ater or
Insisting on community as a principle leaves us stuck with the majority versus
during the act o rebellion. In 1936, in the General Motors plant at Toledo, all the
minority intractable dilemma already discussed. Among those who share a
work orce gathered or a general meeting but, as a participant said, “it was like
common perspective, someone oten becomes aware o an opportunity beore
everyone had made up his mind beore a single word was uttered”, and a sit-down
the others: trying to convince the others that this opportunity must be seized won’t
strike started. Those workers were not brainless robots. Exchanging words then
be a purely intellectual exercise. Arguments are going to be thrown about and it’s
was unnecessary because it had taken place beore, in hundreds o inormal
likely there will be a conict o wills at some point. Ideas won’t meet on neutral
discussions and small meetings. The action that was born out o them spoke or
ground until one is recognized as the best because o i ts inner logical superiority.
Truth belongs to no-one. It rushes and shoves. “Truth is as immodest as light (..) It possesses me” (Marx, 1843). Consistency-reaching is not a peaceul process.
I we equate democracy with exchange, these encounters can be called
An essential idea shatters my certainties and does not come to me without some
democratic, but it was not the democratic principle that made it possible.
violence. I democracy means choosing between options with the only guidance o individual ree will and not outside intererence, then truth is not democratic.
On the other hand, in many conicts, urging the participants to get together and speak can result in the movement becoming more aware o itsel and stronger,
Making it a principle o having any action decided upon by the whole group, and
or losing its momentum when it was just start ing to gather speed. An expression
then any change o action also debated and re-decided upon by a new group
which ceases to be action and experience dissolves into ree-wheeling talk. In the
meeting (or some general consultation), means no action. Those groups who
same way, looking or “more inormation” can be an excellent way o orgetting
say they operate on such a total sel-management basis only sel-manage their
the essential inormation: the common determination to fght on.
own speech. 18
create the organization best ftted to them. Democracy is the exact opposite: it  Everybody’s all or respecting common decisions… unless or until the decision
sets procedures and institutions as a prerequisite and a condition o the rest. It
is deemed wrong.
says society is based on its political organization (top down or bottom up). And then, when experience proves democratic standards don’t work, democracy says
In France, 1968, the Peugeot plant at Sochaux (at the time, one o the biggest
we can do without them… or even that we must do without them. Democracy
concentrations o skilled workers in that country) went on a sit-down strike on
is there to solve conicts, yet when they’re too serious, it can’t solve them any
May 20. When a great majority o the labour orce voted to return to work on
more. What’s the use o a principle that can only be applied when social lie runs
June 10, a minority re-occupied the premises, and was violently expelled by the
smoothly and we don’t need the principle ? Democracy unctions as ar as society
police in the early hours o the 11th. At that moment, thousands on non-strikers
can remain democratic.
were arriving by bus or the morning shit: instead o resuming work as they had intended to, they immediately joined the ex-occupiers and ought the police with
This letter versus spirit is a contradiction or democracy, but democratic rulers -
them or the whole day. Two workers got killed. Rumours later said that some
let or right – can manage it. They know perectly well that democracy has to be
rioters had used guns, and that cops had been killed but the police would not
and will be suspended in times o crisis. Suspended partly, when Britain ought
admit it. True or (probably) alse, these rumours show how tough the fghting was.
the IRA. Or totally, when the Algerian army cancelled the 1991 elections ater the
The local working class lived the event as an outright conrontation with bosses
frst round had been won by the Islamists, and took over power, with ull support
and State. The return to work only took place on June 20, and labour got a better
rom Western countries. The bourgeois have no qualms provisionally turning into
deal than had been granted nationally.
dictators… in the long-term interest o democracy: “no democracy or the antidemocrats”. Being a lesser evil, democracy sometimes ceases to be democratic
In other words, ater voting to go back, a large proportion o the labour orce not
to avoid a worse evil.
only decided not to go back, but rallied what had been until then a minority o isolated extremists. The frst occupation had involved between 100 and 1.000
For radicals who believe in direct democracy, however, this contradiction is a trap:
persons, out o a workorce o over 35.000, with 3.000 union members. True,
they won’t get a ull and permanent reality out o a system that can’t provide it.
the general meetings could be called non-democratic: they took place under the combined pressure o the CGT and the media. But the very act o contradicting
Prioritizing direct democracy does not produce direct democracy. Whatever
one’s vote, and what’s more, without having had a proper meeting, shows that,
positive content democracy (i we wish to keep the word) may have, can’t be the
unlike what the democratic principle maintains, the debating and voting space-
result o democracy.
time is not decisive. Contradiction in communist theory…
What happened was not simply a reex o instinctive worker solidarity. At the Billancourt Renault plant, in 1972, the murder o a Maoist worker by a security
Even a cursory reading o Marx is enough to realize he was at the same time
guard hardly caused any reaction among his work mates, who were indierent
a staunch supporter and an enemy o democracy. As his texts can be ound in
to what they saw as useless letist troublemaking. In 1968, the Peugeot workers
paperback or on the Internet, a ew very short quotes will sufce here.
elt they had something in common with a radical minority that was not alien to them. Besides, a ew years beore, wildcat strikes had broken out at Sochaux,
Marx argues that democracy is the culmination o politics, and that a political
oten initiated by young workers. Also, during the frst 1968 occupation, a
emancipation is partial, selfsh, bourgeois emancipation, the emancipation o the
hundred radicals had set up a short lived “orum” that served as a medium or
bourgeois. I, as he writes, “the democratic State [is] the real State”, assuming
open discussions on a variety o controversial issues. The June 11 eruption did
we want a world without a State, we’ve got to invent a lie with neither State nor
not come out o the blue : it had been prepared by past inormal debates and
democracy. However, when Marx presents democracy as “the resolved mystery o
unofcial meetings, which (better than democratic procedures) paved the way or
all constitutions”, whereby “The constitution appears as what it is, the ree product
an apparently spontaneous outburst. “Faceless resistance” is not just canteen or
o men” (Critique o Hegel’s philosophy o Right, 1843), he is opposing real
coee machine conversations: it serves as a springboard or open conict.
democracy to the existence o the State, and thereore supporting democracy.
Assessing these fve criterions shows frst that a lot o positive events have
Besides, Marx was only indirectly addressing democracy through a critique o
happened without or against them, secondly that they have oten ailed to prevent
bureaucracy, and targeting politics through the critique o the State, particularly
what they were supposed to prevent. None o the standards o direct democracy
through its theorization by Hegel: “All orms o State have democracy or their
truth, and or that reason are alse to the extent that they are not democratic.” (Id.)
Actually, a deender o direct democracy won’t ask or them to be ully implemented. He might even agree with most o the points we’ve been making, but he’ll say
One last quote, interesting because it’s written decades ater the early works,
democratic standards are not to be taken as absolutes: it’s the guideline behind
and by someone who was coming close to admitting the possibility o a peaceul
them that matters, the motive, the impetus: “But i ye be led by the Spirit, ye are
transition to socialism: “One must never orget that the logical orm o bourgeois
not under the law.” (Saint Paul, Galatians, 5 : 18)
domination is precisely the democratic republic (..) The democratic republic always remains the last orm o bourgeois domination, the orm in which it will
That’s the whole point : this tricky interplay between the letter and the spirit,
die.” (Engels, letter to Bernstein, March 14, 1884)
the law and the Spirit. There was no contradiction or Saint Paul. There is one or democracy, because it is indeed the quest or ormal criterions: it pretends
Intuitions leave much room or interpretation, and the context oten blurs the
to give us rules o conduct that provide the best possible reedom. So this
message. To understand these conicting views, we must bear in mind that, in
sudden non-ormality goes against how democracy defnes itsel. Democracy is
the mid-19th century, a groundswell o social movements, rom Ireland to Silesia,
not the ad hoc running o social lie. It’s communism that relies on the ability
was pressing or radical democratic demands and social demands, both at the
o raternal (non competitive, non proft-seeking, etc.) social relationships to
same time, combined and opposed, and this conrontation resulted in a critique 19
o politics as a separate sphere. Let’s not idealize our past. The same thinkers and
groups oten mixed these demands and that critique. The purpose o The German Ideology was to prove that history cannot be explained by the conicts o ideas
For what’s it worth, democratic reunion is enough or the bourgeoisie. The
or political platorms, but by the social relations by which human beings organize
proletariat needs something else. Proletarian sel-organization which ails to
their lives and, above all, by the material conditions o their lives. Those pages are
develop into a sel-critique o wage-labour reinorces labour as the partner o the
to be read in connection with The Jewish Question, Critique o Hegel’s Philosophy
capital-labour couple: the orced coupling goes on and so does the management
o Right, Contribution to the critique o Hegel’s Philosophy o Law, The King o
o the couple, hence the peaceul coexistence o opposites called democracy.
Prussia & Social Reorm, the Theses on Feuerbach and other similar texts which address the democratic bourgeois revolution, but also the Rights o Man, and
The partial, conused yet deep communist movement that developed in the frst
reject a revolution that would only have “a political soul”. For example, Marx sees
hal o the 19th century initiated an equally conused yet persistent critique o
1789 and especially the 1793-94 Terror in France as the culmination o political
democracy. Both movement and critique were soon pushed in the background by
will that deludes itsel into believing it can change the world rom the top. There’s
the rise o organized labour that tried to make the most o bourgeois democracy.
little doubt that Marx wished to apply his “materialist” method not only to history,
Yet every time the movement re-emerged, it got back to basics, and revived some
religion, philosophy and the economy, but also to the question o power and to
aspects o the critique o democracy.
politics as a feld o special knowledge, as separate science and technique. Yet at the time he was describing the political sphere as another orm o ali enation, he
There’s no need to be an expert in Marxology to know that most o these
was also pressing on with the completion o the bourgeois democratic revolution,
undamentals ell into oblivion: some texts got hardly any response, while
and a ew years later he became the editor o a liberal progressive paper, the
others were put aside by Marx and Engels and published much later. The “real
Neue Reinische Zeitung, subtitled “Organ O Democracy”.
movement”, as Marx called it, seemed to have very little use or these writings. In the frst hal o the 20th century, new proletarian shock waves led to a reborn
The deeper the communist movement goes, the higher its contradictions are.
critique that (re)discovered these long-orgotten intuitions, but ailed to be up
Marx happens to be among the ew thinkers who come closest to a synthesis
to them. Indeed, Bolshevik practice ater October 1917 could all within Marx’s
and thereore inevitably combine its most opposing elements, the dimensions our
critique o the French revolution and o Jacobinism. As or the worldwide 1960-80
movement is at most pain to reconcile. It’s no accident that Karl Marx should have
earthquake, in spite, or rather because o its anti-bureaucratic stand, it turned
given one o the best approaches o communism (in particular, but not only, in his
out to be a zenith o democracy (though, unlike the post-1917 period, there was
early works) and welcomed the advent o capitalism as a world system.
no revolutionary attempt to take over political power in the 1960s and 70s). The theoretical inroads made over 150 years ago have yet to be taken up.
…and contradiction in proletarian practice The democratic appeal
I Marx was perhaps the writer who went the urthest in extolling and rejecting democracy, it’s because he was a concentrated expression o the orced situation
Democracy is attractive because it gives more than the right to select leaders
in which the proletariat used to live and still lives. Intellectual discrepancies
now and then. Its appeal is to provide everyone with the means to go beyond
mirror a practical dilemma which the proletarians have to solve to emancipate
the restricting circles o amily, neighbourhood and work, and to interrelate,
to meet others, not just those who are close, but all those living on the same territory, and possibly over the borders too. The democratic dream promises a
Like others in his time, like R. Luxemburg later, like the German Let ater 1914-18,
potential universality, the earthly realization o a brotherhood and sisterhood that
Marx reected a contradiction: the sel-awareness and the “community culture”
religion oers in its own way. Marx was not the only one to emphasize the intimate
(Selbstverständigung and Versammlungskultur, as they were called in Germany
connection between Christianity and the modern State: the ormer sees each
around 1900), in the workplace and in the workers’ district, conront bourgeois
man as the bearer o an individual soul that makes him equal to others in spirit
democracy with proletarian community. But using one’s condition as a major
(everyone can be saved); the latter sees each man as politically equal to others
weapon is a double-edged sword or the proletarians. Guy Debord may not be
(every citizen has a right to vote and be elected).
the most acute critique o democracy, but he points to something essential in The Society o the Spectacle, theses 87 & 88. The bourgeoisie was able to use its socio-
To ully appreciate the democratic appeal, we should bear in mind what existed
economic power as the main instrument o its political ascent. The proletarians
beore, when ormal (i.e. political) equality was unheard o. Not just the ruling
can’t use their social role to emancipate themselves, because this role is given to
elite, but many thinkers and artists showed open contempt or the mass o
them by capital. So their only radical weapon is their negative potential… closely
peasants and workmen that were thought o as an inerior species. Most amous
linked to the positive part they play in the reproduction o capital. The bourgeois
French writers treated the Paris Commune fghters as i they’d been outside or
won by asserting themselves on the basis o what they already socially were. The
below human standards. Until the mid-20th century, hatred o the workers was
proletarians can only win by fghting against themselves, i.e. against what they are
widespread among the middle and upper classes, in Germany or instance.
orced to do and be as producers (and as consumers…). There’s no way out o
1939-45 was the defnitive taming o the rabble: with ew exceptions, the toiling
this contradiction. Or rather, the only way out is communist revolution.
masses o the world behaved in a patriotic way, so the bourgeois stopped being scared o a populace that looked like it was accepting law and order at last, and
It was enough or the bourgeois to get together and fnd the means to run society:
now nearly everyone in a Western-type democracy accepts at least verbally the
so creating suitable decision-making institutions was enough (though it took
notion that one human being is worth another. Yet this equivalence is achieved
centuries). It was not only or the sake o culture and knowledge that rom the
by comparing quantifed items. In democratic capitalism, each human person is
18th century onward the ascending elites promoted networks o debating and
my ellow being inasmuch as his vote and mine are added and then computed.
scientifc societies, clubs, public libraries and museums, and o course a growing
Modern citizenship is the bourgeois orm o reedom.
press : the rising merchant and industrial classes were building up a new type o sociability that helped them challenge monarchs and aristocrats. The proletarians also need to get together : but or them, just getting together is staying within 20
A system which is not its own cause… nor its own cure
To put it bluntly, there’s no practical critique o democracy unless there’s a critique Democracy is not responsible or what is or what might be regarded as its positive
o capitalism. Accepting or trying to reorm capitalism implies accepting or trying
aspects. Universal ranchise never created itsel. Civil rights rarely came out o
to reorm its most adequate political orm.
elections or peaceul debates, but out o strikes, demonstrations, riots, usually violent, oten with bloodshed. Later, once installed, democracy orgets about
There’s no point in sorting out bad (bourgeois) democracy and good (direct,
its origin and says “the source o power is not be ound in the street”… where
worker, popular) democracy. But there’s no point either in declaring onesel
indeed it came rom. Politics claims to be the basis o social lie, but it results rom
an anti-democrat. Democracy is not the Number One enemy, the ultimate
causes that it merely structures. The advent o the Spanish republic in 1931 was
smokescreen that veils the proletarian eyes, the unveiling o which would at long
caused by decades o strie, rioting and class war that the new regime proved
last clear the path to revolution. There are no “anti-democratic” specifc actions to
incapable to control, and it took a civil war and a dictatorship to restore order.
be invented, no more than systematic campaigns against advertising billboards
Ater Franco’s death, the cooling down o social conicts made possible the
or TV - both closely linked to democracy, actually.
transition to a parliamentary system that (unlike in the 1930s) could work as a pacifer and conciliator.
The participants in millions o acts o resistance or o attack, be they strikes, demonstrations, ying pickets, insurrections, are well aware that these practices
Democrats contend that, contrary to dictatorship, democracy has the merit o
have little to do with parliamentary games, and indeed that they’re the exact
being able to correct itsel. This is true so long as the mere balance o power
opposite o parliamentary games. Knowing it does not stop them rom calling
is upset. I the structure o political rule is in jeopardy, it’s a completely dierent
such practices democratic, and rom regarding these practices as the only
matter. As democracy has not got its cause in itsel, neither has it got the remedy:
true democracy, because the participants consider as identical democracy
the solution has to come rom outside electoral procedures and parliamentary
and collective reedom, democracy and sel-organization. They say they are
institutions. The subtleties o Capitol Hill political bargaining were unable to solve
practising true democracy because they sel-manage their struggle, do away
the crisis between North and South in the 1860s: it took no less than a bloody
with the separation between those represented and their representatives, and
civil war, a orerunner o 20th century industrialized slaughter. It was not orums or
because the general meeting (unlike parliament) is an assembly o equals: so
ballot papers that toppled Mussolini in 1943, but a succession o uncontrollable
they oten believe they are at last giving reality to what is /a sham/make belie/
strikes. It was not a return to the Weimar republic that put an end to Nazism, but
in the bourgeois world. Each o them regards democracy as the act o treating
a world war. It was only when the French army illegally took over civilian power in
his workmate, the person marching beside him, erecting a barricade with him, or
Algiers, May 1958, that in Paris politicians were orced to institute a more stable
arguing with him in a public meeting, as a ellow human being.
political system, and star ted realizing the colonial era was over. It would be pointless or us to go into a head-on conrontation with him to try and Democracy is a remarkable violence flter. But because it is born out o violence,
persuade him to stop using the word “democracy”. Democracy’s shortcoming
it only overcomes its tragedies by giving way to more violence. Biologists say that
is to treat an indispensable element o revolutionary change as the primary
one o the defnitions o a lie orm is its ability at reproduction, organization and
condition o change, or even as its essence. So, in uture troubled times, our best
reorganization. How politically, socially (and intellectually) valid is a phenomenon
contribution will be to push or the most radical possible changes, which include
that’s unable to explain itsel and to cure itsel ? How consistent is it ? What sort
the destruction o the State machinery, and this “communization” process will
o reality are democracy supporters talking about ?
eventually help people realize that democracy is an alienated orm o reedom. I democracy means giving priority to orm over content, only a transormation o
And yet it holds out…
the social content will put back orm where it belongs.
Ater nearly two centuries o electoral and parliamentary experiences, including
Whenever a movement keeps moving orward and conronting boss and State
endeavours to make some revolutionary use o the universal ranchise by radicals
power, it is not democratic. Democracy is the separation between action and
rom Proudhon to Lenin, and in spite o a thousand betrayals and renunciations o
its own principles, modern democracy still soldiers on… and thrives. When, however, and this is bound to be oten the case, the content o the In a large part o the world, and in what is known as the developed or rich
movement is compatible with “industrial dispute” arbitration and conciliation, then
countries, democracy remains a reality, and a desirable one, because it fts in with
it’s normal that orm and procedure should come to the ore. In the eyes o nearly
the inner logic o the industrial, merchant and wage-labour civilization, thereore
all participants, organizing the general meeting according to rules becomes
with capitalism. Not all capitalism is democratic, ar rom it, as is shown by Stalin’s
more important than what the meeting decides. The meeting is seen as a cause
Russia and Hitler’s Germany, and now by China. But the Third Reich and the
o the strike, more exactly as the cause o its continuation: because it can put
USSR yielded to their democratic rivals, and pluto-bureaucratic China’s boom
an end to the strike, it is now perceived o as its detonator. Reality is put on its
will only go on i it accepts substantial doses o reedom o speech. Capitalism is
head. Democracy is the supremacy o means over the end, and the dissolution
economic competition and there can be no efcient competition among capital
o potentialities in orms. So when these workers ideologize their own behaviour
(as well as an efcient labour market) without some competition in politics too.
as democratic, they are not “wrong”: they reason according to the actual limits o
Democracy is the most adequate political capitalist orm.
Whether we like it or not, democracy is an excellent expression o lie under
When the act o asking the rank and fle or its opinion breaks the determination
capitalism. It helps maintaining the degree o liberty and equality required by
o the rank and fle, it’s usually because this determination has already declined.
capitalist production and consumption and, up to a point, also required by the
In 1994, in one o its French plants, the energy and transport multinational Alstom
necessary orced relationship between labour and capital. While democracy is
terminated a strike by calling or a reerendum : the personnel voted to return to
one o the obstacles that stand in the way o communist revolution, it does serve
work. The unions retaliated by having a second reerendum: it confrmed the frst.
the interests o labour in its daily inevitable “reormist” action.
“Company (or plant) democracy” was not killing the conict, it was fnishing it o . 21
In act, ater an initial militant phase, the strike had lost its vigour. By submitting
1910. The popularity o this notion may be a sign o growing radicalism. It certainly
to an individual secret ballot, the workers confrmed they had ceased to think
also has a lot to do with contemporary daily lie and the spaces o reedom it
o themselves as an acting collective. A community that agrees to give only
grants us: more open communication channels, new types o leisure, new ways
individual opinions no longer exists as a community.
o meeting, making riends and travelling, the “network society”, the Internet, etc. All these activities have one thing in common: everyone is at the same time
Communism as activity
constantly on his own and constantly relating to everyone and everything.
Equality is a vital tenet o democracy. Its starting point is the existence o individuals:
No revolution without autonomy: quite ! Autonomy is necessary. But it’s not enough.
it compares them rom a criterion, and wonders i each o them is either inerior
It is not the principle on which everything can or must be based. Autonomy means
or superior to the other according to the chosen criterion. Old time democracy
giving onesel one’s own law (nomos). It’s based on the sel (auto).
contented itsel with “One man, one vote”. Modern democrats will ask or equal pay, equal rights in court, equal schooling, equal access to health service, equal
Is this what happens in real lie ?
job oers, equal opportunity to create one’s business, equal social promotion, some would say an equal share o existing wealth. As soon as we get into real
Everybody wishes collective decisions. So do we. And the best way to get it is
social and daily lie, the list becomes endless and, to be comprehensive, it has
or each o us to take part in the decision-making. But once you and I are part o
to be negative at some point : equality implies the right not to be discriminated
it, we still have to make the decision. Is this “sel” strong enough ? Autonomists
against on account o one’s sex, colour, sexual preerences, nationality, religion,
have their answer ready; the individual sel may be weak, but the collective sel is
etc. The whole political spectrum could be defned by how much is included
strong. Who’s being naïve here ? Adding individual wills only transorms them into
in the list. Rightwing liberals might limit equality rights to electoral rights, while
something qualitatively dierent i and when they act dierently. So we’re back to
ar let reormists extend equality to a guaranteed substantial income, a home,
where we started. Aggregating selves widens the scope o the problem without
job protection, etc., in an endless debate between personal reedom and social
solving it. The solution can only come, not rom what autonomy is supposed to
airness. The rejection o, and the search or social (and not just political) equality
give us, but rom what it is ounded upon. Autonomy in itsel is no more creative
are two sides o the same coin. The obsession with equality i s born out o a world
than any orm o organization.
laden with inequality, a world that dreams o reducing inequality by giving more to each individual, more rights… and more money.
Many radicals believe in the equation – autonomy + anti-State violence = revolutionary movement
Equality protects individuals. We’d rather start by considering what the members
and see it vindicated or instance in the Oaxaca protracted insurrection. While
o society are doing together, and what they have and don’t have in common.
this event is one o the strongest outbursts o proletarian activity in the recent
Human beings lose their mastery over the running o their personal and group
years, it demonstrates that autonomous violence is necessary and insufcient.
lie when they lose the mastery over their conditions o existence, and frst o all
A revolutionary movement is more than a liberated area or a hundred liberated
over the production o the material basis o these conditions. Our problem is not
areas. It develops by fghting public and private repression, as well as by starting
to fnd how to make common decisions about what we do, but to do what can
to change the material basis o social relationship. No sel-managed street fghting
be decided upon in common, and to stop or avoid doing whatever cannot be
and grassroots district solidarity, however indispensable they are, inevitably
decided upon in common. A actory run according to Taylor’s methods, a nuclear
contain the acts and the intentions that bring about such a change. So it’s the
power station, a multinational or the BBC will never come under the management
nature o the change we’ve got to insist upon: creating a world without money,
o its personnel. Only a bank that confnes itsel to micro-credit can remain under
without commodity exchange, without labour being bought and sold, without
some degree o control by the people working there and by those who receive
frms as competing poles o value accumulation, without work as separate rom
its micro-loans. When a co-op operates on a scale that enables it to rival large
the rest o our activities, without a State, without a specialized political sphere
companies, its special “democratic” eatures begin to ade. A school can be sel-
supposedly cut o rom our social relationships… In other words, a revolution that
managed (by sta and schoolkids) as long as it rerains rom selecting, grading
is born out o a common reusal to submit, out o the hope to get to a point o no
and streaming. That is fne, and it’s probably better to be a teenager in Summerhill
return where people transorm themselves and gain a sense o their own power
than at Eton, but that won’t change the school system.
as they transorm reality.
Whoever does not situate the problem o power where it belongs, is bound to
leave it in the hands o those who possess power, or to try and share it with them
The best concise pamphlet on the subject that we know o is Communism
(as social-democracy does), or to take power rom them (as Lenin and his party
Against Democracy, Treason Press, Canberra, Australia, 2005, composed o two
texts by Wildcat (Britain) and Against Sleep And Nightmare (US). Available on the Treason website.
The essence o political thought is to wonder how to organize people’s lives,
See also J. Camatte, The Democratic mystifcation, 1969.
instead o considering frst what those to-be-organized people do. P.S. 2 or (possible) political correctors. Communism is not a question o fnding the government or sel-government best
Most o the time, this essay uses “he” and “man” as a means to say “he & she”,
suited to social reorganization. It is not a matter o institutions, but o activity.
“man & woman”. This is not out o neglect o the other hal o our species. This he does not mean male. It’s the grammatical neuter which encompasses both
Self is not enough
masculine and eminine. We’re well aware that no grammar is socially or sexually neutral. A better society will create better words. For the time being, the old
It seems only die-hard party builders could object to autonomy: who wants to be
ashioned neuter orm has at least the advantage o not giving us the illusion o
a dependant ? Yet we may wonder why autonomy has become a buzzword lately.
alse equality in speech. The reader who’s gone that ar would not expect us to
Trotskysts are not authoritarian any more. Any letwinger now is all or “ autonomy”,
believe in democracy in language.
like nearly every politician looking or working class vote talked o “socialism” in 22