The Political Process

March 7, 2019 | Author: Faisal Ashraf Asmi | Category: Socialism, Cultural Revolution, Capitalism, Leninism, Zhou Enlai
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The Political Process A collection of political writings from across the world

Kapil Arambam 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 dierent answers. These will depend on their

(Anyone ever caught in a trafc 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 aternoon, 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 dierently rom the trad “let”. 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 “sot” 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 surace, “progressive” capitalists, liberals, Labor

objectives as being reedom in production (as well as out o it) are dismissed as

reormists, “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 lie on the “let”,

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 insufcient ood and clothing, the satisaction 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 “let” 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 sufciently 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, aecting capitalist

not accidental. When they talk o increasing production in order to increase


consumption, reormists and bureaucrats o one kind or another eel on airly sae ground. Despite the nonsense talked by many “Marxists” about “stagnation o

The traditional “let” 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 “let” critique o laissez-aire capitalism. Many on

It will probably be objected that some obeat trends in the “Marxist” movement

the “let” 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 nefcient (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 inuence 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 “let” 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 surace 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 conict 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 Conicts in class society do not simply result rom inequalities o distribution, or

domination - whether they maniest 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 lie 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 transormation 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 conict 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 prooundly inhibits the natural tendency o man to ulfll himsel in the objects o his activity. In every country o the world this state o aairs is experienced day ater day by the working class as an absolute misortune, 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 dierent and “non productive” ends! They maniest 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 maniests itsel in many other ways. The conict in production does not “create” or “determine” secondary conicts in other felds. Class domination maniests itsel in all felds, at one and the Same time. Its eects 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 reinorces 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 conicts 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 proound 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


Introduction (1974)

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 dier undamentally not only rom those o the Maoists,

threw o the British colonial yoke. Even beore 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’. Inormation concerning these historic events was insufcient

1) Some Reections 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 preerred 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 lie. This was, on the one hand,

new acts at the author’s disposal have not basically transormed 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 thrit, created by the problem o accumulation in


a country o middle-class pioneers. Franklin would never have dreamt o giving up his way o lie, ater 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 ater the restoration o diplomatic relations

the marquesses and dukes o France wore their silk coats. Deeply convinced

between the

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 rightul position in society.

point-specially dealt with or this edition-describes the conicts 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-Conucius 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 aairs. 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 (ater 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 dierent 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 dierences 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 ofcial 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

Arica. 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 Let 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 ater day their inner afnity with capitalism and with

in Pakistan when a civil war broke out between the reactionary eudal dictatorship

the bourgeoisie.

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 ater 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 dierences 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 maniested 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 Arica. 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 successul 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 Aairs, Chou En-lai, sent a message to Yahya Khan

Instead o illusions about revolutionary support or Asia or Arica 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 useul 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 eorts o Your Excellency and leaders o various quarters in Pakistan, the

struggle o the Asian, Arican and Latin American peoples to obtain or deend

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 handul 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 conusion 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 conerence.

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 conusing that this man, Lin

At a public meeting in Amsterdam the West Pakistani Trotskyist, Tariq All, pointed

Piao, who as recently as a year beore had been posthumously charged with ‘let-

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 inormed about what had really happened), suggested that the Chinese might have backed Yahya or ‘long- term motives’, namely to

Wasn’t it even more conusing 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 let. (2) One might ask such a simpleton why Lenin in 1917

during and immediately ater 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, ater a successul 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 conronted 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 let (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

conusion 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 dierences

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 ofce to promote the interests o the

indicate on that occasion something very dierent rom what one might have

Chinese working-class. They are in ofce 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’.

useul to clariy 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 Ater 

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

ofcial 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 reected 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 inuential 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 dierent

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 powerul

o the increasing inuence o the managerial class’). MOLOTOV (in deence 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 transorms 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 aairs’ (‘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, beore 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. Beore 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 identiy 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.

successul 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 ofce, 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 warare made way or a war o

managers), still exist. They proved themselves stronger than the violence o the

movement. So oten 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 transormed or the purpose o better resistance. Such acts should

the withdrawal o Russian troops) they were conronted with an entirely dierent

be a warning against too simplifed an analogy.

mood.* (*Background inormation 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 mystiying slogans was

who pretended that ater the Ninth Congress (held in April 1969) the development

greater than ever beore. 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 deenders 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 ‘transormation 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, deending

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 inuential 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 ‘let 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 reormed 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 let long beore 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

fteen 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 perect Party-unity applauded by the delegates in Peking.

Revolution drat and a aithul transmitter o Mao-thought at every moment o his lie. 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 let 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. Ater 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 ofcial 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 thereore 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 satisaction about ‘the stability o prices and the market’s prosperous position’. His statement was characteristic both in

Nevertheless the ofcials 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 downall 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 transormed) 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 surace’. Since then, history has borne out that i one

radicalisation, whatever Chou may have been saying about ‘a conict 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-

Beore concerning ourselves with the devil, let us talk o the demons. Just as

jargon, whose deceptive appearance masked real dierences. 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

deending 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 ofcial’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 drated another document (that had been cancelled); and that Lin didn’t agree with the text he was delivering.

In Russia the ‘anti-Party group’ deended the (old) Party. It was thereore 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 reormed Party that

that what could be true or Lin, might also be true or Chou.) What exactly Chou

sought new strength through its sel-reorm. Did Lin Piao resist? I so, his position

represents is unclear. This is partly due to the act that, since some time beore

would have been the opposite to that o Molotov. Instead o deending the Party

the Tenth Congress, everything in China’s social and political lie 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 inormed the delegates that ater the Ninth 8

Congress the Chairman had given several warnings to Lin Piao, all o them in

between the anti-Conucius campaign and the issues o the Cultural Revolution.

vain, seeking to ‘save’ him. Does this mean that Mao Tse-tung, Lin Piao and Chen

‘Conucius’, we are told by Philosopher Yang, ‘reserved absolute wisdom or

Po-ta hadn’t such undamental dierences ater all? Was it a later date

the monarch. The reormers o his time however wanted reedom o thought on

that the rit widened? In that case, it isn’t only the ofcial statement about Lin

behal o a hundred philosophical schools, with dierent and opposite opinions.’

Piao that stands contradicted. It is also suggested that Mao wasn’t heading the

Conucius ‘promised his monarch all the land. The reormers 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 lie, 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,

reused to adopt such a position? Listening to the Party-jargon, looking at the

dispatched at Conucius’ 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

reerring 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 Conucius or calling back ‘those who

actors to appear beore 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, ater 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 dierent 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 suers 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-Conucius campaign, a

pure consequence o the special Party-philosophical jargon, or that they have

campaign that reached its ull development ater the Tenth Congress.

been created deliberately, or reasons o saety in turbulent times. For times are turbulent in China. Quoting Conucius, 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 reerred to as the No. 1 theorist

will tell. Nonetheless, one thing seems certain: the outcome o the struggle will

o anti- Conucianism). 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 Conucius 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 useul 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 reerring 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 thereore 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. Conucius wasn’t interpreted as a child o his time, who reected 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 Conucius rom within Chinese society. On the contrary, Chinese society was explained by stressing Conucius’ inuence. This method naturally led to the substitution o social comprehension by moral judgement. Consequently the anti-Conucius 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, Conucius, 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 difcult 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

reusal to depend upon a boss, a local politician, or even a union or party leader.

possible human lie, what better way than to base this lie 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 dierent rom top-down ones, the “lower classes” will eternally be treated as inerior. 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 difcult 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 lie 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 lie (and thereore o all positive

common decision-making should happen in conditions o equality between us

change), but as the prime condition o social lie (and thereore o all positive

all. Mere political equality gives each citizen rights but not eective 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 conused and conusing.

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 dierences, 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 lie, I’ve seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc.; as or Man, I must coness

over the individual. They say the democratic system gives everyone a larger

I’ve never met him (..)” (J. de Maistre, 1796) They preer 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

Beore 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 ortiy, 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

deend 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: thereore there was no need

individualism to replace them with (old or new) orms o oppressive authority.

or revolution.

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 dierent 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 suracing again in the

it) on power, even less on race, but on the ree /mind/spirit/ who’s not araid 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 transormation is now so embedded in our

he calls it in Beyond Good & Evil).

daily lives that we’re gradually transorming 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 oten blamed or crushing the individual under the


collective. The poet and dandy Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) wrote: “Nothing About fty 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 cratsmen and small industry.

In 1920, against Kautsky’s Terrorism & Communism published a year beore,

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. Ater 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 surage, and democracy as the mass o the people itsel

the economy during and ater 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.

Beore 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 dierent 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 deence” against class antagonisms. Trotsky reminds the reader what Western

labour union, unlike parliament and party lie, 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 deend 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

successul “struggle to suck bourgeois political organization dry o all lie”.

(..) (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 justiying 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 oten sucked dry o all lie 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 preerred 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 surage 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 beore 1914. All let 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. Ater 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

a point.

comparing it with the opinion o others, beore taking a decision (usually ater a vote and according to majority rule: this is important, yet not essential to the 12

defnition). Parliament sties 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 justiy 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 let 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 dierent 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 Let agreed with the “Italian” Let 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


personal reedom.

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

eects o conicts. As it happens, the “protection” provided or by democracy

majority” o the proletariat (Communist Maniesto). 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 conrontation 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 transorming the country

group to do nothing but circulate data and inormation : 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 inormal 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 conict will be resolved

again. Ater 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

Unortunately, 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 makeshit 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 aairs 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 oten 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 let 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 eective) to govern and be governed, and to a system where, or 99% o the

caused more by direct oten 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, dierentiated between democracy, where

Democracy and reormism have led a couple’s lie or nearly 150 years now,

“the people meet and exercise their government in person”, and republic (a term

although they’ve oten been strange bedellows.

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.

reormists 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 ater 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 lie 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

Franco, etc.

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 aord to be participatory (which did not save it rom periodic crises). In

continuous craty 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

a show.

“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 imperections, communism

time to time.”

expresses the endeavour o the exploited and o the human species to liberate itsel. The word and the notion were meaningul (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 dierent 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 oten

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 lie 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

conuses us.

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 thereore powerul ? The question is sterile.

removed rom direct social interests. That special dimension cannot ignore socioeconomic hierarchies and oppositions. But it deals with them by shiting them

Mountains o books and articles have been and are still written to reute the

on a level where the roots o these conicts 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 lie. 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 conrontation, and distinct rom the rest o social lie. 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 dierences, rom his social superiority or ineriority, and placed

not account or (local or world) wars. A similar socio-economic “inrastructure”

on an equal ooting with all the other citizens. Equality o rights alongside social

can coexist with very dierent 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 transers the antagonism onto a

nationalist-racist one-party State, then ater 1945 by bourgeois in the West and by

parallel level that’s supposed to be neutral, where conicts are acknowledged

bureaucrats in the East, then again by bourgeois when the country was reunifed.

and sotened 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. Unortunately, 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 Arica and in the East, power is oten 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 conicts.

trade and o manuacturing 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 eective 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 dierent

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 lie, 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 indierent or hostile to Hitler in 1923, then to

they go bankrupt.

have listened to him ater 1929, beore moving away rom him or good ater 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 preerably 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 reexes. Chakotin was theorizing his own practice:

the ebb o the strike wave (and or many, the satisaction 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 resurace, 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 oering


any other (radical, reormist or conservative) solution to its crisis.

Men’s “social being determines their consciousness”. Admittedly, it works both

Ed. Bernays, perhaps the frst proessional advertiser on public relations, had

ways, but certainly a lot more this way than the other. Ater 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 successully 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 sot 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 liestyles.

minority could only answer back by poorly distributed leaets, 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

inormation, needless to say interactive inormation. Everything is supposed

lie, 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

beore. 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 manuacturing 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 inuence over the mass o the workorce.

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 beore 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 efciency it had lost in the

essential to educate the educator himsel. This doctrine must, thereore, 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

Feuerbach, III)

their struggles. The CGT deended 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

the country.

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 aterwards to compare them to other persons’ ideas. Direct democracy preers a collective

“The more inormation 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 inormation 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 inormation 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 aairs, i.e. on

This vision is to be expected rom party proessional organizers, teachers,

what is currently being said on world aairs 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 diering 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 inuence 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 inormation and discussion, is inevitably prioritizing the

there to be read, but exchanged and debated.

ramework where inormation 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 lie 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 dierence 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 preerences every our or fve years: every day is now election

[1] 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

[2] 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.

[3] 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

[4] The primacy o a collective will, not the will o an i ndividual or o a handul o 

and immediately circulated. In the workplace, in the classroom, in a couple, in


a amily, between proessions, between perormers and spectators, between cultures, religions, media, among neighbours, everywhere, everything ought to

[5] The respect o decisions taken in common.

be discussed and all inormation 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, [1] 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

oten a very small one. In the 1930s, at the time o large strikes by unskilled labour

not create.

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 ater 36 hours. One might object

and then, by mere reasoning and with no outside intererence, 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 lie (the

a great majority o the workorce : 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

become experts.

the common will ? The point we are making is that historical evolution is not the result o a majority [2] Minority rights. Any deep movement, whether or simple demands or more,

rule based on a conrontation 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 inormation. This is NOT saying that inormation and discussion are

do what they did not previously eel like doing. When piqueteros go round the

pointless. No act is sufcient in itsel, nor is its meaning so obvious that it would

neighbourhood and ask or 50 people to come and reinorce 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 beore the decision to strike, and it

ofcer 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 workorce: this may have revealed the determination o the workers, or it may have deected it. Debate is never good

There are dierences 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.

[4] Common will. Democracy always presents itsel as a protection, as the means

Bureaucratization is nearly always the result o reormism, 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 sufcient 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 araid o

more numerous one…

individual initiatives either.

[3] Free speech. It’s pointless to wonder i speech takes place beore, ater 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 oten becomes aware o an opportunity beore

everyone had made up his mind beore 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 beore, in hundreds o inormal

likely there will be a conict 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 peaceul 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 intererence, then truth is not democratic.

On the other hand, in many conicts, 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 inormation” can be an excellent way o orgetting

say they operate on such a total sel-management basis only sel-manage their

the essential inormation: the common determination to fght on.

own speech. 18

create the organization best ftted to them. Democracy is the exact opposite: it [5] 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 conicts, 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 lie 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 shit: 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

let or right – can manage it. They know perectly 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 ater the

The local working class lived the event as an outright conrontation 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, ater 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 workorce 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 reex 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 indierent

a staunch supporter and an enemy o democracy. As his texts can be ound in

to what they saw as useless letist troublemaking. In 1968, the Peugeot workers

paperback or on the Internet, a ew very short quotes will sufce here.

elt they had something in common with a radical minority that was not alien to them. Besides, a ew years beore, wildcat strikes had broken out at Sochaux,

Marx argues that democracy is the culmination o politics, and that a political

oten 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 lie with neither State nor

not come out o the blue : it had been prepared by past inormal debates and

democracy. However, when Marx presents democracy as “the resolved mystery o

unofcial 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

coee machine conversations: it serves as a springboard or open conict.

democracy to the existence o the State, and thereore 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 oten 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

really works.

truth, and or that reason are alse to the extent that they are not democratic.” (Id.)

Actually, a deender 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 ater 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 peaceul

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 oten blurs the

to give us rules o conduct that provide the best possible reedom. So this

message. To understand these conicting 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 lie. 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 conrontation resulted in a critique 19

o politics as a separate sphere. Let’s not idealize our past. The same thinkers and


groups oten mixed these demands and that critique. The purpose o The German Ideology was to prove that history cannot be explained by the conicts o ideas

For what’s it worth, democratic reunion is enough or the bourgeoisie. The

or political platorms, 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 reinorces 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 peaceul coexistence o opposites called democracy.

Prussia & Social Reorm, the Theses on Feuerbach and other similar texts which address the democratic bourgeois revolution, but also the Rights o Man, and

The partial, conused 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 conused 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 ater October 1917 could all within Marx’s

and thereore 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 Let ater 1914-18,

potential universality, the earthly realization o a brotherhood and sisterhood that

Marx reected a contradiction: the sel-awareness and the “community culture”

religion oers 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, conront 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

beore, 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 inerior 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 reorm capitalism implies accepting or trying

aspects. Universal ranchise never created itsel. Civil rights rarely came out o

to reorm its most adequate political orm.

elections or peaceul debates, but out o strikes, demonstrations, riots, usually violent, oten 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 lie, 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 strie, 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

Ater Franco’s death, the cooling down o social conicts 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 dierent

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 oten 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 conrontation 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 lie 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 transormation o

And yet it holds out…

the social content will put back orm where it belongs.

Ater nearly two centuries o electoral and parliamentary experiences, including

Whenever a movement keeps moving orward and conronting 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 oten 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, thereore

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 efcient competition among capital

o potentialities in orms. So when these workers ideologize their own behaviour

(as well as an efcient 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.

their behaviour.

Whether we like it or not, democracy is an excellent expression o lie 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 reerendum : 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 reerendum: it confrmed the frst.

the interests o labour in its daily inevitable “reormist” action.

“Company (or plant) democracy” was not killing the conict, it was fnishing it o . 21

In act, ater 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 lie 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 inerior

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 lie ?

job oers, 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 lie, 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 preerences, 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 transorms them into

in the list. Rightwing liberals might limit equality rights to electoral rights, while

something qualitatively dierent i and when they act dierently. So we’re back to

ar let reormists 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 insufcient.

lie 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 rerains rom selecting, grading

is born out o a common reusal 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 transorm themselves and gain a sense o their own power

than at Eton, but that won’t change the school system.

as they transorm reality.

Whoever does not situate the problem o power where it belongs, is bound to

P.S. 1

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 letwinger now is all or “ autonomy”,

believe in democracy in language.

like nearly every politician looking or working class vote talked o “socialism” in 22

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