Like the invasion of Iraq, the Imperialist War against Libya has meant that the question of Marxists attitude to many basic issues is raised. Fundamentally, it raises questions in relation to our attitude to Bourgeois Democracy, the Capitalist State, and the actions of that State at an international level i.e. Imperialism. Mostly, the answers to those questions provided by the Left, including the Left that considers itself to be “Marxist” have been inadequate, confused, and wrong-headed. In a series of posts I want to look at these issues, and ask what a Marxist position should be. I will be drawing, in part, on some posts I wrote several years ago on the AWL website, as part of a discussion in relation to them over Iraq.“The State And Revolution”, and in particular those sections where he sets out the Marxist theory of what the State is, what Bourgeois Democracy is, and why, therefore, Marxists have to adopt a position of extreme revolutionary opposition to both. It is important, because, in those sections, Lenin dismantles the reformist ideas on these questions perpetrated by Kautsky and the Second International. He seeks to restore the revolutionary attitude of Marx to these questions, which he says has far more in common with the Anarchists such as Proudhon and Bakunin, than the reformists care to admit. After Lenin, Stalinism restored the ideas of the reformists on these questions. And today, much of the Left, including that part which claims to be in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky, also operate within that same framework.
A fundamental aspect of the Marxist theory of the State is that it is an organ of class rule. It is the means by which a ruling class maintains itself in power. It does that in a number of ways, most brutally in the sense described by Engels, as through “bodies of armed men”.The Force Theory it is not the monopoly of violence that explains the existence and continuation of ruling classes. Ruling classes arise, and are sustained in that position, because of the development of particular sets of material conditions within society. Different sets of productive forces create particular sets of property relations, which in turn create particular types of classes, and different types of social relations between these classes. So long as these material conditions within society reproduce themselves, then the classes and the social relations based upon them will continue.The Secret Life Of Chaos what on the surface appear to be stable, unchanging systems, are in reality a seething mass of chaos and change at a quantum level, with infinitely small differences and changes leading, via feed back loops, into evolutionary, and then revolutionary changes. The role of the State is to facilitate this process of reproduction of social relations, and to attempt to counter-act those tendencies, that arise naturally, out of the process of change, which threaten that reproduction. That is why the Capitalist State, for instance, intervenes in the economy at a macro-economic level to counter-act economic crises, it is why it intervenes to establish Welfare States whose purpose is to ensure the adequate reproduction of Labour Power, of the right kind for Capital.
In feudal times, although the Feudal Lords had large armies to protect themselves – in fact, they were largely used to protect themselves from other Feudal Lords who sought to increase their wealth and power by extending their dominion – a far more powerful weapon for maintaining their rule, and continued exploitation of the peasants was the Church. The Church purveyed the ideology that the rulers were anointed by God, that there was an established order created by God, and based upon rank, with God at the top, the King beneath him, and so on.
That is all the more the case in relation to the State's Education Factories, which mass produce bourgeois ideology, and feed it directly into the heads of each new generation of workers.
The fundamental nature of Bourgeois Democracy then for a Marxist is that described by Lenin in State and Revolution.
“A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co.), it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”
Chapter 1, Section 3 - The State: an Instrument for the Exploitation of the Oppressed Class
Yet, as Lenin sets out the reformists see the State as something different, and they see bourgeois democracy as something different. They denude both of their class content.
The reformist view can be seen in the positions adopted by Stalinists like the AWL, or the CPB and others. For them “democracy” is an end in itself, a moral imperative.
At an international level it amounts to nothing more than what Trotsky described as the Stalinist “Stages Theory”.Permanent Revolution previously developed by Trotsky on the basis of the ideas discussed by Marx and Engels after the defeat of the Revolutions of 1848. Lenin had to wage a bitter struggle against these “Old Bolsheviks”, to win the Party over to his ideas as set out in April Theses. The basic idea was that given the weakness of the bourgeoisie in Russia, even a bourgeois democratic revolution was impossible without the support of the workers. However, as in 1848, it was inevitable that the bourgeoisie, faced with demands from the workers for things such as higher wages, shorter hours, and so on, that the bosses could not meet, or believed they could not meet, let alone demands by workers to have a real say in the way society, including their workplaces, were run, would run scared, and align themselves once again with Tsarism, or Landlordism.
As Trotsky later pointed out, in relation to the positions adopted by the Stalinists, in relation to these questions, and the Popular Front, in fact Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, never gave up their attachment to the ideas they held prior to the April Theses, and their positions later were merely an application of them. But, in reality, the ideas put forward by the AWL and others in relation to Iraq, and now to Libya are also an application of those same Stalinist politics. Having lost faith in the working-class, and seeing “Democracy” not in terms of it being merely a form of class rule by Capital, but solely as some kind of Moral Imperative that everyone should want, and seek to achieve, they make it their overriding obsession, and subordinate the interests of the working-class to it, by seeking an alliance with Democratic Imperialism, in order to achieve this Moral Imperative.
In reality, I have sympathy for the view that in instances, like Russia in 1917, and in other instances where the bourgeoisie is weak, it is still not likely that workers can go straight to Socialism via a process of Permanent Revolution. When Trotsky made that case, we had large revolutionary parties in many developed economies throughout Europe. We had powerful, organised working-classes that had demonstrated, frequently, their revolutionary vigour.
A look at the experience of Russia after 1917, shows the problem of permanent revolution in the absence of those further supporting revolutions. But, a look at the Colonial Revolutions emphasises the point too. The first Colonial Revolutions took place in Latin America during the 19th Century. The “Bolivarian Revolutions”, however, did not result in the establishment of bourgeois democracy. They led to the establishment of Bourgeois Bonapartist regimes. That should not have been a surprise. Britain too went through a stage of Bonapartism under Cromwell. France went through similar periods under different superficial appearances – Napoleon, Louis, Louis Bonaparte – before eventually establishing a stable Bourgeois Democracy in the form of the Third Republic, on the bones of the defeated Communards.
But, the Colonial revolutions of the post WWII period have shown a similar feature. None of them resulted in the establishment of bourgeois democracies. They all ended in the establishment of some form of Bonapartism. If they were lucky these Bonapartist regimes were of the modernising kind, if not they were simply brutal dictatorships, that drained resources from the economy for the greater glory of the regime.
Yet, the conclusion that a Marxist should draw from this is not that, which the AWL and others draw, which is that even bourgeois democracy would be an advance, even if it requires the intervention of Democratic Imperialism to bring it about. The conclusion that a Marxist should draw, basing themselves on the theory of Historical Materialism, is that you cannot simply impose the political regime of bourgeois democracy on societies that lack the fundamental basis of such a regime i.e. a developed, extensive, and stable bourgeoisie! Organisations like the AWL make that mistake, precisely because they have ceased thinking in Marxist class terms, and simply adopted a Moralistic approach to their politics. Bourgeois Democracy for them is no longer merely a form by which the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is exercised in its most effective way, but is reduced merely to a class neutral “democracy” that is a moral good that we should all strive for!
Attempts to impose a Bourgeois Democracy on societies that lack those material conditions are exercises in Idealism, and Utopianism. They belong to those kinds of 18th Century philosophies that held that the driving force of history was the unfolding of the Idea, which was a process that went on in the Minds of Philospher's, and was then made real by the State. It is a throw back to the Bishop Berkeley, and to Hegel.
Forward To Part 2