Marx's description wonderfully illustrates the complex dialectical dynamics that operate within the political superstructure. He writes,
“The period that we have before us comprises the most motley mixture of crying contradictions: constitutionalists who conspire openly against the constitution; revolutionists who are confessedly constitutional; a National Assembly that wants to be omnipotent and always remains parliamentary; a Montagne that finds its vocation in patience and counters its present defeats by prophesying future victories; royalists who form the patres conscripti [elders] of the republic and are forced by the situation to keep the hostile royal houses they adhere to abroad, and the republic, which they hate, in France; an executive power that finds its strength in its very weakness and its respectability in the contempt that it calls forth; a republic that is nothing but the combined infamy of two monarchies, the Restoration and the July Monarchy, with an imperial label – alliances whose first proviso is separation; struggles whose first law is indecision; wild, inane agitation in the name of tranquillity, most solemn preaching of tranquillity in the name of revolution – passions without truth, truths without passion; heroes without heroic deeds, history without events..”
Could there be a more poetic refutation of those Marxists who operate with a purely mechanistic, and economic determinist method, and who see in the words of bourgeois politicians the mere reflection of the interests of the bourgeoisie, or of some Capital logic?
“Upon the different forms of property, upon the social conditions of existence, rises an entire superstructure of distinct and peculiarly formed sentiments, illusions, modes of thought, and views of life. The entire class creates and forms them out of its material foundations and out of the corresponding social relations. The single individual, who derives them through tradition and upbringing, may imagine that they form the real motives and the starting point of his activity. While each faction, Orleanists and Legitimists, sought to make itself and the other believe that it was loyalty to the two royal houses which separated them, facts later proved that it was rather their divided interests which forbade the uniting of the two royal houses. And as in private life one differentiates between what a man thinks and says of himself and what he really is and does, so in historical struggles one must distinguish still more the phrases and fancies of parties from their real organism and their real interests, their conception of themselves from their reality.”
Marx also correctly identifies the nature of Social-Democracy, not in terms of specific parties, but as an ideological strand. Here, Marx identifies the ideas that lie behind Social-Democracy with the petit-bourgeoisie, with the particular interests of a social strata that stands between Capital and Labour, and for whom the idea of progress outside the class struggle, or avoiding class struggle seems natural. But, as Engels pointed out in his Prefaces to the Condition of the Working Class, written near the end of his life, what Social Democracy actually became was a form of bourgeois democracy, in which this was institutionalised. It represented an historic compromise between Big Industrial Capital and Labour, manifest in Fordism in production, and Welfarism in the State. As such, for so long as the needs of Capital Accumulation facilitated it, politicians, in all parties, could advance the ideas enshrined within Social Democracy. Those ideas could as easily be advanced by the US Democrats, as German Social Democrats, by French Gaullists as British Labourists. They were manifest in what became known as “Buttskillism” in Britain; the combination of R.A. Butler and Hugh Gaitskill, the former a Tory, the latter Labour Leader, both of whose parties, after WWII, were committed to the ideas of full employment, Keynesian intervention, the Welfare State, and so on that characterise that Social Democratic consensus.
“The peculiar character of social-democracy is epitomized in the fact that democratic-republican institutions are demanded as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labour, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony. However different the means proposed for the attainment of this end may be, however much it may be trimmed with more or less revolutionary notions, the content remains the same. This content is the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petty bourgeoisie. Only one must not get the narrow-minded notion that the petty bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within whose frame alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven and earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent.”
The French bourgeoisie sought to smash the petit-bourgeoisie, and its representatives. It needed to force it out, and provoked it by the bombardment of Rome by French troops. That act contravened Article 5 of the Constitution. Given the Tories War against Libya, their forcing through of the rise in Tuition Fees, Cameron's campaign against AV, and his walk-out from the EU talks, the reckless pursuit of the Health Service reforms, which even Tory Ministers we learn oppose, and consider to possibly have a similar consequence as the Poll Tax had for Thatcher, the question arises of whether he too has learned this lesson from history. The history of all these alliances is that when the stronger partner feels sufficient ground beneath their feet, they create the conditions by which their ally is left with no choice but to jump. But, the other lesson from the coup of Louis Bonaparte is that, Cameron may find that having freed himself of forces to his Left, he is isolated himself with no one to defend him from forces to his Right! The more he relies on Right-Wing populism, which appeals to all of those reactionary prejudices which drive the small business class, reactionary sections of the middle class, and backward sections of workers, the more he is tied to the representatives, in his own Party, of the worst of these elements, the more he is tied to the loony neo-fascist, anti-semitic elements in Europe, the more he strengthens those elements, and weakens his own position.
Of course, the worst thing that Labour could do under such conditions, given the experience of France, described by Marx, would be to provide the Liberals, and Social-Democratic Tories with a home, or to in any way associate itself with them.
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