Thursday, 25 August 2011

Marxists And Bourgeois Democracy - Part 1

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.
Anyone, interested in the question, however, could also do worse than to read Lenin's “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”.
But the State is much more than just these bodies of armed men. As Engels also set out in “Anti-Duhring”, in the sections on 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.
This is a self-reproducing system. Yet, as we now understand from Science – See Professor Jim Al khalili's recent BBC programme: 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.
And, of course, a ruling class does not need armed men most of the time to maintain itself in power, or at most only requires their use in a limited and sporadic fashion – e.g. during the Miners Strike – because it has far more powerful tools on a day to day basis to ensure that its rule is not threatened.

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.
At a time when religious superstition held massive sway over men's minds, that was a powerful means to ensure that the lower orders remained in their place. Only by conveying the idea that the King had upset this order in some way, had disobeyed God, could a challenge be made, and then normally only to install some other King in their place. Today, the same function is played by the ideological apparatus of the State.
Not only does the Welfare State ensure that sufficient, and the right kind of Labour Power is reproduced for Capital, but coupled with Bourgeois democracy, and the illusion that workers are able to have some control over the State that it instils, the Welfare State acts to convince workers that the State is neutral, that it can be utilised to work in their interests too. Just look at the number of people even on the Left, who talk about the NHS in terms of it being "Our NHS" when, of course it is no such thing, and if it were we should be ashamed for running such a poor service, that treats our elderly in such an atrocious manner!!! Like the Church under Feudalism, it helps reproduce the idea that how things are, is a natural order of things.

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.
It is part of what the US socialist, Max Shachtman, called “Capitalism's head-fixing industry”. And, on top of that, Capital can also rely on other means by which these ideas are automatically reproduced. Parents, who have had a life time of being fed on this ideology, automatically pass it on to their children. Peer group pressure itself acts as a reinforcing mechanism to ensure that anyone with ideas that do not conform to this norm is made into an outsider. In fact, just think about how anyone who is seen to have an interest in politics in general is seen to be somewhat abnormal, or must, like all politicians, only be interested for their own benefit. The ideology of bourgeois democracy requires that like the application of the Division of Labour in the rest of Capitalist society, it be left to the preserve of the specialists, and that we only trouble ourselves with it every five years.
And then it is to be sold to us as a commodity like any other, by vendors who appeal to us on the basis not of anything meaningful, but on the basis of their TV appeal, their charm, their charisma, their personality, their looks and so on. Remember Cleggmania!!!

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.
Frequently they do not talk of bourgeois democracy, but merely of democracy, as though democracy itself were not merely a means of one class exercising its class domination over another. To an extent, there was also a Feudal Democracy. The Parliament in England goes back 1,000 years, but it was a parliament only of the landlords, of the aristocracy, excluding the Commoners, including the bourgeoisie, when they arose, from its deliberations. Only bit by bit as the power of the bourgeoisie grew did it begin to develop its own forms of democracy, based in its stronghold in the towns and cities, and gradually winning elements of representation in Parliament, often only after violent struggle, such as the Civil War.
The working-class rightly denies the bourgeoisie access to our own forms of Worker Democracy in our Trades Unions, and worker owned Co-operatives. Democracy is only a particular method, its real content is determined by whose democracy it is, which class interests is it designed to serve.

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.
In reality, having lost faith in the working-class, they see its salvation by other means. For the AWL, they have essentially thrown in their lot with “Democratic Imperialism” certainly at an international level. In reality, even at a national level their programme amounts to nothing more than reformist demands for wage militancy, and collective bargaining, and pleas to the Capitalist State to act in the workers interests. For the CPB it amounts, as it has for many decades, to building Popular Frontist alliances to achieve “progressive” changes.

At an international level it amounts to nothing more than what Trotsky described as the Stalinist “Stages Theory”.
That is the idea that society has to pass through given stages on the road to Socialism. Before Socialism is possible, society first has to pass through a stage of Bourgeois Democracy. In 1917, Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, argued this position prior to Lenin's return. At this time Lenin essentially adopted the idea of 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.
Instead of Bourgeois democracy, the workers would face a terrible reaction. Lenin's prognosis was proved correct when Kerenky began locking up and exiling Bolshevik leaders, and when he made a deal with the Tsarist General, Kornilov, to organise a military coup.

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.
It was possible, under those conditions to envisage that, as Lenin argued in 1917, such a revolution, breaking Capitalism at its weakest link, could be the first spark in a chain of revolution across Europe, such that those revolutions could come to the rescue of those in less developed economies. But none of that exists today. Largely due to the mistakes of Marxists in the last century, those large revolutionary parties have disappeared completely. For the same reasons, the working-class today is less well organised, less powerful, more imbued with bourgeois ideas than it was 100 years ago!
Even the self-proclaimed revolutionaries have adopted the statist/reformist programmes of the Fabians and Lassalleans based on income redistribution, rather than challenging the fundamental property relations of Capitalism, and as a result have pushed increasing numbers of workers away from the idea of Socialism, and into the hands of right-wing opportunists.

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.
Germany too went through such a period under Bismark. Egypt followed a similar course to Latin America, having freed itself from the Ottoman Empire, but only to go through the Bonapartism of Muhammad Ali, and his descendants. Like most of the Bonapartist regimes established in Latin America, economic mismanagement, combined with the existing economic conditions, led to economic disaster and indebtedness. In the case of Egypt, it was the spending of Ismail in building the Suez Canal, and in waging a Colonialist War against a number of African countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia, which bankrupted the economy, and led to the installation of the British Protectorate.

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!
For a Marxist, basing themselves on the theory of Historical Materialism, it is no mystery as to why societies that do not have developed industrialised economies, that do not have developed and stable bourgeoisies based upon that economic base, and do not have the kind of economic base that facilitates the kind of “social-democratic consensus”, of the kind described by Engels in relation to Britain in the late 19th Century, that is capable of integrating the working-class and middle class into the State by means of a Welfare State and so on, do not establish functioning bourgeois democracies. All of the former material conditions are a precondition for the establishment of the latter political regime!

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.
In this schema, the State can then be a means of progressive historical change. It is no wonder that Stalinists, and Statists such as the AWL are attached to such an approach. It is difficult to know what Marx's reaction to such people would be, who think that you can have Bourgeois Democracy without a bourgeoisie! Perhaps, with his comment “If this is Marxism, then I for one am no Marxist!”

Forward To Part 2


Jacob Richter said...

Since you mentioned Bonapartism once more, and especially in the context of Third World countries, I think it's appropriate to quote Gramsci and Parenti to discern a long-lost political regime that can be conducive to working-class politico-ideological independence, urban petit-bourgeois democratism, and peasant patrimonialism:

Caesarism is progressive when its intervention helps the progressive force to triumph, albeit with its victory tempered by certain compromises and limitations [...] The Caesarism of Caesar and Napoleon I was, so to speak, of a quantitative/qualitative character; in other words it represented the historical phase of the passage from one type of State to another type – a passage in which the innovations were so numerous, and of such a nature, that they represented a complete revolution [...] In the modern world, Caesarist phenomena are quite different, both from those of the Napoleon III type – although they tend towards the latter.

Without too much overreaching, we might say [Julius Caesar’s] reign can be called a dictatorship of the proletarii [the poor propertyless citizens of Rome], an instance of ruling autocratically against plutocracy on behalf of the citizenry’s substantive interests.

Boffy said...

I don't disagree. I've argued elsewhere that Bismark and Louis Bonaparte were both "progressive", in that they both represented a form of "modernising" regime that brought about the kinds of changes you describe, and given the historical conditions, this may have been the only means by which this transformation was likely to be achieved.

Similar regimes elsewhere sicne WWII, and in 19th Century Japan fulfilled a similar function. Trotsky distinguishes between these kinds of "progressive" Bonapartism - within which he also includes the proletarian Bonapartism of Stalin - which reflects the upward march of the productive forces, at a time of weakness of the ruling class - with the kind of reactionary Bonapartism, of which fascism was a particualr variant, which represented a crisis of the productive forces, and an attempt to deal with it, by a ruling class that was relatively weak compared with the revolutionary class.

If you read Trotsky on the Cardenas regime, he makes clear that he sees it as being of the former variety. If we were to define Chavez regime in similar terms, which I am not sure I would, then it too represents the same kind of progressive Bonapartism.

But, progressive is a relative term, and certainly does not mean "socialist", or even pro-working class. These kinds of Bonapartism are still bouregois, but frequently have to lean on the domestic working-class, as a bolster against foreign Capital. Although, we might offer critical support as against Imperialism, and against reactionary opponents within their own country, our main focus remains on building an independent working-class opposition to them.

Jacob Richter said...

I've argued elsewhere, OTOH, that not only were Bismarck and Louis *not* progressive, but also Napoleon himself wasn't progressive. Only the Julius Caesar of people's history was progressive.

Third World Caesarean Socialism, while derived from the main Second International line on less developed countries, seeks to go Beyond Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorships of the Proletariat and Peasantry. Beyond Permanent Revolution. Beyond New Democracy: (album) (thesis) (simplification)

Simply put, it is not the business of Proletarian Demographic Minorities to entitle themselves to what would be a very undemocratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat over the vast majority of non-workers.

"Socialistic" tasks should be undertaken by urban petit-bourgeois democratism and peasant patrimonialism (i.e., a "social[ly radical] and [politically] revolutionary people's [elected, non-hereditary, de facto] monarchy," to correct Lassalle).