Friday, 26 August 2011

Marxists And Bourgeois Democracy - Part 2

In Part 1 I asserted the basic Marxist position, as set out by Marx, Engels and Lenin, that the State is an instrument of class rule, and Bourgeois Democracy is a form of class rule by the bourgeoisie, and that consequently our task is to move beyond it to workers democracy and to socialism.
The debate then centres around the issue of whether Bourgeois Democracy can be seen as good in itself, simply on the basis that it is relatively progressive vis a vis more authoritarian forms of regime, such as feudalism, fascism, clerical-fascism or Stalinism, which also implies that capitalism/imperialism is more progressive than a mode of production based on nationalised and collectivised property, but which forms a separate debate. The consequence of answering yes to the above question, even if it is a conditional yes, is that Marxists should argue in favour of bourgeois democracy in conditions where socialism is not possible.

My answer to this above question is a categorical no. In stating that my answer is a categorical no, however, that does not at all preclude me from arguing for a defence of bourgeois democracy against say fascism or feudalism in conditions where the working class remain ideologically tied to bourgeois democracy, where they have not yet achieved a sufficient level of class consciousness to recognise that it merely masks the bourgeois dictatorship in a velvet glove, where they have not yet recognised the superiority of their own form of democracy – workers democracy – and the ability of such a method of administration to far better meet their immediate needs, and to provide the basis for the transformation of society. In short to quote Trotsky in the Transitional Programme,

“One thing can be stated with conviction even at this point: once it breaks through, the revolutionary wave in fascist countries will immediately be a grandiose sweep and under no circumstances will stop short at the experiment of resuscitating some sort of Weimar corpse.

It is from this point onward that an uncompromising divergence begins between the Fourth International and the old parties, which outlive their bankruptcy. The emigre “People’s Front” is the most malignant and perfidious variety of all possible People’s Fronts. Essentially, it signifies the impotent longing for coalition with a nonexistent liberal bourgeoisie. Had it met with success, it would simply have prepared a series of new defeats of the Spanish type for the proletariat. A merciless exposure of the theory and practice of the “People’s Front” is therefore the first condition for a revolutionary struggle against fascism.

Of course, this does not mean that the Fourth International rejects democratic slogans as a means of mobilizing the masses against fascism. On the contrary, such slogans at certain moments can play a serious role. But the formulae of democracy (freedom of press, the right to unionize, etc.) mean for us only incidental or episodic slogans in the independent movement of the proletariat and not a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie’s agents (Spain!). As soon as the movement assumes something of a mass character, the democratic slogans will be intertwined with the transitional ones; factory committees, it may be supposed, will appear before the old routinists rush from their chancelleries to organize trade unions; soviets will cover Germany before a new Constituent Assembly will gather in Weimar. The same applies to Italy and the rest of the totalitarian and semi-totalitarian countries.”

Trotsky – The Transitional Programme – The Programme Of Transitional demands In Fascist Countries

That is the level of significance that Trotsky gave it, even in 1938, when all forms of democracy were in retreat against fascism and Stalinism.
Bourgeois democratic demands were to comprise merely episodic slogans, no more than a tactic to win workers away from their illusions in bourgeois democracy, and to set them on the road to establishing workers democracy. And that is the crux of the debate. It is not about the relative progressive merits of bourgeois democracy vis a vis fascism, or feudalism – it may have been in the 18th and early 19th century, but not now – but about the best tactic for winning away the workers from illusions in the dominant ideas of the ruling class whether they be bourgeois democratic or fascistic. In short, our politics are determined not by considerations of the best form of capitalist rule, but by putting the working class at the centre of our politics, and the best way of winning them to us. As I wrote several years ago, as part of a debate on these issues with the AWL in relation to Iraq,

“To do anything other is to lead us into the camp of bourgeois reformism. It is to go down the road of the Euston Manifesto, whose logic must be to support a war of imperialist bourgeois democracy against the clerical-fascist regime in Iran, for instance, and which has already led to them supporting bourgeois-democratic Israel against Lebanon in order to defeat the clerical-fascist forces of Hizbollah. That is the logic of socialists giving support to one camp of the bourgeoisie over another camp of the bourgeoisie, the democratic camp of the bourgeoisie over the fascistic camp of the bourgeoisie. Its logic is the very opposite of what is required, and the consequences are clear. Instead of winning the workers to the banner of socialism they are driven even more into the hands of the fascists.”

Back then, at least, the AWL had opposed the Imperialist War against Iraq. Only a few years before that, they had argued that, in the event of such a War, socialists would have had to support Saddam against Imperialism – an argument I disagreed with at the time, and disagree with now, because support for Iraq was not the same as support for Saddam, just as support for Libya against Imperialism today is not the same as support for Gaddafi – even if they subsequently refused to call for Imperialism to be booted out of Iraq.
This was before they descended further into the slime of social imperialism, before they started to argue that socialists could have no reason to oppose Israel bombing Iran, before they joined the Imperialists in backing Fatah against Hamas, and before they argued that there was no reason to oppose an Imperialist War against Libya. In other words, before their politics simply descended into choosing one Camp of the bourgeoisie over another, and thereby acting as apologists for it.

Trotsky was quite clear what such defence of bourgeois democracy within the ranks of the Labour Movement represented. He set it out in his Theses on Fundamental Tasks for the Second Congress of the Comintern.

“Hence, preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat entails not only explanation of the bourgeois character of all reformism, of all defence of democracy, while private ownership of the means of production is preserved;
it entails, not only exposure of such trends, which are in fact a defence of the bourgeoisie within the labour movement; it also calls for old leaders being replaced by Communists in proletarian organisations of absolutely every type—not only political, but also trade union, co-operative, educational, etc.”

To summarise, Marxists main task is to win the working class to our banner. That is the central aim of our tactics. In conditions where the majority, or a sizeable number, of workers are, for whatever reason, imbued with illusions in bourgeois democracy then we have to win them away from those illusions. In conditions where that bourgeois democracy is under attack from fascists, we are not likely to win over those workers if we remain indifferent. We defend the bourgeois democracy, in which they have illusions, against the fascists, but such defence does not at all require us to reinforce the illusions they already hold, does not require us to emphasise the relative progressiveness of the camp of the democratic bourgeoisie over the fascistic camp of the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, in defending the bourgeois democracy, in forming a United Front with the workers that retain those illusions, we encourage them to join us in its defence not by means of bourgeois-democratic institutions, but by them joining us in organisations based on workers democracy, in workers militia, factory committees, peasant committees etc. and in so doing demonstrate in practice to them the superiority of these forms of workers democracy over bourgeois democracy, and the irrelevance to their needs of that bourgeois democracy.
That is the method Trotsky proposed in the Action Programme for France, which has many aspects of it relevant to Libya today. He sets out his tactic right at the beginning of the section where he advocates defence of the bourgeois democracy against the French fascists.

”We are thus firm partisans of a Workers and Peasants State, which will take the power from the exploiters. To win the majority of our working class allies to this program is our primary aim.

Meanwhile, as long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie.”

There is nothing in Trotsky’s argument here that gives succour to the idea that we defend bourgeois democracy because of its relative progressiveness vis a vis fascism.
We defend it because we are “with the workers” and if the workers retain illusions in bourgeois democracy we have to stay with them in order to win them away, but we do not win them away by accommodating to those illusions, we win them away by merciless criticism of bourgeois democracy, by exposing its class nature as merely a class dictatorship in democratic clothing, and by exposing those representatives of the bourgeoisie within the Labour Movement that foster those illusions.

But the illustration of the possibility of a war between a bourgeois democratic imperialism and a clerical fascist Iran, or a totalitarian Libya, illustrates the issue from the other side of the coin. If Marxists attitude is determined by the relative progressive nature of bourgeois democracy compared to say the clerical-fascist regime in Iran rather than a concern to be with the workers and to win them away from illusions of either of these forms of bourgeois rule, then the Euston Manifesto group are right. Marxists should support a war of US imperialism against fascist Iran, or totalitarian Libya, because it would be “progressive”.
But abandoning the Iranian or Libyan workers or any other group of workers just because they are attached to some reactionary ideology has nothing to do with Marxism. We do not simply write them off as a “bad” working class, as for example the idiot anti-imperialists do in respect of the Protestant working class in Northern Ireland. Its rather like when during the 1960’s, my old man who had been a militant all his life, but who was beginning to despair of the British working class, said to me one day, “The only way the British working class will get off its knees is when the Red Army marches in.” It is to abandon the idea that progress can only come from the independent class action of the working class, and to slide into a reliance on alien class forces and institutions. It is typical of the kind of ideas that creep into the Labour Movement after a period of successive defeats such as that of the last 25 years or so.

Our tactic is not to side with bourgeois democracy or with the opponents of bourgeois democracy, but to side with the workers even where those workers are confused and give their support to a reactionary, clerical-fascist regime. Only on that basis can we have any hope of relating to those workers and dragging them away from their confusion and those illusions, whether they be illusions in bourgeois democracy or in clerical-fascism. We do so by giving no succour to the ideas in which they have illusions be they bourgeois-democracy or clerical-fascism, but by counterposing to both workers democracy, exposing the class nature of both the bourgeois democracy and the clerical fascism, by encouraging the workers to form their own organisations based on workers democracy as the best means of their defence.

Back To Part 1

Forward To Part 3

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