Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Political Revolution

The Political Revolution is the means by which the political superstructure is brought into correspondence with the material base of society, and the social relations that arise from it. The basic sequence identified by Marx's theory of Historical Materialism is that a revolution in the productive forces occurs, which brings about a social revolution in which a revolution in productive relations gives rise to the development of new social classes, and the relations between them. These new relations establish one of these classes as the new ruling class, based upon the now dominant form of property – slavery in slave societies, land in feudal societies, capital in capitalist society.

An exception to this is the Asiatic Mode of Production, in which specific historical conditions give rise to the development of a bureaucracy, which rules on the basis of control of a powerful, centralised state, rather than ownership of the means of production. Such societies are divided along caste rather than class lines, with rigid rules preventing movement between the castes so as to ensure that control of the means of production is passed down from generation to generation. Such societies are characterised by repeated political revolutions, as one section of the bureaucracy ousts the incumbent.

However, as Lenin reminds us, “The truth is always concrete.” Throughout history, premature political revolutions have preceded social revolutions. The Peasants Revolt in England, and the Peasant War in Germany, are both examples of premature political revolutions. Both are led by a peasant class whose diversity, as Marx demonstrates, prevents them from becoming a ruling class. The English Civil War is another example of a premature political revolution, as indeed was the Great French Revolution of 1789. 

The English Civil War was fought out on peculiarly confused grounds, that manifested itself in religious garb. In reality, the War was a political revolution with a rising, but still very weak, bourgeoisie on one side, and the forces of the feudal aristocracy on the other. The former succeeded in securing political power, as a result of the efforts of Cromwell's New Model Army, which acts in much the same way as Lenin's Vanguard Party does in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It makes up for the fundamental weakness of the class whose interests it represents, and the lack of maturity of the productive forces which leads to that weakness, by its own discipline and clarity of purpose. In both cases, this force is able to succeed because it mobilises the forces of a Peasant War behind it.

But, the weakness of the material forces, the fact that a social revolution is not complete, establishing the rising class as the ruling class, means that it is unable to rule politically in its own name, and continues to rely on this political force to carry out its historical mission. Cromwell is forced to close down Parliament and rule via the Protectorate, just as Lenin is led to close down the Constituent Assembly, and to substitute Bolshevik control of the soviets for the lack of real working-class involvement, as well as to close down that involvement where it takes the form of the most advanced, most mature workers who, such as the Rail workers, tended to be Mensheviks. In both cases the immaturity of the new productive forces, and of the class based upon them, results in the need to rely on the bureaucracy of the old ruling class.

As Engels puts in relation to the Peasant War in Germany.

“The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost. We have seen examples of this in recent times. We need only be reminded of the position taken in the last French provisional government by the representatives of the proletariat, though they represented only a very low level of proletarian development. Whoever can still look forward to official positions after having become familiar with the experiences of the February government — not to speak of our own noble German provisional governments and imperial regencies — is either foolish beyond measure, or at best pays only lip service to the extreme revolutionary party.” 

A similar process unfolds with the Great French Revolution, which again is carried forward by a bourgeoisie resting upon immature capitalist productive relations, and relying on the forces of a Peasant War for its success. It again results in the state rising up above society in the form of Napoleon Bonaparte, followed by a period of Constitutional Monarchy, followed by another period of Bonapartism under Louis Bonaparte. 

In all these cases the original political revolution leads to a period of Bonapartism, in which a weak new ruling class (Britain and France the bourgeoisie, Russia the proletariat) has to cede political power to a military/bureaucratic elite wielding state power, before the status quo ex ante is restored. In Britain and France the Monarchy is restored, in Russia Capitalism is restored under Yeltsin. But, as Trotsky says, no revolution is fully unwound, each leaves its mark on history, and this colours the later development. In Britain and France, the landlord class lose control of the state, as the ideas of the bourgeoisie become dominant, by the beginning of the 18th century, but they continue to exercise control over the political regime until the end of the 19th Century, when the power of big industrial capital dominates, and when it rules politically on the back of votes from the industrial proletariat.

“Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

(The Communist Manifesto)

“Both these circumstances had turned the English working class, politically, into the tail of the ‘great Liberal Party’, the party led by the manufacturers. This advantage, once gained, had to be perpetuated. And the manufacturing capitalists, from the Chartist opposition, not to Free Trade, but to the transformation of Free Trade into the one vital national question, had learnt, and were learning more and more, that the middle class can never obtain full social and political power over the nation except by the help of the working class. Thus a gradual change came over the relations between both classes..And, practically, that horrid People’s Charter actually became the political programme of the very manufacturers who had opposed it to the last. The Abolition of the Property Qualification and Vote by Ballot are now the law of the land. The Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884 make a near approach to universal suffrage, at least such as it now exists in Germany; the Redistribution Bill now before Parliament creates equal electoral districts-on the whole not more unequal than those of France or Germany; payment of members, and shorter, if not actually annual Parliaments, are visibly looming in the distance and yet there are people who say that Chartism is dead.”

In short, the new ruling social class can only successfully complete the political revolution and establish its political regime after the social revolution has been completed.

The Political Revolution can then occur under a number of different circumstances. On the one hand it can occur as a pre-emptive strike, by a revolutionary class. Such revolutions will normally fail, and for their success usually rely on the mobilisation of other larger class forces, typically those of the peasants. Other examples of such revolutions would be the Chinese Revolution of 1949, and the Cuban Revolution. 

But, a political revolution, may also be the means by which a revolutionary class, having overthrown the previous ruling class, but unable to rule in its own name, then overthrows the Bonapartist regime that has risen in consequence. Such is the case with the establishment of the Third Republic in France, or the Weimar Republic in Germany. Similarly, in Latin America, the revolutions of the 19th century, overthrew colonial rule, and established bourgeois relations, but with weak bourgeoisies. A succession of Bonapartist regimes are only replaced by modern bourgeois social democracies, when capitalist development proceeds to a degree that establishes stable and powerful domestic ruling classes. The revolutions of the “Arab Spring” were also of this nature, as an existing ruling bourgeoisie, sought to replace the Bonapartist political regimes that ruled in the interest of capital, but did so inefficiently and with great overheads, with its own direct political rule via bourgeois social democracy. It was this kind of Political Revolution that Trotsky saw as being required in the USSR to overthrow the Bonapartist regime of Stalin.

Locke's Second Treatise on Government symbolises the securing
of the State by the ideas of the bourgeoisie.
The social revolution is effectively completed with the change in the class nature of the state, which is itself a reflection of the fact that the ideas of the new ruling class have become dominant, alongside the property relations on which it rests.

This is the point Marx makes against the Lassalleans who thought that the State could be treated as an independent entity separate from the society out of which it arises.

"The German Workers' party — at least if it adopts the program — shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep; in that, instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own intellectual, ethical, and libertarian bases." (Critique of the Gotha Programme)

The British state was already a capitalist state from the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and yet as Marx and Engels describe, the bourgeoisie does not establish its own political regime, and outright political control of that state until the end of the 19th century. In his polemics against the Narodniks, Lenin has no doubt that the Russian state is a capitalist state, which acts objectively in the interests of Capital, and yet the political regime in Russia is that of Tsarism.

Marx makes the same point.

"Nevertheless, the different states of the different civilized countries, in spite or their motley diversity of form, all have this in common: that they are based on modern bourgeois society, only one more or less capitalistically developed." (ibid)

In other words, they all have bourgeois states even if in the particular country, the bourgeoisie does not exercise outright control over the political regime itself. 

This demonstrates the real nature of the Political Revolution as one which can only change the nature of the political regime, and not the class nature of the state.

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