Trotsky and soviet democracy
Present perspectives for revolution and the dialectics of ’freedom-liberation’
The realm of contemporary political theory is cut across by a misleading antinomy opposing ’democracy’ and ’totalitarianism’. Such vulgar simplification schema glosses over the 150-year-long record of the working class movement, putting an equal sign between the whole past revolutionary experience of the latter and the various hues of Stalinism.
The prevailing theories about ’democracy’ today, in the wake of the demise of Stalinist regimes almost everywhere, rely on a liberal tenet advocating a wholesome separation of politics with regards to any social determination, thus introducing anew an unsurmountable antagonism between political democracy and economic emancipation.
In her book On Revolution, Hanna Arendt pondered the differences opposing the American and French revolutions in the seventeenth century, charting that dicotomy by postulating a gap between (political) ’liberty’ and ’liberation’ (ie, social emancipation), which meant that the former did not necessarily bring about the latter.
That abysmal gap emerged when taking into account the ’social issue’ within a revolution, ie., the transformation of poverty into an ’active social force’ and the ensuing need of working out the hardship that flowed from the economic sphere through political tools. For H. Arendt, although such emergence of the ’social question’ -the ’burning needs of the people’- was the distinctive feature of the 1789 French Revolution, and the Jacobine-sponsored period of terror above all, it was actually Marx who eventually turned ’the social into the political’. ’Thus the goal of revolution was no longer to liberate men from the oppression of their feloow men, let alone to found freedom, but to liberate the life process of society from the feeters of scarcity so that it could swell into a streem ob abundance. Not freedom but abundance became now the aim of revolution’.
H. Arendt’s liberal views lead her, then, to gloss over the fact that ’abundance’ is a pre-requisite for freedom, ignoring also that the contradiction is not one opposing the social emancipation of the exploited and their political self-determination, but that embedded within capitalist relations of production themselves, which tie human beings to the realm of need -with waged exploitation being the ultimate denial of both liberation and liberty. It is here that we find the most conservative thrust in H. Arendt´s political views, which revolve around the idea of political democracy as a form of self-government and constituent power -ranging from the Greek polis to the revolutionary workers’ council in Russia 1917, Italy 1919 or Hungary 1956. Such view goes hand in hand with a pragmatical acceptance of capitalism as such and an uncritical view of American democracy -a beautification that was upheld by looking at it according to the revolution from which it originated. But whereas revolution still played a significant role within the narrow liberal view of Arendt´s thought, it is absolutely absent from the latest theoretical developments. As Z. Bauman says, revealing the cynicism typical of present-day pundits, the recent come-back of liberalism, beyond its rethorical wrappings, ’boils down to a simple creed: «there is no alternative»’.
Such radical separation of the social and political spheres entails a theoretical codification of the break-up of the dialectics between ’liberation and liberty’ brought about by the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR –which was just made worse by the postwar revolutions. Moreover, it writes revolution off the political horizon of postmodernism, since in her view, revolution would always entail a denial of freedom for the sake of an always dubious liberation.
The set of ’anti-totalitarian’ thinkers ranges from ’postMarxists’ such as E. Laclau, who stand for a ’plural democracy’ -a strand that is just a vulgar re-run of Second International-styled reformism sprinkled with a dash of psychoanalysis and liberalism, as we shall see-; the advocates of ’counterpower’ such as J. Holloway who have jumped to the conclusion that if the Russian workers’ state degenerated we’d better not dream of taking power ever again; up to T. Negri, an ’immanent Communist’ who is very enthusiastic about the world as it is. He writes off political organization, the transitional period and a workers’ state altogether, because he thinks the political has completely melted away into the social sphere.
This ideological sleight-of-hand is topped off with a ’return’ (to the Greeks, Locke, Kant, Spinoza, Bernstein...), to some kind of ’preMarxism’ adapted to ’postmodern’ conditions, on one hand, and an over-reliance on unilateral tendencies rid of any kind of dialectical motion, on the other. And this only leads them to mistify episodic situations, taking them as if they were daily realities.
All the new thinkers in this strand of thought just ’ignore’ Trotsky, which is quite surprising when we consider that many of them come from a Trotskyist background. Such manoeuvre serves the purpose of portraying a caricature of Marxism as a closed and deterministic schema quite well, and thus ’prove’ that the latter is conducive to totalitarianism, putting an equal sign between Marxism and Stalinism. In this way, they avoid confronting the contradictions flowing from capitalism’s social fabric, contenting themselves with abstract truisms or else taking up old formulas that have already been proved wrong by history.
In the face of such strategic and theoretical misery, the thought of Leon Trotsky is a priceless legacy to re-enact the perspective of proletarian revolution once again. It serves also well to give the lie to those claiming a priori -be it due to ’ontological’ reasons or the inherent human dynamics at work within any drive to political organization- that seizing power and the attempt at building a new society based on organs of working class power will forcibly lead to totalitarian regimes.
It was Trotsky who reflected the most about these issues, building upon the experience of the October Revolution and the fight against its degeneration, anticipating even the concept of totalitarianism and applying it to the Stalinist regime (to which he denounced as ’a twin of Nazism’), a long time before our liberals where ever able to come up with a coherent explanation. He also waged a life and death battle against Stalinism, upholding the perspective of world revolution and soviet democracy against the juggernaut of ’socialism in one country’ and the bureaucratic dictatorship. He saw it as the most democratic way of political organization of the proletariat as a ruling class. That is why we believe that his political and theoretical legacy today contains valuable guidelines to come out of the conundrum opposing’freedom without equality’ to ’equality without freedom’, and thus rejuvenate revolutionary Marxism so that it becomes a revolutionary beacon for workers power and workers democracy in the twenty first century -pushing mankind out of its prehistory and on to conquering a communist society.
’Plural democracy’ or a return to Bernsterin?
The postmodern thinkers on democracy -be it plural, radical or agonistic- have replaced the great goal of emancipation from waged exploitation with a vulgar return to old concepts of the liberal theory, such as the ’universal values’ of citinzenry and equality.
If, from a political standpoint, this leads to reformist policies under the guise of ’radicalism’, from a theoretical point of view there is a striking parallel, in some fundamental issues, with the debate within the Second International in the late nineteenth century, which came to be known as the ’Bernstein Debatte’.
When we look at Bernstein’s views, we can see that many people, although they would not admit it, have taken up several of his delusive ’insights’ -on a crisis-free capitalism, on the spread of democracy, etc. It is Ernesto Laclau who recognizes his theoretical debt to the reformist views of the Second International. He is one of the main advocates of ’plural democracy’, and we shall discuss with him in the main.
It is very fruitful to contrast the original insights flowing from Bernstein’s reformism and those flowing from Laclau’s postMarxism. In doing so, we can see that beyond the much vaunted theoretical sophistication churned out by postestructuralism, psychoanalysis and linguistics, it all boils down to a renewed attempt at writing off revolution, replacing it by a piecemeal democratization of social life.
Reformism and the dynamics of capitalism
For Bernstein, the changes that occurred in the late nineteenth century challenged the foundations of Marxism on all terrains: the economy, the social dynamics of class, politics and phylosophy. These rendered revolutionary strategy obsolete, sparking off a move to substantiate, the ongoing political intervention by whole sections of German social democracy -its union and parliamentary fractions in the main- on new political and programmatic bases. In his words, ‘the influence of Social Democracy would be greatly enhanced if it got rid of old-fashioned phraseology and decided to come across as what it really is today: a socialist, democratic party which stands for reform’.
What did Bernstein’s proposed ’updating’ of Marxism, aimed at keeping its ’vitality’, consist in? It just amounted to writing it off altogether.
On the economic terrain, Bernstein aimed at the heart of the Marxist theory: the theory of value and Marx’s own account of capitalist crises. For Bernstein, the concepts of ’absract labour’ and ’value’, were just mental set-ups, theoretical generalizations that might be relevant tools of analysis, but which bore no connection with the real world.
He considered that Marx had highlighted those tendencies leading to crises -essentially the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and overproduction- but had glossed over other tendencies, such as state intervention, the increasing flexibility in the credit system, the expansion of the world market, and the emergence of big trusts above all, to which Bernstein endowed with an overriding power. And he did so to the extent that he deemed unlikely ’the ocurrence of general economic crises similar to previous ones, at least for a long period of time’. Hence he concluded that capitalism had been able to reconcile its tendency to uneven development, setting in motion a course of endless progress, which meant that ’class wars’ no longer made sense, as well as forcible revolution and the seizure of power by the proletariat. Although reality has given the lie to Bernstein a thousand times or more -we can just mention the 1929 crack in passing- the perspective of a crisis-free capitalism, even free from the business cycle, made a comeback in the 1990s, with fresh ideology churned out by the champions of ’globalization’, who saw here an enduring tendency of capitalism towards world integration. The same did the advocates of the ’new economy’ who also came up with the theories about the end of work and the hegemony of immaterial labour.
The quest of a reactionary utopia from Bernstein to Laclau: citizenship, democracy and the state
It is in the realm of political definitions that the similarities between Bernstein and the advocates of ’citizen’s emancipation’ become mostly apparent. The latter stand for humanising the most brutal tendencies of capitalism and expanding the ’people’s management’ into the public sphere by taking some resources and activities away from the private sector, but without ever challenging private property.
Let us look how -in some fundamental respects- Bernstein anticipated the high priests of postMarxist ’deconstruction’, who have gutted it out of the slightest reference to socialism, to espouse the reform of capitalism. We shall also dwell on the subsequent reply of classical Marxism to his postulates.
a) Democracy as a ’classless government’
In tune with his harmonious view of society, Bernstein regarded the bourgeois democratic order and its state as a ’superior form of civilization’, one in which class antagonism would continue to exist, becoming less and less intense as time went by.
Opposing Marx and Engels’ classical view of the state, Bernstein considered that the new legislation passed, democratization and the increasing social and political leverage of the proletariat, had all radically altered the role of the state as a class rule instrument, which had thereby become a social organizer of ’all the people’. He stated that:’The more the political institutions of modern nations become democratized, the more the occasions and necessity for great political crises are removed’,understanding a ’political catastrophe’ to be a violent proletarian upheaval against the established order. Bernstein thus ruled out revolution in the imperialist heartlands, even as a theoretical probability.
Bernstein then asks himself ’what is the principle of democracy?’ And he replies: ‘We shall come much nearer to the definition if we express ourselves negatively, and define democracy as an absence of class government, as the indication of a social condition where a political privilege belongs to no one class as opposed to the whole community. This negative definition has, besides, the advantage that it gives less room than the phrase “government by the people” to the idea of the oppression of the individual by the majority which is absolutely repugnant to the modern mind. The more it is adopted and governs the general consciousness, the more will democracy be equal in meaning to the highest possible degree of freedom for all.
Democracy is in principle the suppression of class government, though it is not yet the actual suppression of classes.’
In tune with this neutral content, from the standpoint of social antagonism at least, emancipation is no longer regarded as emancipation from waged labour, as a platform to achieve freedom. Instead, emancipation was to be achieved by means of an enhanced citizenry, thus being deprived of any class content whatsoever.
But formal democracy is not antagonical to capitalist despotism -quite otherwise, it is the most stable judicial framework for economic coercion, i.e. the forcible sale of labour that is typical in the lives of the overwhelming majority of mankind, because they have no other means of life.
Although for different reasons, in Laclau’s view, as well as in Bernstein’s, the liberal political regime stands above the relations of production that serve as its foundation. And this leads to a simplistic view postulating both democracy and the state as a neutral territory for the struggle to win hegemony. Accordingly, the policies of the left ’do not proceed along the lines of a direct assault onto the state apparatus, but involve the consolidation and the democratic reform of the liberal state’.
One need not resort to sophisticated schemas to dismiss such scenario a utterly fantastic. Historically, bourgeois democracy had been a luxury that only the most advanced nations could afford. On the eve of World War II, Trotsky pointed out that the democratic regime ‘is the most aristocratic form of rule. Only rich nations can afford it. Every single British democrat has nine or ten slaves working in the colonies’
But in the wake of World War II, matters were radically altered. The United States was able to profit from the Nazi’s barbarianism, the concentration camps and the holocaust, as well as the oppressive and totalitarian nature of the Stalinist regimes. Throughout the Cold War the US made the ‘free world’ a by-word for ‘Western democracy’ –in spite of having committed atrocities such as the bombings of Dresden or the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which would be continued in the carnage of Vietnam and Algeria. For all its democratic credentials, the US also backed the most vicious dictatorships such as that of Suharto, the Apartheid in South Africa, or the regimes of Pinochet in Chile and Videla in Argentina.
In the two last decades of the twentieth century, bourgeois democracy spread to most of the semicolonial world and the former Stalinist states, spawning regimes that combined various degrees of Bonapartism and authoritarian traits. However, such spread of liberal democracy has failed to bring about social emancipation –quite otherwise it has been a fig leaf for the neoliberal onslaught, providing also a rationale for imperialist war elsewhere.
b) The atomisation of the proletariat
Bernstein considered that before claiming allegiance to proletarian revolution, one should first furnish a definition of what we understand the modern proletariat to be. He replied that:‘If one counts in it all persons without property, all those who have no income from property or from a privileged position, then they certainly form the absolute majority of the population of advanced countries. But this “proletariat” would be a mixture of extraordinarily different elements, of classes which have more differences among themselves than had the “people” of 1789 (...) the modern wage-earners are not of the homogeneous mass, devoid in an equal degree of property, family, etc., as the Communist Manifesto foresees. In the most advanced of the manufacturing industries a whole hierarchy of differentiated workmen are to be found between whose groups only a moderate feeling of solidarity exists.’
On top of the emergence of a labour aristocracy, Bernstein also argued that the industrial working class, such as Marx had conceived the proletariat, was a minority in society. He pointed out to the emergence of agrarian classes and also middle layers who had access to ownership of shares and stocks. Those non proletarian classes did not –and could not- develop a socialist consciousness. From this, he concluded that although they might by and large share a waged position, thus boosting union struggles in turn, they would not reach agreement on a common agenda to run the state once they had taken over it.
Right before Bernstein dwelled on this issue, Marx himself had dealt with it –although not in a thorough-going fashion- in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. There, he focused on the oppressed, non proletarian, classes and the policy that a revolutionary workers’ party should raise towards the peasant and middle strata.
According to Laclau’s view, the prevailing social ‘atomisation’ of today is a good enough pretext to proceed and ‘deconstruct’ the concept of ‘class’. In fact, Laclau just ‘deconstructs’ the concept of ‘working class’, but he does not utter a single word as to the bourgeoisie itself has also undergone ‘deconstruction’ –with private property vanishing away altogether-, which speaks volumes of how ideologically-biased his insights are.
Notwithstanding that, in order to be able to play out the realm of politics, atomisation in itself or else sheer difference are not enough. There must be a link between such ‘moment of social plurality’ and that of articulation. To work out this ever equivocal definition, Laclau undertakes a re-writing of the concept of ‘hegemony’ from his post-structuralist perspective. The latter was forged by Russian Marxists and developed by the Comintern, but Laclau proceeds to gut it out of any class content whatsoever, turning it into an ‘empty signifier’. The rival social subjects agonize to endow it with a particular meaning, one with universal effects for other social subjects, which enacts, through a chain of equivalent values, the opening of the field of politics.
Laclau regards Marxism as an ‘essentialist’ and ‘objectivistic’ theory. However, he is forced to acknowledge that the law of uneven and combined development and the theory of permanent revolution, such as it was originally postulated in 1904-05 and then codified by Trotsky in the late 1920s, broke with mechanistic determinism. It alsp ushered in a perspective of proletarian hegemony vis-à-vis bourgeois –i.e. democratic-tasks. But then Laclau goes on to say that Trotsky’s political mindset was still tied up to ‘class-ridden essentialism’.
Indeed, Trotsky considered that the fact that the proletariat should take over those tasks a declining bourgeoisie was unwilling to carry out did not result in a changed nature of the tasks themselves, nor did the identity of the working class change accordingly –the latter remained the social subject who would make good of them as part of its own revolution.
Instead of Laclau’s interpretation of the concept of ‘hegemony’ as devoid of any class content, the tradition of Russian Marxism and the Comintern, including Gramsci, claimed that hegemony made sense as long as society was divided into classes, because such concept set out those classes on which the proletariat was to enforce its dictatorship and those on which hegemony would be exerted.
In the years before the Russian Revolution, the discussion revolving around working class hegemony was focused on the role played by the proletariat in the fight against the Tsarist autocracy. The former implied that the working class should win the poor peasants over to their side as an ally, which entailed reaching practical compromise with regards to non-socialist tasks of the revolution such as the land reform. Such hegemony over the oppressed strata was something different from the dictatorship enforced against class enemies such as the autocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie, whose power and state were to be forcibly suppressed.
For a former socialist, now recycled as liberal, such as Laclau, that postulate, along with that of a revolutionary party, stands accused of having nourished what he brands ‘authoritarian practices’. Such a definition, he claims, is a priori, i.e., it sets before the political act, the class sense of a given demand, targeting a specific social agency for change.
Trotsky made theoretical room for the increasingly heterogeneous nature both of society and the proletariat in his concept of uneven and combined development -and also in his theory of permanent revolution. He argued for the need to uphold proletarian hegemony at the head of the exploited, advocating a transitional programme to weld together the various strata and layers of the working class.
Today, in the wake of the neoliberal onslaught that brought about an increased atomisation of the working class, but also a widespread reign of waged relationships, Trotsky’s insights are priceless when it comes to overcoming the prevalent divisions within the working class –organized labour, the jobless, casual labour, temps, etc-, thus telescoping social diversity and democratic demands into a single anticapitalist perspective, one suitable to raise a revolutionary policy.
c) A universal citizenry
Bernstein came to the conclusion that the dictatorship of the proletariat had been suitable for a time long gone then, in which the propertied classes had a tight grip on power across Europe, a situation that both capitalist development and the parliamentary achievements of social democracy had rendered obsolete. He states:
‘Is there any sense, for example, in maintaining the phrase of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” at a time when in all possible places representatives of social democracy have placed themselves practically in the arena of Parliamentary work, have declared for the proportional representation of the people, and for direct legislation – all of which is inconsistent with a dictatorship.
The phrase is to-day so antiquated that it is only to be reconciled with reality by stripping the word dictatorship of its actual meaning and attaching to it some kind of weakened interpretation. The whole practical activity of social democracy is directed towards creating circumstances and conditions which shall render possible and secure a transition (free from convulsive outbursts) of the modern social order into a higher one. From the consciousness of being the pioneers of a higher civilisation, its adherents are ever creating fresh inspiration and zeal. In this rests also, finally, the moral justification of the socialist expropriation towards which they aspire. But the “dictatorship of the classes” belongs to a lower civilization.’
Proletarian revolution was no longer the goal of social democracy, being replaced by that of enhancing citizenry. ‘On the contrary, social democracy does not wish to break up this society and make all its members proletarians together; it labours rather incessantly at raising the worker from the social position of a proletarian to that of a citizen, and thus to make citizenship universal’.
Although he recognized that liberal parties had become ‘a bulwark for capitalism’, Bernstein believed that ‘socialism is a legitimate heir of liberalism’, and this not only in the short run, but in its ‘spiritual qualities’, to the extent that he considered socialism could summarily be described as ‘organised liberalism’.
Ultimately, he considered that both the parliamentarian regime and the state would progressively smooth out conflict between rival classes, to the extent that its main source of origin would be removed altogether, therefore overcoming the contradiction opposing ‘political equality’ to ‘social inequality’.
However, it is precisely here where the strength of capitalism lied and still lies; i.e., an appalling ’social inequality’ predicated upon the exploitation and social coercion of the overwhelming majority of the population, who has been deprived of all means of production, coexists alongside the fullest ’juridical equality’. This misleads the people into believing that all individual citizens -regardless of their social position- are regarded as equal by the state, with the same level of political entitlement and obligation.
But capitalist exploitation is no juridical problem -nor does it fade away by means of law reform. As Rosa Luxemburg replied to him, ‘No law obliges the proletariat to submit itself to the yoke of capitalism. Poverty, the lack of means of production, obliges the proletariat to submit itself to the yoke of capitalism.’
Unlike Bernstein, Luxemburg believed that the modern democratic representative state was not -and is not- a ’superior form of civilization’, but rather it embodies a dictatorship of capital despotically presiding over the mass of wage-earners, regardless of any formal political rights conceded to the latter.
Laclau does not believe -as Bernstein did- that the present world is a ’superior civilization’, but he does believe it is the only democratic order possible, one that makes room for all differences (sexual, ethnic ones, etc) to be recognized.
In order to contrast such ’democracy’ reliant on contingent identities, Laclau makes a mishmash between a transitional society and the future communist world society -to which Marx referred to as a society free from those class antagonisms typical of human prehistory- and comes up with a deterministic and ’totalitarian’ portrait of Marxism. Furthermore, he considers social revolution as akin to the end of politics, therefore giving rise to a seamless and transparent society.
d) A return to Kant
Bernstein wrote off dialectics altogether because he believed that its emphasis on the ’fight of opposites’ not only distorted reality, portraying conflict worse than it really was, but also gave bogus credentials to the need for a forcible revolution. This negative view on dialectics led him to claim that Marxism’s core should lie in evolution, with its moral thrust being some kind of neoKantism. Socialism, henceforth deprived of any scientific foundation in the dynamics of capitalism’s contradictions themselves, went on to become an ethical pursuit or a ’regulating idea’, to be freely chosen for by human will. The advance of that supposedly ’higher civilization’ represented by democracy in the advanced countries, heralded the promise of ’perpetual peace’, as promised by Kant, a gross blunder that was proved wrong by the antagonisms that sparked off World War I. Bernstein postulated a dualism made up of the ’natural need’ of capitalist economic laws and the ’ethical freedom’ that went into the choice for socialism. Evolutionarism has been greatly discredited ever since, having been virtually rejected by most contemporary theories. But the ’return to Kant’ still lingers on in the minds of many leftists, who have reintroduced a sort of dualism made up of present-day conditions on one hand, and an out-of-reach ethical goal on the other. Some vestiges of such dualistic view can be found in Derrida’s promise of the ’incoming democracy’ and his messianic stand-by attitude. Taking issue with Laclau, Slavoj Zizek argues that ’Laclau’s main Kantian thrust lies in his acceptance of the insurmountable gap between the enthusiasm of an impossible Pursuit of political compromise and its more modest, achievable content’. In a nutshell, this means we should uphold the promise of a ’radical democracy’ and a new hegemony, while partial reforms within the framework of representative liberal democracy are achieved.
Contemporary political philosophy tends to dismiss both dialectics and historical materialism as negative views, as well-rounded forms of totalitarianism, overriding singularity and ultimately advocating what Derrida called a ’metaphysics of presence’, namely, the illusion of finding an objective foundation that should render reality , i.e. society, understandable to the subject. Instead of this, it places great emphasis on antagonism. But such philosophies of contingency have just given a fresh breath of life to old-styled essentialism, an archaic metaphysics and an even more archaic vitalism. Far from rendering the dynamics of societal motion and change more clear, they just relapse into renewed philosophical idealism and political utopias.
The parallel we have summarily developed so far sheds light -we believe- on the profoundly ideological bias of those theories standing on similar grounds as Bernstein’s -and by ideological we mean misleading and contrived. When Bernstein put forward his reformist ideas, the working class was conquering key gains, with an increasing social and political weight achieved through elections and increasing seats in the parliament. The advance of capitalism, in turn, fostered the illusion of ceaseless progress and an increasing harmony between the states.
Such rosy picture is hard to believe now, once the twentieth century has ended, a century cut across by slumps, two devastating world wars and the emergence of social revolution.
The kind of political reformism advocated by ’plural democracy’ cannot stand today. The neoliberal onslaught, which delivered a harsh blow to the living conditions of the masses worldwide, is proof positive that a harsh economic and social counter-revolution can unfold within a democratic institutional framework. In the words of Lenin, democracy has once again proved to be ’the best wrapping for the dictatorship of capital’, with proletarian revolution remaining the only viable way of taking on bourgeois power successfully.
The dicatorship of the proletarid as a mass democracy. The debate today
We have referred above to the so-called post Marxist theory advocating a ‘radical democracy’ and reformist policies, which are by and large the offspring of Bernstein’s strand of Marxism within the Second International.
But the lure of ‘radical democracy’ extends farther than intellectual circles. It has had a serious impact on those strands of the left claiming allegiance to revolutionary Marxism, such as the French Revolutionary Communist League, which ditched the formula ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ out of its programme at its last congress.
The European press has drawn a parallel with the French Communist Party’s ‘abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat’ back in 1976, thus hinting that if this inaugurated the French CP’s turn to eurocommunism, the LCR today has embarked on a turn with similar consequences within the Trotskyist movement. That is why a debate on this topic is an urgent task –still more so when we consider that this party has outstanding Marxist intellectuals within it.
The fact that the LCR has ditched the dictatorship of the proletariat is no mere terminological or ‘discoursive’ matter, as their leaders claim, alleging that the word ‘dictatorship’ has an undeniably negative overtone in the eyes of the mass movement. Instead, such move represents the programmatic culmination of a long-term political and theoretical endeavour on the part of the LCR –especially after the events of 1989- which seeks to blur the line separating reform and revolution.
Just for the sake of giving some recent examples, let us mention that the LCR has adapted to the reformist wing of World Social Forum, including organizations like ATTAC. Back in 2002, they even called to vote for the right-wing French president, Mr. Chirac to stop the rise of arch-rightwing candidate Le Pen, advocating the defense of the republic. The most extreme case of adaptation is represented by Democracia Socialista –the LCR’s Brazilian sister organization-, one of whose main leaders serves as a minister for Lula’s capitalist government.
This debate, then, seeks to show how post Marxist –and left liberal- views have shaped the political course followed by the LCR. Those views abhor the concept of class, postulating instead that of citizenry, and collapse the perspective of revolution into that of a radicalization of democracy. This shows through in a recently-proclaimed formulation of revolution, which in the words of one of their leaders, has come to mean ‘a struggle for democracy through and through’. Moreover, universal suffrage, rather than a democracy based on workers’ councils, has been proclaimed the organizing principle within a transitional society to socialism.
We shall start our debate by summarily charting the origin and evolution of the concept ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.
The dictatorship of the proletariat, a democracy of workers’ council and the withering away of the state
After years of unchallenged Stalinist rule, the dictatorship of the proletariat came to be regarded as tantamount to the dictatorship of a single party. This fallacy makes it all the more necessary to restore its original significance for revolutionary theory, one which –as we shall see- is closely associated with a democracy for the majority and the withering away of the state.
In the tradition of revolutionary Marxism, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a byword for a new kind of democracy; proletarian democracy based on organs of mass self-determination, and this is true of its two aspects: either we regard it as a ‘strategic task’, i.e. one that is not posed right now as a practical undertaking, like Marx in the face of the Paris Commune, or else as a concrete form of organization within post capitalist societies, one tending to the withering away of the state.
In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx furnishes the most concrete definition on how ‘the working class as a ruling class’ will eventually get organized. Here, he traces a clear distinction between a transitional period spanning between the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and its state on one hand, and the advent of a communist society on the other, branding that transitional state-regime the ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat’.
Such transitional period, which Marx defined as the ‘first phase of communist society’, does not amount to a ‘realm of liberty’. The economic organization is still presided over by an apparent equalization of unequal individuals, with bourgeois rights still reigning supreme, and each individual member is given according to what society provides.As Marx explains, ‘Right can never stand above the economic structure of society and the cultural development impinging on it’. In this communist perspective, the state that stood as the organization of the proletariat as a ruling class seeking to reorganize society after the expropriation of the bourgeoisie -and the collective ownership of the means of production-, was henceforth doomed to wither away, along with class antagonism.
Basing himself on such definition of a transitional state forged by Marx, one that enshrines the embryonic forms of its ultimate extinction, Lenin was to develop his view around a ‘proletarian semi-state’ –charted in his State and Revolution. Such state was bound to emerge after the overthrow of bourgeois rule. Lenin sets out to show how the advance of technique achieved by capitalism, combined with a cultural break-through for the masses, would pave the way for a simpler ‘book-keeping and accounting’ –two major assingments of the state- therefore empowering most workers to enact their own administration. In Lenin’s view, a shortened working day, itself the result of a democratic planning of the economy, a radically democratic programme –implemented by recallable and accountable officials-, the elimination of material privilege and the widespread arming of the population, would all push the state towards its own extinction.
But it was Trotsky who, since the 1905 Russian Revolution, hammered out the future paths to workers power more clearly, by pointing to the role of the soviets as embryonic state organs that would come to rule for the duration of the transitional period. In his “Conclusions of 1905”, he states, ‘The soviet organized the bulk of the working class, led strikes and protests, armed the workers and protected the population against pogroms (...) If the proletariat, on their own behalf, and the reactionary press, for its part, both branded the soviet as a ‘proletarian government’, it was because such organization was indeed no other thing than an embryonic revolutionary government (...) In becoming a rallying platform for the revolutionary forces of the nation, the soviet did not dissolve itself in revolutionary democracy; it was the organized reflection of the class will of the proletariat, and remained so’.
This far-sighted observation made by Trotsky on the role the organs of mass self-determination were bound to play from the emergence of the Petrograd soviet onwards, was proved right all along the way in the February Revolution of 1917, which ushered in a dual power regime. Such role of the soviets as a ‘ultimately found’ basis for a new proletarian state was codified into the Bolshevik slogan of ‘all power to the soviets’, which culminated to the victorious October Revolution in 1917.
According to the historian E.H. Carr, ‘The concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat, applied by the Bolsheviks to the regime established by them in Russia after the October revolution, did not bear any specific constitutional implications whatsoever (...) The emotional overtones of the word «dictatorship», insofar as it was associated with the idea of a rule of the few, was totally absent from the minds of the Marxists who resorted to that phrase. Quite otherwise, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be the first regime in history in which power was to be exerted by the class who made up the majority of the population, a condition that should be met in Russia by drawing the mass of peasants into an alliance with the industrial proletariat (...) Far from being the rule of violence, it would pave the way for the elimination of the resort to violence as a social punishment, i.e., for the withering away of the state’. Such endeavour failed to materialize, because shortly after the seizure of power the civil war broke out, forcing the Bolsheviks to enforce exceptionally harsh measures which resulted in a reinforced centralization of political and military powers in the hands of the state –and the Bolshevik leadership- to defend the revolution. However, the prevailing view today glosses over those first days of the revolution, highlighting instead the drift towards bureaucratic degeneration. As F. Ollivier correctly points out, ‘the Stalinists resorted to the dictatorship of the proletariat as a rationale to wipe out the slightest trace of democratic life within the Russian working class and society’.
Marxist theory was degraded to a vulgar mechanistic determinism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat, in turn, was regarded as tantamount to the dictatorship of a single party presiding over the state and politics in a monopolistic fashion.
The LCR and the struggle for ‘democracy through and through’
In the debate around the book Révolution! 100 mots pour changer le monde de O. Besancenot, A. Artous poses that their new definition of revolution could be summed up as a ‘struggle for democracy through and through’, ‘not any kind of democracy, but one whose foundation is universal suffrage’. And he goes on to say, ‘if we are to talk about what is new in this book compared with the past traditions of the League, we should say, in a nutshell, that we are dropping the general questions of «democracy of workers’ councils» (or soviet democracy) for the sake of a democracy whose foundation is universal suffrage, even when –of course- the former does not boil down to such principle’. In a transitional society it would be ‘a democracy organized around national, regional and local assemblies, elected through universal and proportional suffrage -one really representing the citizens and producers.’
In order to avoid some ‘corporative’ traits that would come in with a democracy based on productive units, Artous goes on to say that ‘we have to imagine a democracy operating on the basis of a double system of representation: one based on the election of citizens through universal suffrage, the other tending to represent the «socio-economic» point of view of wage-earners and the wide layers making up the overwhelming majority of the population. Without going into detail (quite complicated ones, which also vary depending on the context) about this second type of representation, one could possibly imagine a dual system of assembly. But should conflict arise, it should be known who takes the decisions. And this can only be done on the basis of each citizen’s individual vote, namely through universal suffrage as such -a referendum for example’
To depict revolution as a ’struggle for democracy through and through’ obviously sows illusions to the effect that social conflict and class antagonism can both be worked out by radicalising the ways of democracy. In doing so, not only does the LCR downplay the central role of the working class in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, but the very idea of revolution as the sharpest reflection of class combat as well.
The LCR thus seems to have seized upon the conclusion drawn by E. Laclau twenty years ago in his book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, in which he regarded ’socialism’ as a mere feature of ’democratic revolution’.
Revolutionary Marxists raise democratic demands within the mass movement, including formal democratic ones, as long as they remain a key driving force, to fight back a capitalist state that increasingly curtails liberties. But they do so with the aim of transcending the narrow limits of mean-spirited bourgeois democracy, which seeks to hide its class nature behind a fake pretense to formal political equality. In this way, we seek to draw the mass movement closer to a new kind of democracy, one built on mass organs of self-determination which shall ’herald the features of the future society’, as the LCR likes to put it, or else become an embryonic workers power, along the lines of Trotsky’s insights vis-à-vis the soviets back in 1905.
However, there is no capitalist society that can democratically grow into a socialist society unless the bourgeois state is smashed, a cornerstone that the LCR seems to have dropped altogether.
The LCR seems also oblivious to the fact that all revolutionary struggles tend to outdo those bourgeois democratic forms of representation -and this precisely because the former call forth a new constituent power that cannot be achieved through the same old ways of the constituted power they seek to overthrow. The role of councils as a revolutionary expression of a mass constituent power was even reckoned by liberal thinkers such as H. Arendt. She says: ’since the eighteenth century revolutions, all great upheavals have spawned a rudimentary new form of government, one which emerged independently from previously existing revolutionary theories, directly from the course of revolution itself, namely the experiences of action and the ensuing will of the participants to take over the further evolution of public affairs. This new form of government is a system of councils’.
Moreover, the LCR seems to imagine a transitional society in which, once the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, the social classes will wither away and the menace of counterrevolution along with them, both at home and abroad. Hence, both the pivotal role of the working class and its soviet-styled organization to defend the revolution can be disposed of. But the truth is that social classes do exist within a transitional society, with the seizure of power just exacerbating all existing contradictions. The workers state, then, will surely have to defend itself against reaction at home and the eventual assault from abroad as well. That is why the system of ’dual representation’ advocated by the LCR writes off the dictatorship of the proletariat altogether. In it, the working class is assimilated and fragmented into the citizenry, and should a ’clash of interests’ arise -in a transitional state all ’clashes of interests’ have to do with resisting counterrevolution- this would supposedly work itself out naturally through bourgeois procedures such as the universal suffrage.
Furthermore, the measures of ’direct democracy’ that the LCR stands for, such as universal suffrage and referendums, far from being a bulwark against bureaucratization, are instruments usually resorted to by plebiscitary Bonapartist regimes. At the time when the Moscow Trials were in full swing, Stalin himself had universal suffrage as an ’election principle’ included in the Soviet constitution of 1936, after having crushed soviet democracy through counterrevolution. In this regard, Trotsky noted that the Stalinist constitution ’differs from the old one in that it replaces the soviet election system, relying on class and production units, by that of bourgeois democracy, based on the so-called ’direct and equal universal suffrage’ of an atomized population. In short, we are faced here with a juridical elimination of the dictatorship of the proletariat’.
The future democracy based on ’universal suffrage’ advocated by the LCR, and the so-called ’combined forms of representation’ actually entail doing away with a soviet-styled way of representation, the one through which the working class should rule as a hegemonic class.
Indeed, such ’system’ advocated by the LCR -one based on ’regional and local assemblies’- is no transitional regime to socialism. We have had an anticipation of what the future society might amount to in the experiment around ’participative democracy’ and the ’participative budget’ carried out by their sister organization in Porto Alegre, Brazil. What Daniel Bensaid considers to be some sort of ’institutional dual power’ is no other thing that the same old adaptation to a prevailing atmosphere of possibilism and open reformist practices on a municipal level -which so far has left the power of the capitalists intact. It has thus shown that such ’radical democracy’ is not conducive to social revolution if it stops ’at the threshold of property’.
Citizens or producers?
Going back to the question of the relationship between political and social emancipation, A. Artous takes in Arendt’s total separation of the political sphere and proceeds to include it into a Marxist theoretical framework, therefore adopting the idea that freedom would ultimately be achieved by means of enhancing the political rights of citizens.
In the conclusions at the end of his book Marx, l’Etat et la politique, he claims that we cannot think of ’the relation between political emancipation and social emancipation along the lines of a mere chronologically successive order, with the latter enacted by the former, which then translates into the elimination of all kinds of political order. Political emancipation is no mere phase of modern history, but an endlessly repeated moment, -since it is endlessly challenged- of the establishment of the social on a democratic basis’.
Artous then points out that Marx ’underestimated the juridical moment of emancipation’, taking up Etienne Balibar’s political theory, especially the latter’s idea of ’egaliberté’, understood as an (apparently) universal feature, as equality in principle of all human beings due to the fact that they are speaking beings, or better still, as an unconditional-impossible-infinite demand of freedom and equality that has the potential of blowing up the established order of state power.
In a later work, A. Artous advocates a dualism between the ’producer’ and the ’citizen’. Although he makes clear that he approaches economic emancipation as a prerequisite for political emancipation, which deprives ’citizenship’ of the intrinsic reference to formal equality under capitalism, such dualism opposing the ’producer to the citizen’ is predicated upon a break-up between economic democracy and political democracy.
In his view, soviet democracy as a democracy of producers, would run the risk of collapsing ’the economy into politics’, thus thwarting the scope of liberty. And this because his theory postulates that state-run production keeps the separation of direct producers from the means of production in place. In turn, this inevitably leads to an autonomous sphere of production planning that might spawn a new kind of domination. This inexorably leads him to state that the dictatorship of the proletariat -not the Stalinist juggernaut- fosters the germs of what might turn into a totalitarian regime. There is no doubt that labor is not ’free’ within a transitional society, and still remains under the tutelage of a bogus equality hinged upon bourgeois right. But that does not necessarily entail the consolidation of a ’bureaucracy of knowledge’.
Artous seems to take for granted that democracy is bound to ’stay out of the factories’, with little or no possibilities of a democratic planning of the economy, considering that the emergence of a bureaucracy linked to production is, to a certain extent, inevitable.
Trotsky, instead, regarded soviet democracy as closely intertwined to economic democracy. In his Revolution Betrayed he foresaw the debacle of the Stalinist states with many decades of anticipation, when he stated that ’In a nationalized economy, quality needs of a democracy based on producers and consumers, freedom to criticize and propose initiatives, things which are incompatible with a totalitarian regime relying on fear, deception and adulation (…) Soviet democracy is no abstract or moral demand. It has become a life and death question for the country’.
Artous, instead, thinks that making citizenship independent from the sphere of production is the way to enact political rights. From this point of view, he proceeds to criticize the 1918 Russian constitution, because although it introduced a concept of citizenship which did not exist under Tsarism, giving ’equal rights to all citizens, regardless of their race or nationality’, the former is predicated upon ’social status rather the right of men in general’. And he concludes: ’To say that citizenship is an atribute of a person and not a given social group of wage-earners or producers, is to repeat in other words that it is also necessary to become free of labour (...) is to reassure that the main goal of emancipation is to put politics on top of the agenda -i.e., the advent of a particular dimension of the social, which trascends the sphere of need and allows people to live together’.
Artous, then, conceptualizes politics following H. Arendt, understanding it to be a space for ’being together’. But outside a society completely freed from the ’realm of need’ -i.e., communism- men ’cannot live together’ beyond ’the sphere of need’ just by resorting to political means. Trotsky clearly pointed out how the Stalinist bureaucracy had deep roots in the ’sphere of need’, which abounded in backward Russia. And this made democratic planning all the more necessary, as well as an international strategy for revolution.
Class, soviets and the party
’Anti-essentialist’ views, basing themselves on the Stalinist juggernaut, accuse Marxism of postulating a seamless and univocal correspondance between the proletariat as a social subject and its political representation, which would in turn lead to a ’single party dictatorship’.
But this is an absurd claim. Classical Marxism historically set out a complex relationship between the class and the revolutionary party, codifying the most outstanding experiences of the proletariat into a thoretical framework. Stalinism made a mock of such relationship. Marx´s theory on the party always hinged upon the transition from ’class in itself’ to ’class for itself’. In the Communist Manifesto, he stated that the ’organization of the proletariat as a class’ was tantamount to the latter’s ’organization in a political party’, which meant that class struggle thus became a political struggle waged by the ’proletarian party’ against the ’party of the bourgeoisie’. In this sense, “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.(…) The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: in the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countires, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat independently of all nationalities (…) in the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole”. The Communists, then, made up the ’most resolute section’ of the working class parties.
It is in this regard -the idea of a continuity between the fights of the toiling masses and their political becoming- that Lenin came up with an ’innovation’, as Artous calls it, with his theory of the political party formulated in his What is to be Done? Although this pamphlet drafted in 1902 still remains the subject of a lot of controversy, we shall not dwell on the various issues arising from it, just focusing on Lenin´s main insights. We should first say that, in his view, no organic continuity between economic fights and political struggles existed. Moreover, Lenin argued that no seamless or mechanic relationship exists between the working class as a whole and its political agencies. This shows through in Lenin´s reckless fight against economism, against which he insisted that socialism in no way flowed spontaneously from the class struggle -quite otherwise he insisted that the proletariat’s spontaneous ideology was a syndicalist and thus a bourgeois one. And for this an organization rallying the most conscientious elements of the working class and the intelligentsia was needed. Such organization was to stand politically autonomous with regards to the class as a whole and its institutions for economic fight, one professionally committed to revolution. He thus broke free from a piecemeal and linear view of the party, more akin to that of German social democracy, in which the revolutionary party was meant to encompass other class institutions such as the unions within it.
In spite of the fact that Lenin’s view in 1902 did not furnish a correct relationship between the self-activity of the masses on one hand, and the party on the other, the 1905 revolution enabled him to work out this issue and get ready to struggle for workers power. Shortly after the upheaval in Saint Petersburg, arguing against some incorrect views held by the Bolshevik Party on the issue of soviets, Lenin wrote: ‘It seems to me that Comrade Radin is wrong in raising the question: the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies or the Party? I think that it is wrong to put the question in this way and that the decision must certainly be: both the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies and the Party.’ How did Lenin regard this relationship? In his view, the soviet was the widest organ of mass united front and ’gathered all the truly revolutionary forces’. It was not an ’appendix of social democracy’ and the latter was no substitute for the soviet. The task of the party was to fight for the leadership and proletarian hegemony within it.
In tune with his remarks of 1905, Lenin finally adopts the following scheme: ’the dictatorship is presided over by the proletariat organized in soviets and led by the Bolshevik communist party’.
Lenin was thus a pioneer who broke with the prevailing view within social democracy at that time -one that put an equal sign between the party and the class. However, it was left to Trotskyto furnish a well-rounded dialectical view on the relationship linking the different sections of the working class, the mass organs for united front, the leading role of the revolutionary party -before and after the seizure of power- and a multi-party regime of soviet democracy as the cornerstone of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In his Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky goes on to claim that the ban imposed on the SRite and Menshevik parties and the ensuing ban on fractions within the Bolshevik Party were not free from political consequences. But what the Bolshevik government regarded as a ’provisional measure dictated by the needs of the civil war, the blockade, foreign intervention and hunger’’, Stalin turned into a dictum, putting an equal sign between the class and the party. Thus, the one party regime was predicated upon an silogism -i.e. the classes have withered away and so have the parties. Trotsky, instead, thought that the seizure of power in itself did not entail the abolition of existing classes altogether. He stated that: ‘In reality classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution of common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendencies, groups and parties. It is possible, with certain qualifications, to concede that "a party is part of a class." But since a class has many "parts”–some look forward and some back–one and the same class may create several parties. For the same reason one party may rest upon parts of different classes. An example of only one party corresponding to one class is not to be found in the whole course of political history–provided, of course, you do not take the police appearance for the reality.’And he concludes: ‘From his [Stalin’s]reasonings it follows not only that there can be no different parties in the Soviet Union, but that there cannot even be one party. For where there are no classes, there is in general no place for politics’.
Hence, Trotsky hammered out the idea of soviet multipartisanship as a programmatic norm. In the Transitional Programme, he states that ‘The bureaucracy replaced the soviets as class organs with the fiction of universal electoral rights–in the style of Hitler-Goebbels. It is necessary to return to the soviets not only their free democratic form but also their class content. As once the bourgeoisie and kulaks were not permitted to enter the soviets, so now it is necessary to drive the bureaucracy and the new aristocracy out of the soviets.
Democratization of the soviets is impossible without legalization of soviet parties. The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognize as soviet parties.’
Artous correctly points out that Trotsky was ’the only Marxist leader of the Russian revolution to hammer it [Soviet multipartisanship] in the inter-war years’, a view which he deems a very surprising one, since ’Gramsci’s reflection, as Perry Anderson noted, on the war of position (...) goes hand in hand with a greatly reinforced authoritarian view on the party’. Trotsky’s insights, which flow from social stratification, not only applies to the political regime within a post-capitalist society. Artous notes that ’Trotsky’s insights on multipartisanship are then not only the fruit of a reflection concerning the evolution of the USSR alone, but they also have to do with his reflection concerning the strategic perspectives for the fight for power in Western European countries’.
But, be it in a capitalist society or else in a transitional one, the activity of various parties within the soviets, or in organs of the working class and the people, does not imply, in any way, that the revolutionary party should renounce to fight for the leadership, going for a consensus with other parties instead. That is why Artous is completely wrong when he claims that Trotsky’s mature formulations on the party partly return ’to his view of party-consciousness as formulated in the texts of his youth’. Such claim might lead to the conclusion that no qualitative differences exist between a revolutionary proletarian party, and those centrist -or even reformist- parties, since all of them would, in principle, help -with their views- the class to reach its ’common goals’, which would turn politics into a permanent united front.
In Trotsky’s view, ‘All sections of the proletariat, all its layers, occupations and groups should be drawn into the revolutionary movement’ through a system of transitional demands put forward by a revolutionary party, leading the masses towards the seizure of political power and the inauguration of a regime of soviet democracy. In doing so, it must put up a political fight against other tendencies, because ‘In its social structure, the proletariat is the least heterogeneous class of capitalist society. Nevertheless, the presence of such "little strata" as the workers’ aristocracy and the workers’ bureaucracy is sufficient to give rise to opportunistic parties, which are converted by the course of things into one of the weapons of bourgeois domination’.
The working class must conquer a hegemonic position over other exploited classes before the seizure of power, because, as Trotsky points out in History of the Russian Revolution, ’no historical class has ever switched from oppressed to ruling layer suddenly, almost overnight, no matter that night is one of revolution. It is necessary that, right on the eve of the revolution, it stands in an extraordinarily independent position with regards to the ruling class; moreover, the in-between classes and strata, discontent with the existing order but unable to play an independent role, should put their hopes in that class’.
And this in turn sends us back to the need of reinstating the dialectical relationship between the organs of mass self-determination on one hand, and the revolutionary party on the other -one which long before the revolution should strive to boost the tendencies within labour to set up embryonic forms of dual power, thus laying the basis for a new workers power.
Epilogue. Once again on ’liberty and liberation’
The crushing of the soviet experience at the hands of Stalinism and the postwar revolutions, which were mostly led by bureaucratic (peasant or guerrilla) parties, strengthened the liberal view postulating that social revolution brought about some kind of ’liberation’, but could never deliver ’liberty’.
In the last few years, after the demise of Stalinism, another view has come to prevail, one that could be summarily described as the reverse of the former -i.e., it puts great emphasis of the other pole of the equation, stating that ’liberty’ can materialize regardless of ’liberation’. This shows through in two distinct strands of contemporary political theory: ’plural democracy’ on one hand, and ’autonomism’ on the other, both of which rule out social emancipation as a prerequisite for political emancipation, arriving to the same conclusion through two apparently antagonistic ways.
Negri, just as a magician would do, likes to imagine the ’immanency’ of the political in the social, postulating that the sphere of politics and the state has somehow ceased to exist and that the social -the ’multitude’- as an aggregate of singularities, acts without any mediation at all by any agency of political representation. Hence, he deems that the ’soviet’ form has been ’outdone’ -because democracy would be a ’direct’ one exerted by each singularity in the multitude, and the ’party’ form with it, trumpeting the achievement of communism without any need of a transition to it. But since such ’realm of liberty’ exists in the books of Negri alone, and the ’horizontal’ push of the social finds its ’vertical’ expression in politics, writing off a revolutionary agency of workers and the oppressed altogether ends up in choosing the ’lesser evil’ more closely at hand within the ’really existent’ political system -be it Lula, president Kirchner or someone else.
Laclau’s alternative view to autonomist ’immanency’ is one advocating a ’moment of political articulation’. He argues that ’a purely pluralistic development of the social which writes off the moment of political articulation, although it might nourish increasingly deep social fights, might turn out to be helpless in the long run’. But for Laclau, such ’articulation’ or ’hegemony’ relies on fragmented social subjects, whose contingent and feeble identities are built outside the relationships of production, so it can only provide a platform for cross-class ’historical blocs’ or ’progressive’ bourgeois governments.
Standing against such resigned views which stop at the threshold of capitalist property, the working class, in the last century, showed that a new constituent power lives within it. Soviets (councils) and a revolutionary party: these are terms of the equation. A relationship that Trotsky, in his mature political life, was able to articulate in a thorough-going programmatic fashion, one that we must take up for the revolutions in the twenty first century, so that ’liberation’ paves the way to a full exercise of ’liberty’, which for us -as for classical Marxism- entails the advent of a communist society.
1 ’It may be a truism to say that liberation and freedom are not the same, that liberation may be the condition of freedom but by no means leads automatically to it; that the notion of liberty imlied in liberation can obly be negative, and hence, that even the intention of liberating is not identical with the desire for freedom. Arendt H., On Revolution], Penguin, Great Britain, 1973, p. 29
2 Building upon the legacy of the Greek polis, H. Arendt reflects upon the separation of the political sphere as a distinct space for public matters, with regards to the private sphere, as a space for needs, in which both the family and the economy are included. The Greek citizens who participated in political life were free men, namely, those who were not subjected to needs and were thus free from work, which was carried out by the slaves. Whereas the private –domestic- sphere was presided over by a natural need of survival of the individual and the species, the sphere of the polis was one of liberty. In her book The Human Condition, she argues that ‘because all human beings are subject to necessity, they are entitled to violence towards others; violence is the prepolitical act of liberating oneself from the necessity of life for the freedom of world’. Arendt H., The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, 1974, p.31.
3 Arendt H., On Revolution, p. 65. Toni Negri responds to this fallacious antinomy typical of liberal theory very accurately, arguing that ‘After Marx and Lenin it is not possible to talk about political freedom without any reference to economic freedom, free production, living labour as political foundations. Liberty has thus become liberation, with liberation being a constituent power.’ Negri, A. El poder constituyente. Ensayos sobre las alternativas de la modernidad [Constituent Power. Essays on Alternatives to Modernity] Ed. Libertarias/Prodhufi, Buenos Aires, 1994, p 367
4 H. Arendt opens his book On Revolution with the following words: ‘Wars and revolutions have so far been characteristic of the physiognomy of the twentieth century. It seems as if the events have precipitated themselves so as to make the prophecy anticipated by Lenin come true’. Alianza Editorial, Buenos Aires, 1992, p 11
5 Bauman, Z. In Search of Politics, Polity Press, CambridgeUniversity Press, 2000. The phrase ‘there is no alternative’ is attributed to Margaret Thatcher. With his usual sarcasm, S. Å½iÅ¾ek says ‘Nobody seriously considers pousible alternatives to capitalism any longer, whereas popular imagination is presented by the visions on the forthcoming ‘breakdown of nature’, of the stoppage of all life on earth – it seems easier to imagine the ‘end of the world’ than a far more modest change in the mode of production, as if liberal capitalism is the ‘real’ that will somehow survive even under conditions of a global ecological catastrophe’. Mapping Ideology, Verso, 2000, p 1.
6 These theories should be put to the test of naked facts one day. For example, it would be a most fruitful experience to ask Holloway why the Zapatistas not only have failed to ‘change the world without taking power’ but also have failed to reverse the plight of the exploited in Mexico or Chiapas. Likewise, Laclau should explain why, twenty years after his book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy was published, no matter he claims power to be an empty signifier open to be ‘hegemonized’ by any identity group, it is always ‘hegemonized’ by the bourgeoise alone.
7 ‘The question of the workers party and democracy should be formulated in the realm of ontology, with reference to an ontology that has left behind itself all differences separating the social and the political. To find the political within the social is not akin to spotting a utopian place; quite otherwise, this always produces a new definition of the social (...) In the past, the discourse of emancipation aimed to an utopian goal in tune with a technique of piecemeal overdetermination of development, from the social into the political, until the latter was outdone and made to come back to the social; nowadays, such discourse, having gradually become a mystified aggregate deprived of any measure or hierarchy, founded in a separation of the social and the political, has worn itself out, paving the way to acts of liberation’. Negri, A ‘An Interpretation on the Class Position today: Methodological Concerns’, included in Guattari, F.& Negri, A., Las verdades nómadas & General Intellect, poder constituyente, comunismo [Nomadic truths & General Intellect, Constituent Power, Communism] Ed. Akal, Madrid, 1999, ps 112-3
8 For example, two of the most prominent theoreticians on democracy such as C. Castoriadis and C. Lefort come from a Trotskyist background. They started by criticising the definition of a ‘degenerate workers’ state’ –and went on to develop a view of ‘bureaucratic capitalism’ in the USSR, like Castoriadis. At a later stage, both broke with Marxism ad became oblivious towards Trotsky’s fight against Stalin to advance instead a ‘thesis’ which had become common sense by then –i.e., that the embryo of Stalinism lay within the Bolshevik Party itself.
9 ‘Agonism’ is the foundation of plural democracy. The term means a permanent fight, which unfolds in the political terrain due to the inevitable nature of antagonisms, but the competing parties are not ‘enemies’ but ‘agonists’, because in spite of their antagonism, they both share the same democratic ethics. Chantal Mouffe is the thinker who has developed this theory of democracy the most.
10 The debate revolved around a series of articles published by Eduard Bernstein in the journal Die Neue Zeit in 1896-98. In 1899 they were put together by their author into a book titled Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie (The Foundations of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy), which was translated into English in 1909 under the title Evolutionary Sociaism. At the time when this debate unfolded, Bernstein had a considerable reputation within the ranks of German Social Democracy, mainly because he was –along with Kautsky- one of Engels’ disciples and closest friends. The debate involved the leaders and most outstanding theoreticians of the Second International, namely, K. Kautsky. R. Luxemburg. A. Labriola, Plekhanov and Parvus.
11 Without showing the least concern to prove his claims –since the twentieth century did not endorse Bernstein’s insights- Laclau just goes on to say: ‘Bernstein clearly understood that future progress in the democratization of the state and society would hinge upon the autonomous initiatives flowing from various spots of the social fabric, since the increased productivity of labour and the successful workesrs fights had a combined effect –i.e., the workers ceased to be «proletarians» and became «citizens» (...) Bernstein’s view was, no doubt, an excessively simplistic and optimistic one, but his predictions were fundamentally right.’ ‘Postmarxismo sin pedido de disculpas’ [‘PostMarxism without Regrets’], with C. Mouffe, in Nuevas reflexiones sobre la revolución de nuestro tiempo [New Reflections on Revolution in our Time], Ediciones Nueva Visión, Argentina, second edition, 2000, p 143
12 Bernstein, E. Evolutionary Socialism. All quotes have been from the electronic version available at www.marxists.org
13 The foundations of that criticism has been laid by Böhm-Bawerk. Bernstein, as he states in his book, does not make an original critique, just taking up remarks already developed before. He just takes the credit for ‘highlighting something that was not unknown, but has already been said so far.’
The economic laws and tendencies of capitalism charted by Marx, such as the law of value, have come under fire almost since their inception.
The post-structuralist thinkers who have undertaken to ‘deconstruct’ Marxism have not even bothered to study the problems concerning the law of value. Contenting themselves with the ‘exorbitance of the political’, they have just decided not to deal with the tendencies at work within capitalism today, just buying into the views postulating the ‘end of labour’. Negri has been the only one to challenge this tenet of Marxism altogether, seizing upon some facts that partially contradict the law of value as a pattern of measure.
14 For a discussion on these topics, see ‘Challenging the Misery of Possibilism. A Trotskyist approach to the prevailing ideas of our time’, in this magazine.
15 This reformist perspective is shared by a whole range of groups: some local county halls and governments, such as the mayor of the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre; NGOs, civil groups and associations such as ATTAC. This strand of people stands for all sorts of reforms, both on a state level or on the financial terrain, and they have come to prevail within the ‘no-global’ –later renamed ‘altermundi’- movement rallied around the World Social Forum.
16 He believed in the ‘civilising’ role of Western capitalism to the extent of including, in this same book, a chapter in which he advocates the progressive nature of colonialism, particularly referring to the benefitial effects of the colonisation of Morocco.
17 For Bernstein, ‘due to the level attained by economic development, there is more room for ideological and ethical factors concerning independent activities. The economic evolution loses part of its power to set the pattern of evolution of other social tendencies.’ When it comes to Laclau and post-structuralist theories in general, it is all about a so-called ‘anti-essentialist’ epistemology, presided over by contingency, one whose foundations are to be found in linguistics and the view which postulates the social as a discourse. For a deeper debate, see ‘The Sham of Post Marxism’, in Estrategia Internacional N° 20.
18 In an article written by C. Mouffe, Laclau’s disciple, we read: ‘it is important to distinguish liberal democracy from democratic capitalism, and to understand it in terms of what classical political philosophy has called a regime, a political form of society which plays out exclusively on a political level, leaving aside its posible articulation with a given economic system’. Mouffe, Ch.,.The Democratic Paradox, Verso, London, 2000.
19 Laclau, E. New Refelction on the revolution of our Time, Ediciones Nueva Visión, Argentina, second edition, 2000, p 144
20 And he goes on to say: ‘The ancient Greek society was a slave-holding democracy. And the same applies, to a certain extent, to the British, Dutch, French and Belgian democracies. The United States holds no apparent colonies, but it counts on Latin America, and the rest of the world is a kind of colony for the United States, not to mention the fact that they possess the richest continent and have developed free from any feudal tradition.’ Trotsky, L. “Discussions on the Transitional Programme’, Ediciones Crux, p. 157.
21 This is the name given to a draft programme submitted for discussion at a unification congress held in Gotha in 1875 by the Social Democratic Labour Party and the General Association of German Workingmen, from which the German Socialist Labour Party was to emerge. Marx himself harshly cricised the draft programme which was the embodiment of Lasalle’s legacy rather than a codifying of revolutionary Marxism. With regards to the issue of classes, the Gotha Programme stated that all the social classes were just a reactionary bloc vis-à-vis the proletariat.
22 Reference is made to the law of combined and uneven development in many works by Laclau, for example in his New Reflections on Revolution in our Time, he claims that ‘the tendency to turn structural change into the very axis of political strategy will be stressed, and will develop a great deal of its rich potential in Trotsky’s work. For Trotsky, the very likelihood of revolutionary action itself hinges upon structural unevenness. Let us examine his permanentistic perspective in his writings on the 1905 revolution (...) The structural non correspondance between the proletariat and the bougeoisie was at the root of the bourgeoisie’s impossible access to a leading position in the democratic revolution. The latter would thus be hegemonized by the proletariat and, in Trotsky’s view, this entailed the need to go beyond democratic tasks and steer towards a socialist direction.’ Op cit, ps 63-64
23 The concept of ‘citizenry’ goes long back in history. In ancient Greece, the word ‘citizen’ indicated membership of the polis. According to Aristotle, the citizen was that who had a right to participate in the political deliberation of his community. Both strangers and slaves were explicitly deprived of that right, because only a man not tied to the need to work could be politically free, so that citizenry was the political reflection of one’s socio-economic position.
The theoretical foundations for the concept of citizenry are to be found in Locke’s liberalism, at a time when the bourgeoisie was on the rise. He stressed the supremacy of the individual and property as pre-requisites for the right to citizenship. Citizenry was thus a fundamental revolutionary idea for the struggle of the bourgeoisie against feudalism, calling for an end to the privileges enjoyed by the nobility and clergymen. One of its most radical formulations are to be found in J.J. Rousseau’s denunciation of the ancien regime. The 1789 French Revolution did away with property as a necessary condition, declaring all citizens were free from a juridical point of view, but the first Constitution set out two kinds of citizens, the active ones, who had a right to vote and were a minority, and the passive ones, who were disenfranchised. Under capitalism, citizenship tends to conceal social inequality behind judicial equality before the state. Political rights such as universal suffrage became available to all citizens as a result of hard struggles waged by workers and the women, who progressively conquered the right to vote, which eventually became widespread between the early and mid twentieth century. The main thrust of the bourgeois idea of ’citizen’ is the ultimate separation of the economic sphere -cut across by the antagonism opposing the capitalist and workers- from the political sphere, where such antinomy is blurred and juridical equality presides over all the inhabitants of a given state, with every single individual being free to sell or not his labour force. Within the bourgeois political system, citizenship is an abstract category concealing the class conflicts tearing society apart. Of course, it also entails social gains, such as the right to healtcare provision and public education, which spread after World War II in the main -which today are being thrown in reverse. In the main advanced countries, however, the immigrants are excluded from those basic rights attached to citizenship.
24 Bernstein takes up all the classical topics of liberalism, portraying them as some kind of scientific truth. As Luxemburg points out: ‘Remaining true to himself to the very end, he has not only changed his science, politics, moral and way of thinking, but also the historical language of the proletariat, by that of the bourgeoisie. When uses the idea of “citizen” to refer both to the bourgeois and the proletarian, meaning with it ordinary men, he puts an equal sign between ordinary men and the bourgeois, and also human society and bourgeois society.’ Reforma o revolución [Reform or Revolution], Selected Works, volume I, ediciones pluma, Argentina, 1976, p 107
25 Butler, J.; Laclau, E; Zizek, S. Contingencia, Hegemonía, Universalidad. Diálogos contemporáneos en la izquierda.[Contingency, Hegemony, Universality. Contemporary Dialogues in the Left] Fondo de Cultura Económica, first edition, Buenos Aires, 2003, p 316
26 The Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire (LCR) is the main section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International and one of the biggest parties claiming allegiance to Trotskyism in the world.
27 What came to be known as ’eurocommunism’ was the turn initiated by the different Communist Parties, mainly those in Italy, France and Spain -and to a certain extent those in England, Belgium and Switzerland- back in the 1970s. They dropped the dictatorship of the proletariat and declared themselves to be independent from the CP of the Soviet Union, thus codifying into their program their class collaboration policies. Although it did not amount to a homogeneous theoretical strand of thought, by and large it considered that democracy was, in Western European countries the only way of superseding the rule of monopolistic capital, and that socialims would be achieved through democratic means, thus adopting a political stance very close to that of social democracy, which also advocated the universal suffrage as a privileged tool for social change. Etienne Balibar wrote his ’Sur la dictadure du prolétariat’ in 1976, a book in which he takes issue with the French CP’s turn to eurocommunism. He argues against the claim that the Marxist theory of the state was outlived because it just took into account its repressive aspects, among others -claims which are very similar to the ones advanced today by the LCR’s intellectuals.
28 The LCR argues that such comparison is a mean-spirited one, because unlike that carried out by the French CP, the change they made to their programme does not entail a renunciation to a fight for ’self-management socialism, a democracy without limits, the power of workers and female workers too, i.e., the overwhelming majority of the population against the dictatorship of shareholders’.
29 Among the democratic demands raised in the Gotha Programme, there was the fight of the proletariat to build a ’free people’s state’. In Marx view, such undertaking was impossible. In his critique, he says: ’One might as well ask: what kind of transformation will the state undergo in a communist society? Or, in other words, what social functions, similtar to those current functions of the state, shall linger on then? This question can only be answered in a scientific fashion, and no matter we couple together the words people and the word state a thousand times, we will not get an inch closer to the solution of the problem. Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.’
30 Trotsky, L. The Theory of Permanent Revolution. Compilation, CEIPLT, Buenos Aires, 2000, ps 40-41
31 Carr. E. H., History of the Russian Revolution. The Bolshevik Revolution (1917-1923), I, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1973, p 169. John Reed, a key eyewitness to the Russian revolution, gives the following account of the soviets in that period: ’Never before had a political organ so sensitive and receptive to the will of the people been created. This was needed, because in the revolutionary periods, the will of the people changes very quickly. For example, during the first week of December 1917 there were parades and protests in favor of a Constituent Assembly -i.e., against soviet power-. An irresponsible Red Guard fired at one of those demonstrations and many people died. There was an immediate reaction to such dumb violence. More than a dozen Bolshevik deputies were called out and replaced by Menshevik ones. Three weeks elapsed before the mood of the people became quiet once again, with the Mensheviks being replaced by the Bolsheviks one by one.’ This principle of recallable representatives presiding over that ’organ sensitive to the will of the people’, reached up to upper echelons of the soviet state. ’If his leadership was deemed unsatisfactory, Lenin might be brought down at any time by a delegation of the masses of the Russian people, or within the lapse of a few weeks by the Russian people itself directly’. And once again: ’if a considerable part of Russia was seriously opposed to the soviet government, the soviets would not last an hour’.
32 Even during the exceptional period of the civil war, it is interesting to look into E. H. Carr’s research, since he gives a detailed account on how the Mensheviks and the SRites had been banned because their policies favoured reaction, but nevertheless were widely tolerated, regularly publishing their press, holding congresses and even participating with their own tickets in the congresses held by the soviets. Replying to a critique raised by a Bolshevik delegate to 1919 party congress who opposed the lifting of the ban on both Mensheviks and SRites, Lenin said: ’We are often required to change our line of conduct and this might seem strange and hard to understand to a superficial observer. «What is this?» he’d day. «Yesterday, you made promises to the petty bourgeoisie and today Dzerzhinski states that both the Mensheviks and the SRites have to be sent before a firing squad. What a contradiction!» Yes, this is a contradiction, but there is also a contradiction in the behaviour of this very same petty bourgeois democracy that does not know where to place itself, it tries to sit down in two seats at the same time, jumping from one to the other, being now on the left and then on the right...To this we reply: «you are no serious enemy; our serious enemy is the bourgeoisie. But if you should side with it we would have to enforce on you the measures of the proletarian dictatorship too.» Carr, E. H., op cit, p 191
33 Et la dictadure du prolétariat?, Rouge 2040, 20/11/2003. As post Marxists would do, the LCR has started to veer to a position that hints that the soviet regime led by the Bolshevik Party was the same as Stalinism. In the above quoted article, F. Ollivier says: ’In the name of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, conceived as an exceptional regime in exceptional circumstances, Lenin, Trotsky and many other leading Bolsheviks brought in measures that progressively smothered soviet democracy within the recently-born revolutionary organizations. We see a substitution of soviet democracy by the rule of the party, a curtailed power of councils and committees, a rejection to convene another Constituent Assembly, after a ban on tendencies inside the Bolshevik Party itself was imposed. The dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, even between 1918 and 1924, resulted in a merger between the state and the party, as well as the suppression of all democratic liberties.’ Likewise, A. Artous in his comments on O. Besancenot’s book says that the latter has a ’critical view of the first years of the 1917 Russian Revolution, although «Trotskyists» usually highlight the sharp contrast between those years and the USSR under Stalin’. And he adds: ’there are two approaches on the causes leading to a bureaucratisation of the revolution: one of them -a classical one, as it were- stresses the whole range of «objective» conditions (the civil war, a ravaged country) to account for the problems to be dealt with, arguing that the behaviour of the Bolshevik leadership was essentially pragmatic. The other approach highlights instead the effects of «subjective» conditions: the emergence of authoritarian practices and theories on power among the Bolsheviks themselves. The book takes sides, quite correctly, with the second approach’ . La révolution c’est la démocratie jusqu’au bout..., Critique Communiste N° 169-170, p 42
34 O. Besancenot is the new public figure of the LCR. He stood as a candidate for the 2002 presidential election.
35 In 1977, the United Secretariat published a resolution under the title ’Socialist democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat’, in which they stood for soviet democracy and a multiparty system. However, this did not prevent them from adapting themselves to all strands of the bureaucracy, such as the Castroite regime or else the Sandinistas. Later on, they had expectations in the ’democratic’ credentials of Gorbachev’s glanost.
36 La révolution c’est la démocratie jusqu’au bout..., Critique Communiste N° 169-170. In the same issue of the magazine I. Joshua claims that both Marx and Engels had a rather fragmented view of the bourgeois state, whereas Lenin ’only stressed its repressive aspect’ enshrined within Engels’ definition on the state. Hence, Lenin advocated a special power of proletarian repression -which would sitll bear a repressive nature no matter it was in the hand of the population at large- to counter that special power of bourgeois repression. It goes without a saying that this is a biased interpretation of Lenin’s State and Revolution, since Joshua overlooks the radical democratic programme put forward by Lenin there as a means for organising the state. Its repressive nature has to do with the fact being a state as such, it entails a class rule, but a rule that is exerted exclusively against the bourgeoisie and the autocracy. If we look back at the definitions, Joshua argues that the State is the ’bourgeoisie’s agency of political hegemony over society, of class aliances’. It is true that since the times of Lenin and Trotsky, the bourgeoisie has improved its state apparatus and oiled the mechanisms to reach consensus, but bourgeois rule does not amount to hegemonic rule alone -the latter is combined to various degrees with a resort to the repressive forces. As in the times of Marx or Lenin, it remains the last resort in case the citadel of bourgeois power is threatened.
With regards to universal suffrage or referendums, Joshua claims that ’the forms of self-organization, the foundations for a new political power, can be totally gutted out (...) with public functions critalising in permanent institutions and organs’; so permanent forms should be created ’to make room for an upheaval from «below» in the shape of a referendum or popular initiatives.’
37 ’Correctly understood, any project of a radical democracy incorporates a socialist dimension, because it is necessary to put an end to the capitalist relationships of production that are at the root of the various bondage links; but socialism is one of the components of a radical democracy and not the other way around.’Laclau, E. & Mouffe, C. Hegemonía y estrategia socialista. Hacia una radicalización de la democracia [Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democracy] Fondo de Cultura Económica de Argentina, second edition, Buenos Aires, 2004, p 224. Let us note, in passing, that back in 1985 Laclau still resorted to concepts such as ’socialism’ or ’capitalist relatioships of production’, which have completely vanished from his theoretical perspective ever since.
38 Arendt, H. Crisis de la república [The Republic in Crisis] Taurus, 1999, p 232. Similar views can be found in other texts, such On Revolution, where the examples go back to the anti-Stalinist revolutions like the 1956 upheaval in Hungary. H. Arendt thinks that there is an insurmountable contradiction between the democratic expression of councils, on one hand-of all the non partisan masses- and revolutionary parties, on the other. This leads her to a simplistic view on the degeneration of the USSR, since she ends up blaming the Bolshevik Party and even Lenin himself for it. However, H. Arendt just applied the term ’totalitarianism’ to both the Nazi and Stalinist regimes, defining the first few years of the Russian Revolution as opposed to totalitarianism -she branded it a ’Bolshevik revolutionary dictatorship’. But in H. Arendt’s view, the revolutionary dictatorship (both those of the Bolsheviks and the Jacobines alike) relies upon an ‘intensification of the revolutionary movement’. The paradox –in her view- lied in the fact that this sort of ‘permanent revolution’ could only stand in place on condition that the ‘dictatorship’ was maintained –since the revolutionaries either refused themselves or were prevented from putting an end to the revolution and inaugurating a constitutional government, thus achieving their goals. In spite of her avowedly ‘anti-Leninist’ approach, her insights have come under fire from a whole array of academics and theoreticians of liberal democracy, who tend to think that her appraisal of totalitarianism, confined to Stalinism and Nazism, ‘provides a rationale for regimes such as the soviet one under Lenin.’
39 If we were to adopt the ‘democratic’ criteria advocated by the LCR, we should, for example, regard the derailment of the Nicaraguan revolution -never mind it did not usher in a workers’ state- through general elections as a legitimate procedure. And this in spite of the fact that the Frente Sandinista handed power into the hands of the pro-American president Violeta Chamorro.
40 L. Trotsky, La revolución traicionada [The Revolution Betrayed], Ed. Crux, p 230
41 It is very striking indeed that both the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) and the PO (Partido Obrero) hardly mention the soviets as a concrete form of organising the dictatorship of the proletariat in the polemic articles with the LCR’s positions. The MAS by and large refuses to raise democratic demands such as the Constituent Assembly in semicolonial countries -never mind it is a lever to help the masses go beyond their democratic illusions and demands and also usher in organs of self-determination. However, when it deals with the transitional period, it turns away from those demands that should deepen workers’ democracy, standing instead for ’combined’ demands -like the LCR does- such as universal suffrage, completely cut off from any class organ or perspective, so that they basically end up glossing over the dictatorship of the proletariat as well. The Partido Obrero, for its part, comes to a similar conclusion, repeating hollow truisms in a very ’orthodox’ fashion. The PO’s blueprint for a transitional society seems closer to a bureaucratic dictatorship, rather than a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. In a lengthy document drafted by Jorge Altamira, main PO leader, under the title ’Programmatic Theses of the Fourth International’, workers councils are just mentioned in passing in section 1 of the 25th paragraph, which deals with some general guidelines the ’Fourth International’ would advance with a view to a political revolution in Cuba. Quite surprisingly, no mention is made of such organs -which Trotsky himself deemed ’the embyonic forms of the new proletarian state’- in the section dealing with ’The Question of Power, the Party and the International’. This article authored by Jorge Altamira has been published in their journal In Defence of Marxism N° 33. The MAS critique of the LCR has been published in their journal Socialism or Barbarianism of April 2004, under the title "The Idea of ’dictatorship of the proletariat’, the French LCR and the Argentine PO. Socialist Revolution, Democracy and Dictatorship", written by Isidoro Cruz Bernal. If a reader looks through the electronic version of this article, he will find out, by using the search engine, that the idea of ’soviet’ appears just twice in this lengthy text -and when it does, it is in those quotes taken from the LCR texts.
42 Bensaid D. Le sourire du Spectre. Nouvel esprit du communisme, Editions Michalon, France, 2003., p 197. It is worth reading the whole article La démocratie ã venir, so as to get a complete picture of the LCR’s views on democracy.
43 Artous, A. Marx, l’Etat et la politique, Editions Syllepse, France, 1999, p 536
44 Artous, A. Travail et émancipation sociale. Marx et le travail, Editions Syllepse, France, 2003
45 Artous claims that Soviet etatisme, by keeping the producers separated from the means of production, on top of the continued existance of the division between manual and intellectual labour, fostered a distinct sphere of production, which tended to reproduce, by means of bureaucratic command, the capitalist despotism reigning in the factories. Although the LCR has never officially espoused a bureaucratic collectivistic view of the USSR, standing by Trotsky’s classical definition of a degenerated workers state, Artous seems to be drifting towards that position. In his book, he takes issue with the idea of a degenerated workers state still in place after the victorious Stalinist counter-revolution. And he goes on to say that both Trotsky and Lenin neglected the effects of despotism in the workplace within a transitional society, which would tend to reproduce itself, just as Marx had envisaged vis-à-vis capitalist society.
46 Precisely because of that he quotes in his book M. Weber’s notorious ’premonition’ in 1917 on the Russian Revolution and the tendencies to bureaucratization that he himself observed in the evolution of capitalism. Weber considered that a piecemeal elimination of private capitalism was possible, at least in theory. However, this would not lead to the elimination of the anti-human ’iron cage’ of industrial work, with private enterprise managers being replaced by a state bureaucracy -which would n turn rule free of any constraints. In Weber’s view, the continued existence of a private bureaucracy allowed, to a certain extent, a mutual control with the state bureaucracy. But the withering away of private capitalism would bring about a single state bureaucracy, which would usher in a tougher rule.
47 Trotsky, op cit p 243
48 With regards to the 1918 Constitution, Carr writes: ’The Declaration of the Working and Exploited People was not a chart of rights in the traditional sense, but a proclamation of an economic and social policy’, and thus it did not recognize ’any formal equality of rights. There was no such tradition in Russian constitutional record, because the subjects of the czar were divided into five legally established «hierarchies», with each of them enjoying a distinct legal status.’ These were the nobility, the clergy, merchants, petty bougeoisie (shop-keepers, craftmen, employees) and peasants. The urban proletariat did not have any legal status. ’Those distinctions were abolished, and a single legal category of citizen was introduced.’ The declaration also proclaimed that ’Attending to the general interest of the working class, the RSFSR deprives all individuals or distinct groups of any privileges they might resort to use them for the detriment of the socialist revolution.’ Carr, E. op cit, ps 159-160
49 Artous, A. op cit p 188
50 This view on a transition from class in itself to class for itself as the advent of class consciousness was also developed by Luckacs strand of Western Marxism.
51 Karl Marx, ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’, in The Revolutions of the 1948, Penguin 1973, p.79
52 In the last few years, an attempt has been made to ’reclaim’ Lenin as a political strategist by those currents on the left of the postmodern spectrum, by underlining the autonomy of the political and how he seized upon a strategic moment, along the lines of A. Badiou’s theory of denouement.
53 Lenin, V.I.. ’Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers Deputies’ (Letter to the Editorial Board).
54 The incorrect position held by Trotsky in his youth drew him closer to the ’party as a class agency’ view. His stance for a reconciliation between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks also led him to oppose Lenin very sharply, since he considered the latter’s view on the party as substitute to make up for the self-activity of the proletariat. But Trotsky overcome those flawed views, eventually agreeing with Lenin on the link to be established between the soviets on one side, and the party on the other -which would lead him to join the Bolshevik Party on the eve of the October Revolution.
55 Trotsky, L. op cit, p. 234
56 Trotsky, L. op cit, p. 235
57 Trotsky, L. The Transitional Programme
58 Artous, A. op cit, p 317
59 Artous, A. op cit, p 380
60 Trotsky, L. op cit, p 235
61 Trotsky, L. History of the Russian Revolution, Sarpe, Madrid, 1985, volumen I, p 177
62 Excerpt taken from a verbatim record of a lecture delivered by Ernesto Laclau in the School of Social Science, July 15 2003. Available at www.fsoc.uba.ar