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Marx, socialism and Democracy

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ciro
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Marx, socialism and Democracy

I have a question from long time: how much and how clearly democracy is present in Marx writing? I am a socialist but i never red Marx – reading Marx is in my long term plans. In October socialist monthly Italian call I was presenting this argument. They said that, in their opinion (if I am not wrong), in marx works Democracy is not very present but present; we can say it is implicitly stated. GianMaria also said that Marx, as a politician, acted democratically and the fact that he was going to live in England is somehow a signal that he loved democracy. So I was happy. Last week end I read a newspaper of some Italian Marxist - Leninist (“Lotta Comunista”) where they was opposing comunism and democracy: so, in their opinion, Communism can not be democratic. Clearly, it is normal that Leninist are not democratic. And it is clear that we we are for democracy. My questions are: 1)how much democracy is in Marx texts? 2)can it be that this party takes its democracy from Anglo-Saxon democratic tradition, so this is a kind of Anglo-Saxon democratic tradition Marxism/Socialism? From my personal point of view, when I had the occasion to know your (and now mine!) ideas I liked to join them. I did not care where they come from. Only now I start needing to invistigate on their provenience.

I am not English mother tongue (I am Italian) so thanks in advance if you can write not too complex

gnome
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ciro wrote:

I have a question from long time: how much and how clearly democracy is present in Marx writing? I am a socialist but i never red Marx – reading Marx is in my long term plans. In October socialist monthly Italian call I was presenting this argument. They said that, in their opinion (if I am not wrong), in marx works Democracy is not very present but present; we can say it is implicitly stated. GianMaria also said that Marx, as a politician, acted democratically and the fact that he was going to live in England is somehow a signal that he loved democracy. So I was happy. Last week end I read a newspaper of some Italian Marxist - Leninist (“Lotta Comunista”) where they was opposing comunism and democracy: so, in their opinion, Communism can not be democratic. Clearly, it is normal that Leninist are not democratic. And it is clear that we we are for democracy. My questions are: 1)how much democracy is in Marx texts? 2)can it be that this party takes its democracy from Anglo-Saxon democratic tradition, so this is a kind of Anglo-Saxon democratic tradition Marxism/Socialism? From my personal point of view, when I had the occasion to know your (and now mine!) ideas I liked to join them. I did not care where they come from. Only now I start needing to invistigate on their provenience.

I am not English mother tongue (I am Italian) so thanks in advance if you can write not too complex

 

Here is a link which you may find useful.  Long but not too complex hopefully :)

http://marxmyths.org/hal-draper/article2.htm

ALB
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ciro wrote:
And it is clear that we we are for democracy. My questions are: 1)how much democracy is in Marx texts? 2)can it be that this party takes its democracy from Anglo-Saxon democratic tradition, so this is a kind of Anglo-Saxon democratic tradition Marxism/Socialism?

Before he became a socialist (communist) Marx had been a political democrat (which was a radical enough position in the 1840s because universal suffrage didn't exist anywhere then). After he became a socialist he continued to favour political democracy even under capitalism (in exile in England he supported the Chartists demand for universal suffrage and the later Reform League which campaigned for the extension of the vote to more workers).

Although he no doubt appreciated living in a country like England where certain political freedoms existed (though not universal suffrage) his conception of what a fully democratic system would be like seems to have been more influenced by events in France.  Here's how he described the Paris Commune of 1871 (in The Civil War in France) which he held up as an example of how the working class should exercise political power once they had won control of it:

Quote:
The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.

Quote:
In a rough sketch of national organization, which the Commune had no time to develop, it states clearly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet, and that in the rural districts the standing army was to be replaced by a national militia, with an extremely short term of service. The rural communities of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif (formal instructions) of his constituents.
The Italian version of this pamphlet can be found here.

You're right that it was Lenin who dishonestly claimed that Marx stood for the sort of dictatorship that he and the Bolsheviks established in Russia (one-party rule by a vanguard), whereas in fact Marx stood for the sort of delegate democracy described above.

ciro
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Thanks you very much gnome and ALB.

from you link and text, I understand that Marx like us wanted direct democracy.

But: what about our idea that we should take power with elections where this is possible, and the underlying idea that to establish socialism we need that a vast majority of people wants this?

And what regarding our idea that nothing can be done in only one country, on the contrary we need at least all most avanced countries involved?

Are those idea also in Marx?

gnome
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ciro wrote:

Thanks you very much gnome and ALB.

from you link and text, I understand that Marx like us wanted direct democracy.

But: what about our idea that we should take power with elections where this is possible, and the underlying idea that to establish socialism we need that a vast majority of people wants this?

And what regarding our idea that nothing can be done in only one country, on the contrary we need at least all most avanced countries involved?

Are those idea also in Marx?

 

Although the SPGB uses the marxian method to analyse capitalism and takes the view that only socialism offers any solution to the social problems which beset us all on a daily basis we do not hang our case on everything Marx ever said.  There have been many developments within capitalism since the time Marx wrote about it.

However, Marx’s theory of socialist revolution is grounded on the fundamental principle that “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself”. Marx held to this view throughout his entire forty years of socialist political activity, and it distinguished his theory of social change from that of both those who appealed to the princes, governments and industrialists to change the world for the benefit of the working class (such as Robert Owen and Saint Simon) and of those who relied on the determined action of some enlightened minority of professional revolutionaries to liberate the working class (such as Buonarotti, Blanqui and Weitling).

Conscious Self-emancipation

Marx saw that the very social position of the working class within capitalist society as a non-owning, exploited, wealth-producing class forced it to struggle against its capitalist conditions of existence. This “movement” of the working class could be said to be implicitly socialist since the struggle was ultimately over who should control the means of production: the minority capitalist class or the working class (i.e. society as a whole). At first the movement of the working class would be, Marx believed, unconscious and unorganised but in time, as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves.

The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be “spontaneous” in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about (not that such people could not take part in this process, but their participation was not essential or crucial). Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would come to be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto, “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”.

This in fact was Marx’s conception of “the workers’ party”. He did not see the party of the working class as a self-appointed elite of professional revolutionaries, as did the Blanquists, but as the mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing Socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

Lenin’s Opposing View

This was Marx’s view, but it wasn’t Lenin’s. Lenin in his pamphlet What Is To Be Done?, written in 1901-2, declared:

“The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals” (Foreign Languages Publishing House edition, Moscow, pp. 50-51).

“Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside of the economic struggle, from outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers” (Lenin’s emphasis, p.133).

“The spontaneous working class movement by itself is able to create (and inevitably creates) only trade unionism, and working class trade unionist politics are precisely working class bourgeois politics” (pp. 159-60) .

Lenin went on to argue that the people who would have to bring “socialist consciousness” to the working class “from without” would be “professional revolutionaries”, drawn at first mainly from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia. In fact he argued that the Russian Social Democratic Party should be such an “organisation of professional revolutionaries”, acting as the vanguard of the working class. The task of this vanguard party to be composed of professional revolutionaries under strict central control was to “lead” the working class, offering them slogans to follow and struggle for. It is the very antithesis of Marx’s theory of working class self-emancipation.

The Bolshevik Coup

The implication of Marx’s theory of working class self-emancipation is that the immense majority of the working class must be consciously involved in the socialist revolution against capitalism. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority”.

The Bolshevik coup in November, 1917, carried out under the guise of protecting the rights of the Congress of Soviets, did not enjoy conscious majority support, at least not for socialism, though their slogan “Peace, Bread and Land” was widely popular. For instance, elections to the Constituent Assembly, held after the Bolshevik coup and so under Bolshevik government, gave them only about 25 per cent of the votes.

John Reed, a sympathetic American journalist, whose famous account of the Bolshevik coup, Ten Days That Shook The World, was commended in a foreword by Lenin, quotes Lenin as replying to this kind of criticism in a speech he made to the Congress of Peasants’ Soviets on 27 November, 1917:

If Socialism can only be realized when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years...The Socialist political party - this is the vanguard of the working class; it must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the mass average, but it must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative…” (Reed’s emphasis and omissions, Modern Library edition, 1960, p.15).

Compare this with a passage from the utopian communist, Weitling: “to want to wait...until all are suitably enlightened would be to abandon the thing altogether!” Not, of course, that it is a question of “all” the workers needing to be socialists before there can be Socialism. Marx, in rejecting the view that Socialism could be established by some enlightened minority, was merely saying that a sufficient majority of workers would have to be socialists.

Lenin’s Legacy

Having seized power before the working class (and, even less, the 80 per cent peasant majority of the population) had prepared themselves for Socialism, all the Bolshevik government could do, as Lenin himself openly admitted, was to establish state capitalism in Russia. Which is what they did, while at the same time imposing their own dictatorship over the working class.

Contempt for the intellectual abilities of the working class led to the claim that the vanguard party should rule on their behalf, even against their will. Lenin’s theory of the vanguard party became enshrined as a principle of government (“the leading role of the Party”) which has served to justify what has proved to be the world’s longest-lasting political dictatorship.

The self-emancipation of the working class, as advocated by Marx, remains on the agenda.

 

For more information about the SPGB and how it is different from other political parties see here:-

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/how-spgb-different

And for more in-depth articles and comments on a whole range of subjects see here:-

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/education/depth-articles

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/education/z-marxism

ALB
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ciro wrote:
from you link and text, I understand that Marx like us wanted direct democracy. But: what about our idea that we should take power with elections where this is possible, and the underlying idea that to establish socialism we need that a vast majority of people wants this? Are those idea also in Marx?
Yes, Marx did argue that under certain conditions (control of the government by an elected parliament) a socialist-minded working class would be able to gain control of political power peaceably via elections. As he said in a speech in The Hague in Holland in 1872:

Quote:
You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries -- such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland -- where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must some day appeal in order to erect the rule of labour.
It is a measure of the extent of Leninist and insurrectionary ideas in Italy that it is not easy to find an Italian version of this on the internet, but this might work.

At the end of  the more readily available Preface that Engels wrote to the English translation of Capital that came out in 1886 Engels confirmed this when he wrote that

Quote:
the voice ought to be heard of a man whose whole theory is the result of a lifelong study of the economic history and condition of England, and whom that study led to the conclusion that, at least in Europe, England is the only country where the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means. He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling classes to submit, without a “pro-slavery rebellion,” to this peaceful and legal revolution
This is more easily available in Italian and can be found here.

Having said this, our position does not rest on what Marx said (we don't slavishly accept him as an infallible authority) but on our own analysis of the facts which in our view confirm Marx's point of view.

Lenin argued that since 1872 conditions in England and America had become more like what they were in Europe in 1872 (where Marx saw insurrection as the only way) and so a peaceful winning of political power had become impossible in England and America too. We argue that, on the contrary, today conditions in Europe and many other parts of the world have become more like conditions in England and America in 1872 and so a peaceful revolution is possible in them too.

ciro
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Thanks you very much I am happy with your answer reg Marx/democracy: I had again very interesting things to read. Again, I am surprised reg how wise are socialists words and how few socialists there are in the word, that is really a pity. I see now that my question reg the countries to be involved in a socialist devolution is not on scope in this thread. Clearly, I agree that today socialism cannot be established only in one country now. Maybe to know if this was true also for Marx when he was writing would be interesting.

gnome
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Joined: 14/10/2011

ciro wrote:

Thanks you very much I am happy with your answer reg Marx/democracy: I had again very interesting things to read. Again, I am surprised reg how wise are socialists words and how few socialists there are in the word, that is really a pity. I see now that my question reg the countries to be involved in a socialist devolution is not on scope in this thread. Clearly, I agree that today socialism cannot be established only in one country now. Maybe to know if this was true also for Marx when he was writing would be interesting.

 

You may find this article of interest:-

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1990s/1990/no-1025...

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1990s/1990/no-1027...

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