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Bourgeois Liberal Democracy Essays

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Lenin: Two Tactics: What Do The Bourgeois Liberal Realists Praise The Social-Democratic Realists For?

What Do The Bourgeois Liberal Realists Praise The Social-Democratic “Realists” For?

The articles entitled “The Split in Russian Social-Democracy” and “The Triumph of Common Sense” (Osvobozhdeniye. No. 72) set forth the opinion on Social-Democracy held by the representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie, an opinion which is of remarkable value for class-conscious proletarians. We cannot too strongly recommend every Social-Democrat to read these articles in full and to ponder over every sentence in them. We shall reproduce first of all the most important propositions contained in both these articles.

“It is fairly difficult,” writes the Osvobozbdeniye. “for an outside observer to grasp the real political meaning of the disagreements that have split the Social-Democratic Party into two factions. A definition of the ‘Majority’ faction as the more radical and unswerving, as distinct from the ‘Minority’ which allows of certain compromises in the interests of the cause would not be quite exact, and in any case would not provide an exhaustive characterisation. At any rate the traditional dogmas of Marxian orthodoxy are observed by the Minority faction with even greater zeal perhaps than by the Lenin faction. The following characterisation would appear to us to be more accurate. The fundamental political temper of the ’Majority’ is abstract revolutionism, rebellion for the sake of rebellion, an eagerness to stir up insurrection among the popular masses by any and every means and to seize power immediately in their name; to a certain extent this brings the ’Leninists’ close to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and overshadows in their minds the idea of the class struggle with the idea of a Russian revolution involving the whole people; while abjuring in practice much of the narrow-mindedness of the Social-Democratic doctrine, the ’Leninists’ are, on the other hand, thoroughly imbued with the narrow-mindedness of revolutionism, renounce all practical work except the preparation of an immediate insurrection, ignore on principle all forms of legal and semi-legal agitation and every species of practically useful compromise with other oppositional trends. The Minority, on the contrary, while steadfastly adhering to the doctrine of Marxism, at the same time preserves the realistic elements of the Marxian world outlook. The fundamental idea of this faction is to oppose the interests of the ’proletariat’ to the interests of the bourgeoisie. But, on the other hand, the struggle of the proletariat is conceived—of course within certain bounds dictated by the immutable dogmas of Social-Democracy—in realistically sober fashion, with a clear realisation of all the concrete conditions and aims of this struggle. Neither of the two factions pursues its basic point of view quite consistently, for in their ideological and political activity they are bound by the strict formulae of the Social Democratic catechism, which keep the ’Leninists’ from becoming unswerving rebels, after the fashion of some, at least, of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, and the ’Iskra -ists’ from becoming the practical leaders of the real political movement of the working class.”

And, after quoting the contents of the most important resolutions, the Osvobozbdeniye writer goes on to illustrate his general “thoughts,” with several concrete remarks about them. In comparison with the Third Congress, he says, “the Minority Conference takes a totally different attitude towards armed insurrection.” “In connection with the attitude towards armed insurrection,” there is a difference in the respective resolutions on a provisional government. “A similar difference is revealed in relation to the workers’ trade unions. The ’Leninists’ do not say a single word in their resolution about this most important starting point in the political education and organisation of the working class. The Minority, on the other hand, drew up a very weighty resolution.” With regard to the liberals, both factions, he says, are unanimous, but the Third Congress “repeats almost word for word Plekhanov’s resolution on the attitude towards the liberals adopted at the Second Congress and rejects Starover’s resolution adopted by the same Congress, which was more favourably inclined towards the liberals.” Although the Congress and the Conference resolutions on the peasant movement coincide on the whole, "the ‘Majority’ lays more emphasis on the idea of the revolutionary confiscation of the landlords’ estates and other land, while the ‘Minority’ wants to make the demand for democratic state and administrative reforms the basis of its agitation.”

Finally, the Osvobozhdeniye cites from the Iskra. No. 100, a Menshevik resolution, the main clause of which reads as follows: “In view of the fact that at the present time underground work alone does not secure adequate participation of the masses in Party life and in some degree leads to the masses as such being contrasted to the Party as an illegal organisation, the latter must assume leadership of the trade union struggle of the workers on a legal basis, strictly linking up this struggle with the Social-Democratic tasks.” Commenting on this resolution the Osvobozhdeniye exclaims: “We heartily welcome this resolution as a triumph of common sense, as evidence that a definite section of the Social-Democratic Party is beginning to see the light with regard to tactics.”

The reader now has before him all the essential opinions of the Osvobozhdeniye. It would, of course, be the greatest mistake to regard these opinions as correct in the sense that they correspond to objective truth. Every Social-Democrat will easily detect mistakes in them at every step. It would be naïve to forget that these opinions are thoroughly permeated with the interests and the points of view of the liberal bourgeoisie, and that accordingly they are utterly biased and tendentious. They reflect the views of the Social-Democrats in the same way as objects are reflected in a concave or convex mirror. But it would be an even greater mistake to forget that in the final analysis these bourgeois-distorted opinions reflect the real interests of the bourgeoisie, which, as a class, undoubtedly understands correctly which trends in Social-Democracy are advantageous, close, akin and agreeable, and which trends are harmful, distant, alien and antipathetic to it. A bourgeois philosopher or a bourgeois publicist can never understand Social-Democracy properly, neither Menshevik nor Bolshevik Social-Democracy. But if he is at all a sensible publicist, his class instinct will not deceive him, and he will always grasp the significance for the bourgeoisie of one or another trend in the Social-Democratic movement, on the whole correctly, although he may present it in a distorted way. That is why the class instinct of our enemy, his class opinion, is always deserving of the most serious attention of every class-conscious proletarian.

What, then, does the class instinct of the Russian bourgeoisie, as expressed by the Osvobozhdentsi. tell us?

It quite definitely expresses its satisfaction with the trend represented by the new Iskra. praises it for its realism, sober-mindedness, the triumph of common sense, the seriousness of its resolutions, its beginning to see the light on questions of tactics, its practicalness, etc.—and it expresses dissatisfaction with the trend of the Third Congress, censures it for its narrow-mindedness, revolutionism, its rebel spirit, its repudiation of practically useful compromises, etc. The class instinct of the bourgeoisie suggests to it exactly what has been repeatedly proved with the help of most precise facts in our literature, namely, that the new-Iskraists are the opportunist and their opponents the revolutionary wing of the present-day Russian Social-Democratic movement. The liberals cannot but sympathise with the trend of the former, and cannot but censure the trend of the latter. The liberals, being the ideologists of the bourgeoisie, perfectly well understand the advantages to the bourgeoisie of “practicalness, sober-mindedness and seriousness” on the part of the working class, i.e. of actually restricting its field of activity within the boundaries of capitalism, reforms, the trade union struggle, etc. Dangerous and terrible to the bourgeoisie is the “revolutionary narrow-mindedness” of the proletariat and its endeavour in order to promote its own class aims to win the leadership in a popular Russian revolution.

That this is the real meaning of the word “realism” as employed by the Osvobozhdeniye is evident among other things from the way it was used previously by the Osvobozhdeniye and Mr. Struve. The Iskra itself could not but admit that this was the meaning of the Osvobozhdeniye ’s “realism.” Take, for instance, the article entitled “It Is High Time!” in the supplement to the Iskra. No. 73-74. The author of this article (a consistent exponent of the views of the “Marsh” at the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party) frankly expressed the opinion that “at the Congress Akimov played the part of the ghost of opportunism rather than of its real representative.” And the editors of the Iskra were forthwith obliged to correct the author of the article “It Is High Time!” by stating in a note:

“We cannot agree with this opinion. Comrade Akimov’s views on the programme bear the clear imprint of opportunism, which fact is admitted even by the Osvobozhdeniye critic, who—in one of its recent issues—stated that Comrade Akimov is an adherent of the ’realist’— read: revisionist—tendency.”

Thus the Iskra itself is perfectly aware that the Osvobozhdeniye ’s “realism” is simply opportunism and nothing else. If in attacking “liberal realism” (Iskra. No. 102) the Iskra now says nothing about how it was praised by the liberals for its realism, the explanation of this circumstance is that such praise is harder to swallow than any censure. Such praise (which the Osvobozhdeniye uttered not by mere chance and not for the first time) actually proves the affinity between liberal realism and those tendencies of Social-Democratic “realism” (read: opportunism) that run through every resolution of the new-Iskraists as a result of the mistaken character of their whole tactical line.

Indeed, the Russian bourgeoisie has already fully revealed its inconsistency and egoism in the “popular” revolution—has revealed it in Mr. Struve’s arguments, by the whole tone and content of the numerous liberal newspapers, and by the nature of the political utterances of the bulk of the Zemstvo-ists, the bulk of the intellectuals and in general of all the adherents of Messrs. Trubetskoy, Petrunkevich, Rodichev and Co. of course, the bourgeoisie does not always clearly understand, but in general and on the whole, its class instinct enables it to grasp perfectly well that, on the one hand, the proletariat and the “people” are useful for its revolution as cannon fodder, as a battering-ram against the autocracy, but that, on the other hand, the proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry will be terribly dangerous to it if they win a “decisive victory over tsarism” and carry the democratic revolution to completion. That is why the bourgeoisie strains every effort to induce the proletariat to be content with a “modest” role in the revolution, to be more sober-minded, practical and realistic, to be guided in its activities by the principle, “lest the bourgeoisie recoil.”

The bourgeois intellectuals know full well that they will not be able to get rid of the working-class movement. That is why they do not come out against the working-class movement, they do not come out against the class struggle of the proletariat—no, they even pay lip service to the right to strike, to a genteel class struggle, understanding the working-class movement and the class struggle in the Brentano or Hirsch-Duncker sense. In other words they are fully prepared to “yield” to the workers the right to strike and to organise in trade unions (which in fact has already been almost won by the workers themselves), provided the workers renounce their “rebelliousness,” their “narrow-minded revolutionism,” their hostility to “practically-useful compromises,” their claims and aspirations to put on the “popular Russian revolution,” the imprint of their class struggle, the imprint of proletarian consistency, proletarian determination and “plebeian Jacobinism.” That is why the bourgeois intellectuals all over Russia exert every effort, resort to thousands of ways and means—books, [1] lectures, speeches, talks, etc. etc.—to imbue the workers with the ideas of (bourgeois) sober-mindedness, (liberal) practicalness, (opportunist) realism, (Brentano) class struggle, (Hirsch-Duncker ) trade unions, [2] etc. The latter two slogans are particularly convenient for the bourgeois of the “constitutional-democratic” party, or the party of “liberation,” since outwardly they coincide with the Marxian slogans, since with a few small omissions and some slight distortions they can easily be confused with and sometimes even passed off as Social-Democratic slogans. For instance, the legal liberal newspaper Rassvyet (which we will try some day to discuss in greater detail with the readers of the Proletary ) frequently says such “bold” things about the class struggle, about the possible deception of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, about the working-class movement, about the initiative of the proletariat, etc. etc. that the inattentive reader or an unenlightened worker might easily be led to believe that its “social-democratism” is genuine. Actually, however, it is a bourgeois imitation of social-democratism, an opportunist distortion and perversion of the concept class struggle.

At the bottom of the whole of this gigantic (in breadth of influence on the masses) bourgeois subterfuge lies the tendency to reduce the working-class movement mainly to a trade union movement, to keep it as far away as possible from an independent (i.e. revolutionary and directed towards a democratic dictatorship) policy, to “overshadow in the minds of the workers the idea of a Russian revolution involving the whole people with the idea of the class struggle.”

As the reader will perceive, we have turned the Osvobozhdeniye formulation upside down. This is an excellent formulation that excellently expresses the two views of the role of the proletariat in a democratic revolution: the bourgeois view and the Social-Democratic view. The bourgeoisie wants to confine the proletariat to the trade union movement and thereby to “overshadow in its mind the idea of a Russian revolution involving the whole people with the idea of the (Brentano ) class struggle”—which is wholly in the spirit of the Bernsteinian authors of the Credo. who overshadowed in the minds of the workers the idea of political struggle with the idea of a “purely working-class” movement. Social-Democracy, however, wants, on the contrary, to develop the class struggle of the proletariat to the point where the latter will take the leading part in the popular Russian revolution, i.e. will lead this revolution to a the democratic-dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.

The revolution in our country is one that involves the whole people, says the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. Therefore, you, as a separate class, must confine yourselves to your class struggle, must in the name of “common sense” devote your attention mainly to the trade unions, and their legalisation, must consider these trade unions as “the most important starting point in your political education and organisation,” must in a revolutionary situation draw up for the most part “serious” resolutions like the new Iskra resolution, must pay careful heed to resolutions that are “more favourably inclined towards the liberals,” must show preference for leaders who display a tendency to become “practical leaders of the real political movement of the working class,” must “preserve the realistic elements of the Marxian world outlook” (if you have unfortunately already become infected with the “strict formulae” of this “unscientific” catechism).

The revolution in our country is one involving the whole people, Social-Democracy says to the proletariat. Therefore, you, as the most progressive and the only thoroughly revolutionary class, must strive not only to take the most active part, but also the leading, part in it. Therefore, you must not confine yourselves to narrowly conceived limits of the class struggle, meaning mainly the trade union movement, but, on the contrary, you must strive to widen the limits and the content of your class struggle to include not only all the aims of the present, democratic, Russian revolution of the whole of the people, but the aims of the subsequent socialist revolution as well. Therefore, while not ignoring the trade union movement, while not refusing to take advantage of even the slightest legal possibilities, you must, in a revolutionary period, put in the forefront the tasks of armed insurrection and the formation of a revolutionary army and a revolutionary government as being the only way to the complete victory of the people over tsarism, to the winning of a democratic republic and real political liberty.

It would be superfluous to speak about the half-hearted and inconsistent stand, which, naturally, is so pleasing to the bourgeoisie, that the new Iskra resolutions took on this question because of their mistaken “line.”

[1] Cf. Prokopovich, The Labour Question in RussiaLenin

Other articles

The Fundamental Limitations of US Democracy

Yesterday, the first of my articles was published in the People’s Daily, the CPC’s main newspaper in China. It is called ‘The Fundamental Limitations of US Democracy’, and may be found here and here (among a number of sites). However, since the article is in Chinese, below is the original text before it was translated.

The Fundamental Limitations of US Democracy

Always be suspicious of anyone who claims to embody “democracy” without any qualifiers. Why? If they do make such a claim, they are trying to universalise their own particular form of democracy. The United States has been especially guilty of this claim, as we will see. But before I deal with the United States, let me analyse the types of democracy that are possible.

Types of Democracy

It has become clear that “democracy” does not exist as an absolute and universal term. Instead, we have particular types of democracy.

The ancient Greeks, especially in Athens, practised what may be called “Greek democracy.” It was exercised by the adult males in the small population of the polis. The term polis should not be translated as city, for it was really a town surrounded by fields used for agriculture. The populations of even the largest towns were no more than 30,000.

Another type of democracy is liberal or bourgeois democracy, which spread from Europe to some other parts of the world after the French Revolution of 1789. This form of democracy is restricted to adults over the age of 18 and follows a pattern of representation to a parliament, which does the real work. Notably, bourgeois democracy is, as the name suggests, the form preferred by the new ruling class, the bourgeoisie or middle class. It is also a mechanism developed to prevent the inroads of socialism.

A third form of democracy has arisen more recently in Eastern Europe and may be called “illiberal democracy.” We find it in Russia and Hungary today, where the ruling party in the parliament ensures its continued rule by hindering any serious opposition party.

The final type of democracy is socialist democracy, which is very different from the preceding types. Socialist democracy is found in varying shapes in socialist states where the communist party also forms the government.

Limits of Liberal Democracy

Much more may be said concerning the way these forms of democracy function. But in this article I focus on liberal (also called parliamentary or bourgeois) democracy, with the Unites States specifically in mind. The central point is that liberal democracy is not merely limited in extent (which would then simply entail an extension of that democracy) but that it is structurally geared to exclude significant groups from that liberal “democracy.” In fact, it requires such exclusions in order to constitute itself as “democracy.”

This pattern of exclusion already appears in the earliest theorists of liberalism. For example, John Stuart Mill writes in On Liberty that “despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians,” for liberty is only for “human beings in the maturity of their faculties” (Collected Works. vol. 18, p. 224). As for the rest of the world, they are little superior to the animals. Similar sentiments are found in the work of John Locke, who observed that slavery in the colonies was self-evident and indisputable (Political Essays. p. 180). In other words, liberalism and repression are two sides of the same coin.

Let us focus on today’s beacon of “democracy” and “liberty”: liberal democracy developed in the white community of the United States in direct relation to the enslaving of blacks and deportation of indigenous peoples (see Domenico Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History ). When Thomas Jefferson wrote in The Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he did so as a slave owner. So also was George Washington, as were the other members of the team given responsibility for the declaration, as was John Madison who wrote the constitution, as were the presidents of the United States for 32 of its first 36 years. Indeed, for them a liberal and tolerant society was one that excluded the fanaticism of the slavery abolitionists.

How could these founders of the United States make such bold claims while being apparent hypocrites? “All men are created equal” relied on a crucial restriction to the sense of “all,” which certainly did not include slaves, women and “inferior” folk. One cannot understand “American liberty” without slavery and dispossession, for they grew together, one sustaining the other.

However, the way they understood of liberal democracy over time was subtle. The line between who should be included and who excluded always shifts; as some groups are included (slaves, workers, women), others are excluded. For instance, during the so-called Progressive Era, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, numerous “democratic” reforms took place: direct election to the Senate, secret ballot, primaries, referenda, and so on. Yet they all took place during a rise in ferocity of the Ku Klux Klan terrorist squads and a push to assimilate Indigenous people and deprive them of their residual lands.

So also with the treatment of “rogue” or “pariah” states outside the United States. “Rogue” was originally a term used for slaves, and when one had white semi-slaves, they were branded with an “R” to signify their status. Now the term is used for states: once declared a “rogue” or “pariah” state, the “world’s oldest democracy” (Clinton) and “model for the world” (Bush) tries to crush these “barbarians” (Mill) in the name of the war cry, “freedom and democracy.”

As a further example from our own time: the continued construction of a prohibitively expensive wall between the United States and Mexico serves as a physical reminder of the built-in limits of liberal democracy in the United States. Those who still manage to enter the southern United States are denied basic rights, with one exception: they may join the armed forces. Indeed, recruitment targets non-citizens, offering them the hope of fast track to citizenship. Indeed, if a non-citizen is killed in combat. he or she will be granted citizenship posthumously.

Outside the United States, the examples multiply. We may include the necessary role of beggars, vagrants, workhouses, white servants, kidnapping of poor children for the army and for colonial labour, and even the tendency towards eugenics in the development of liberalism and liberal democracy in England. Oppression is inherent in liberalism’s focus on the individual and the growth of master-race democracy in Europe as it engaged in colonial expansion. Further, to what do the oft-repeated and much-vaunted claims for “human rights,” “liberty,” and “freedom” amount? We may deploy Cecil Rhodes’s formula for the British Empire, which is still perfectly valid today: “philanthropy + 5 per cent,” where “philanthropy” is synonymous with “human rights” and 5 per cent the profits to be made by waving the flag of “human rights.”

Many of these details are reasonably well known, but the argument is usually one of hypocrisy: they do not live up to their ideals. Instead, I suggest that the very possibility of bourgeois “democracy” and “freedom” is directly dependent upon, and thereby unthinkable and unworkable without, systemic dispossession of the majority.

The United States Today

What about the situation in the United States today? A few facts will enable us to make a conclusion. To begin with, liberal or parliamentary democracy fosters systemic corruption. For example, a common practice in the American houses of parliament is “tagging” or “Christmas-treeing” a bill. The term designates a whole series of amendments that have little if any relation to the original bill – so that it looks like a Christmas tree covered in decorations. The purpose is to buy votes for the bill by including special requests from individual members of parliament. They are in fact legalised bribes in order to win enough votes for the legislation to pass. It may be a bill concerning the defence budget, but one person demands a special “tag” for his friends on Wall Street, another for sugar farmers, or another for a new freeway in his electorate. Such “tags” may run into the thousands, blowing out the budget for the initial bill out of all proportion.

The examples could go on, such as the legalisation of unlimited bribery – “secret money ” – from the rich for political campaigns through the Political Actions Committees (PACs), the constant flow of undeclared money to influence political decisions by special interest groups such as the National Rifle Federation, and the fact that only the very rich can launch election campaigns. The most recent example is the campaign by Donald Trump in the Republican primaries. This outspoken racist now leads the Republican nomination list.

Second, voter participation appears to be at historic lows. By the 2014 mid-term elections, more than 60 percent of people did not bother to vote. When we consider low income earners and the young, the figure jumps to 80 percent. Many people cannot name the political parties and they do not know the name of their local member. When asked, people simply say that voting makes no difference. The extremely wealthy always get their way and it is in the interest of the ruling parties not to have a high turnout. Why? There is no political party in the United States that represents workers, so the Republican and Democratic parties have little interest in encouraging them to vote.

Some would regard this as evidence of a decline in interest in liberal democracy. If we take this view, then we could argue that the people of the United States have begun to realise that the system does not work. However, figures show that most presidential elections since 1920 have hovered around 50 percent of voter turnout. We may interpret this fact in two ways. First, for almost a century, the common people in the United States have largely been uninterested in its liberal democracy. Second, and picking up my earlier point, liberal democracy functions to exclude real participation by those who wish to change the system. Both points are true.

Good article, Roland. I might quibble about one point though. It is my impression that both major parties, and more importantly the ruling class factions that they serve, are very interested in encouraging people to vote. They may not care so much if they believe that most non-voters don’t vote out of apathy, but if they got the idea that people were refusing to vote and actually boycotting it because of a belief that the entire system is corrupt and fraudulent, then that would definitely be a cause for concern since it would call into question the legitimacy of the entire system and undermine all the rhetoric about the U.S. being the “greatest democracy on earth.”

If you have a grievance, then they want you to deal with it in only one way: Vote! The elites have taken steps to ensure, especially at the federal level, that voting has absolutely no effect on policy, but all the while there are media campaigns with celebrities urging young people to “get out the vote” while also accusing non-voters of apathy and laziness. They want everyone to think that non-voters are apathetic, but I am getting a sense that there is a growing number of people in the U.S. who are deliberately choosing not to vote as a form of protest.

I’m a U.S. citizen and I haven’t voted for the last several election cycles. Several years ago I actually wrote a letter to my state board of elections and asked them to cancel my voter registration!

There is a similar development here in Australia – not apathy but protest against the system. We have compulsory voting, but people find other ways to protest. Thus, more than one million young people have not registered to vote, which is voluntary. Out of an electorate of about 16 million, that is a sizeable portion. Further, up to 10% make an informal vote at the booth. They sign up to vote but then mess up the voting paper.