Jun 172014
 

BlairBrownCHAPTER III: PARTY-LIFE IN WARTIME

Never is the power of the state greater, and never are the forces of political parties of opposition less effective, than at the outbreak of war. This deplorable war, comes like a storm in the night, when everyone, wearied with the labours of the day, was plunged in well-deserved slumber, rages all over the world with unprecedented violence, and with such a lack of respect for human life and of regard for the eternal creations of art as to endanger the very cornerstones of a civilization dating from more than a thousand years. One of the cornerstones of historical materialism is that the working classes all over the world are united as if by links of iron through the perfect community of economico-social interests which they possess in face of the bourgeoisie, this community of interests effecting a horizontal stratification of classes which runs athwart and supersedes the vertical stratification of nations and of races. The greatest difference, in fact, in the views taken of economico- social classes and of linguistico-ethical nationalities, as between the respective adherents of nationalistic theories and of the theories of historical materialism, consists in this, that the former propound the hypothesis that the concept “nation” is morally and positively predominant over the concept “class,” whilst the latter consider the concept and reality “nation” altogether subordinate to the concept “class.” The Marxists, in fact, believed that the consciousness of class had become impressed upon the entire mentality of the proletariat imbued with socialist theories.

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Jun 162014
 
Lobster

“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”

CHAPTER II: DEMOCRACY AND THE IRON LAW OF OLIGARCHY

Reduced to its most concise expression, the fundamental sociological law of political parties (the term “political” being here used in its most comprehensive significance) may be formulated in the following terms: “It is organisation which gives birth to the dominion of the elected over the electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organisation, says oligarchy.”

Whilst the majority of the socialist schools believe that in a future more or less remote it will be possible to attain to a genuinely democratic order, and whilst the greater number of those who adhere to aristocratic political views consider that democracy, however dangerous to society, is at least realizable, we find in the scientific world a conservative tendency voiced by those who deny resolutely and once for all that there is any such possibility. As was shown in an earlier chapter, 1 this tendency is particularly strong in Italy, where it is led by a man of weight, Gaetano Mosca, who declares that no highly developed social order is possible without a “political class,” that is to say, a politically dominant class, the class of a minority. Those who do not believe in the god of democracy are never weary of affirming that this god is the creation of a childlike mythopoeic faculty, and they contend that all phrases representing the idea of the rule of the masses, such terms as state, civic rights, popular representation, nation, are descriptive merely of a legal principle, and do not correspond to any actually existing facts. They contend that the eternal struggles between aristocracy and democracy of which we read in history have never been anything more than struggles between an old minority, defending its actual predominance, and a new and ambitious minority, intent upon the conquest of power, desiring either to fuse with the former or to dethrone and replace it. On this theory, these class struggles consist merely of struggles between successively dominant minorities. The social classes which under our eyes engage in gigantic battles upon the scene of history, battles whose ultimate causes are to be found in economic antagonism, may thus be compared to two groups of dancers executing a chassé croisé in a quadrille.

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Jun 152014
 

MilibandCHAPTER I: THE CONSERVATIVE BASIS OF ORGANISATION

At this point in our inquiry two decisive questions present themselves. One of these is whether the oligarchical disease of the democratic parties is incurable. This will be considered in the next chapter. The other question may be formulated in the following terms. Is it impossible for a democratic party to practise a democratic policy, for a revolutionary party to pursue a revolutionary policy? Must we say that not socialism alone, but even a socialistic policy, is Utopian? The present chapter will attempt a brief answer to this inquiry.

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Jun 142014
 
Domela

Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (1846 –1919)

CHAPTER 4: ANARCHISM AS PROPHYLACTIC

Anarchists were the first to insist upon the hierarchical and oligarchical consequences of party organisation. Their view of the defects of organisation is much clearer than that of socialists and even than that of syndicalists. They resist authority as the source of servility and slavery, if not the source of all the ills of the world. For them constraint is “synonymous with prison and police.” 1 They know how readily the individualism of the leaders checks and paralyses the socialism of the led. In order to elude this danger, anarchists, notwithstanding the practical inconveniences entailed, have refrained from constituting a party, at least in the strict sense of the term. Their adherents are not organized under any stable form. They are not united by any discipline. They know nothing of obligations or duties, such as elections, pecuniary contributions, participation in regular meetings, and so on.

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Jun 132014
 
Dockstrike

Report on the Dockers’ Strike of 1889

CHAPTER 3: SYNDICALISM AS PROPHYLACTIC

According to the syndicalist doctrine, it is essential to transfer the revolutionary centre of gravity of the proletariat from the political party to the trade union. The union is conceived as a politically neutral organism, one which does not adhere to any party, but which is socialist in inspiration and aim.

It is the great merit of the syndicalists that they have understood how disastrous would be isolated syndicalist activity, devoid of any general theory, living simply from day to day; and to have advocated with much energy the indissoluble union of the working class, organized in its trade unions, with the socialist idea as spiritus rector and as ultimate aim. The syndicalists desire (and here, for once, they agree with the Marxist politicians) to diffuse among the organized workers the conviction that the trade union cannot attain its aim except by the elimination of capitalism, that is to say, by the abolition of the existing economic order. But the syndicalists also desire (and here they are in open conflict with all the other currents of contemporary socialism) that the trade union should not merely be an asylum for socialist ideas, but that it should also directly promote socialist activity, pursuing not simply a trade- unionist policy in the amplest sense of the term, but in addition and above all a socialist policy. Syndicalism is to put an end to the dualism of the labour movement by substituting for the party, whose sole functions are politico-electoral, and for the trade union, whose sole functions are economic, a completer organism that shall represent a synthesis of the political and of the economic function.1

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Jun 132014
 
Bakunin2

Michael Bakunin (1814 –1876)

CHAPTER II: THE POSTULATE OF RENUNCIATION

The dissolution of the democratic consciousness of the leaders may doubtless be retarded, if not completely arrested, by the influence of intellectual or purely ideological factors. “So long as the guidance and representation of the party remains in the hands of persons who have grown grey in the great tradition of socialism,”1 so long, that is to say, as the party is still dominated by vigorous socialistic idealism, it is possible that in certain conditions the leaders will retain their ancient democratic sentiments, and that they will continue to regard themselves as the servitors of the masses from whom their power is derived. We have already discussed the drastic measures that have been proposed to prevent the embourgeoisement of the leaders of proletarian origin. But it is not enough to prevent the proletarian elements among the leaders from adopting a bourgeois mode of life; it is also essential, on this line of thought, to insist upon the proletarianization of the leaders of bourgeois origin. In order to render it impossible for the socialist intellectuals to return to their former environment it has been proposed to insist that they should assimilate the tenor of their lives to that of the proletarian masses, and should thus descend to the level of their followers. It is supposed that their bourgeois instincts would undergo atrophy if their habits were to be in external respects harmonized as closely as possible with those of the proletariat.

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Jun 122014
 

CHAPTER I: THE REFERENDUM

michels-1

Robert Michels (1876-1936)

In the domain of public law, democracy attains its culminating point in that complex of institutions that exists in Switzerland, where the people possesses the right of the referendum and that of the initiative. The use of the referendum is compulsory in Switzerland upon a number of questions that are statutorily determined. The legislative measures drawn up by the representative body must then be submitted to a popular vote, for acceptance or rejection. In addition, the burghers exercise the power of direct legislation. “When a certain number of voters demand the repeal of an existing law or the introduction of a new one, the matter must be submitted to popular vote. These important popular rights are supplemented by the direct popular election of the supreme executive authorities, as in the United States. Although these democratic ordinances have often in actual practice proved but little democratic in their results (the referendum, above all, having frequently shown that the democratic masses possess less democratic understanding than the representative government), and although leading socialists have therefore with good reason sharply criticised these manifestations of democracy, – other socialists look to these institutions for the definitive solution of all questions of public law, and for the practical contradiction of the opinion that oligarchy arises by natural necessity, contending that by the referendum and by the initiative the decisive influence in legislative matters is transferred from the representative assembly to the totality of the citizens.

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Jun 062014
 

barrikaden[1]It is often supposed that revolution is something distinct from evolution. But if we examine the history of the past two hundred years or so it becomes evident that revolution and evolution are part and parcel of a single process. As Alexander Berkman observed: ‘Revolution is merely the boiling point of evolution‘ (What is Communist Anarchism? New York, 1972, p. 226). The problem for political scientists and revolutionaries alike, is, however, identifying when and under what economic, cultural and social circumstances evolutionary change becomes revolutionary.

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Jun 052014
 

This article is abridged from a talk by the author to the Cambridge branch of DAM/IWA on 8 August 1985

Prise_de_la_Bastille

The Storming of the Bastille, July 14 1789

‘…you ask me what I seek in life. I wish neither to dominate nor be dominated. I wish neither to dissimulate nor deceive; nor do I wish to exert myself to acquire what I am told is necessary, but of which I do not feel the need.’ — N. G. Chernyshevsky, What Is To Be Done? (1863)

REVOLUTION is a much used term but rarely is it discussed in a way that sheds any light on what the process actually involves. Revolutionaries themselves more often than not refer to it only in passing, or in terms of some historical myth dictated by whatever their particular ideology happens to be. The actual historical events of revolutions are either overlooked or tailored to fit a prefabricated political dogma. So let us get away from this habit and look at what we mean when we talk about revolution.

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May 282014
 

TheoryofJusticeSince its publication in 1971 the political ideas expounded by philosopher John Rawls in A Theory of Justice have provided the justifiers and apologists (i.e., the informers and the regulators who, respectively, mould opinion and behaviour within the bourgeois state) for a ‘just’ capitalist democracy — the currently prevailing form of class society — with an alternative to utilitarianism. It also provides, to quote Burns*, “…the oppressor’s cruel smile / Amid his hapless victim’s spoil” with an ideological mask of ethical legitimacy for the predatory values — and practices — of nakedly amoral neo-liberal capitalism. The question remains: how can bourgeois rule be defeated without putting something worse in it place — and without having to plough through the deliberately mystifying lexicon of neo-liberal gobbledygook (e.g. “dialectic” and “contradiction”, for conflict and division, respectively), with which they seek to cover their own self-serving bureaucratic agenda?

* Lines Written on a Banknote

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

John Kenneth Galbraith

Rawls’ stated aim is to develop a theory of justice that is a viable alternative to the classical utilitarian and ‘intuitionist’ concepts of justice and morality. In contrast with classic utilitarian thought he argues that each person ‘possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society cannot override.’ Policies that lead to the loss of freedom for some or the imposition of sacrifices on the few in return for the benefit of the majority are not, therefore, compatible with a ‘just’ society.

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