Friday, August 25, 2006

OSE Chapter 19 The Social Revolution part 2

This post continues Popper’s critique of the ambivalent attitude towards violence that is fostered by both the radical and moderate wings of the Marxist movement. These correspond roughly with the communist and social democrat parties as they existed in Europe at the time. Sometimes the issue is pushed aside, as though the Marxist in his capacity as a scientist is just concerned with predictions and not moral positions.

Radicals and moderates
The radical wing insists that, according to Marx, all class rule is necessarily a dictatorship, i.e. a tyranny. A real democracy can therefore be attained only by the establishment of a classless society, by overthrowing, if necessary violently, the capitalist dictatorship. The moderate wing does not agree with this view, but insists that democracy can to some extent be realized even under capitalism, and that it is therefore possible to conduct the social revolution by peaceful and gradual reforms. But even this moderate wing insists that such a peaceful development is uncertain; it points out that it is the bourgeoisie which is likely to resort to force, if faced with the prospect of being defeated by the workers on the democratic battlefield; and it contends that in this case the workers would be justified in retaliating, and in establishing their rule by violent means. Both wings claim to represent the true Marxism of Marx, and in a way, both are right. [due to the ambiguity in his formulations and changes in his position over his lifetime]
The radical position is more consistent with the apocalyptic tone of the prophecies. Marx wrote:
Along with the steady decrease in the number of capitalist magnates who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this development, there grows the extent of misery, oppression, servitude, degradation, and exploitation; but at the same time, there rises the rebellious indignation of the working class which is steadily growing in number, and which is being disciplined, unified, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist method of production. Ultimately, the monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has flourished with it, and under it. Both the centralization in a few hands of the means of production, and the social organization of labour, reach a point where their capitalist cloak becomes a strait-jacket. It bursts asunder. The hour of capitalist private property has struck. The expropriators are expropriated.
So from the radical or hardline point of view, capitalism has to be eliminated by violence if it is to be eliminated at all. In contrast the moderate position appears to accept the possibility of non-violent expropriation of the capitalists by capturing the democratic process, a prospect that was realistic in England by the time Marx died.
If we try to construct such a modified argument in accordance with Marx’s later views and with those of the moderate wing, preserving as much of the original theory as possible, then we arrive at an argument based entirely upon the claim that the working class represents now, or will one day represent, the majority of the people. The argument would run like this. Capitalism will be transformed by a ‘social revolution’, by which we now mean nothing but the advance of the class struggle between capitalists and workers. This revolution may either proceed by gradual and democratic methods, or it may be violent, or it may be gradual and violent in alternate stages. All this will depend upon the resistance of the bourgeoisie. But in any case, and particularly if the development is a peaceful one, it must end with the workers assuming ‘the position of the ruling class’, as the Manifesto says; they must ‘win the battle of democracy’; for ‘the proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority’.
The prophetic argument is untenable, and irreparable, in all its interpretations, whether radical or moderate. But for a full understanding of this situation, it is not enough to refute the modified prophecy; it is also necessary to examine the ambiguous attitude towards the problem of violence which we can observe in both the radical and the moderate Marxist parties. This attitude has, I assert, a considerable influence upon the question whether or not the ‘battle of democracy’ will be won; for wherever the moderate Marxist wing has won a general election, or come close to it, one of the reasons seems to have been that they attracted large sections of the middle class. This was due to their humanitarianism, to their stand for freedom and against oppression. But the systematic ambiguity of their attitude towards violence not only tends to neutralize this attraction, but it also directly furthers the interest of the anti-democrats, the anti-humanitarians, the fascists.
Two ambiguities: violence and the conquest of power

In this section and the next Popper described how the Marxists tended to undermine democracy their ambiguity towards violence and the conquest of power. Peace and freedom loving Marxists have not been helped by the more apocalyptic and bloodthirsty passages of Marx, nor by the irrational worship of violence by the revolutionaries in the adversary culture.

The essentialist theory of the state is also a major problem – the theory that the state is essentially a class tyranny. This makes it very hard for reasonable Marxists to adopt the language of political proposals (and the dualism of facts and standards) to work towards a functioning democracy, a protective state, the rule of law and the traditional form of equalitarian justice.

Popper was especially critical of the tactical doctrine promulgated by Engels along these lines:
We Marxists much prefer a peaceful and democratic development towards socialism, if we can have it. But as political realists we foresee the probability that the bourgeoisie will not quietly stand by when we are within reach of attaining the majority. They will rather attempt to destroy democracy. In this case, we must not flinch, but fight back, and conquer political power. And since this development is a probable one, we must prepare the workers for it; otherwise we should betray our cause. Here is one of Engels’ passages on the matter:

For the moment .. legality .. is working so well in our favour that we should be mad to abandon it as long as it lasts. It remains to be seen whether it will not be the bourgeoisie .. which will abandon it first in order to crush us with violence. Take the first shot, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie! Never doubt it, they will be the first to fire. One fine day the .. bourgeoisie will grow tired of .. watching the rapidly increasing strength of socialism, and will have recourse to illegality and violence.’ What will happen then is left systematically ambiguous. And this ambiguity is used as a threat; for in later passages, Engels addresses the ‘gentlemen of the bourgeoisie’ in the following way: ‘If .. you break the constitution .. then the Social Democratic Party is free to act, or to refrain from acting, against you—whatever it likes best. What it is going to do, however, it will hardly give away to you to-day!’
Popper argued that the Engels doctrine and the ambiguities of violence and of power-conquest make the working of democracy impossible if they are adopted by a major political party.
I base this criticism on the contention that democracy can work only if the main parties adhere to a view of its functions which may be summarized in some rules such as these:
(1) Democracy cannot be fully characterized as the rule of the majority, although the institution of general elections is most important. For a majority might rule in a tyrannical way. (The majority of those who are less than 6 ft. high may decide that the minority of those over 6 ft. shall pay all taxes.) In a democracy, the powers of the rulers must be limited; and the criterion of a democracy is this: In a democracy, the rulers—that is to say, the government—can be dismissed by the ruled without bloodshed. Thus if the men in power do not safeguard those institutions which secure to the minority the possibility of working for a peaceful change, then their rule is a tyranny.
(2) We need only distinguish between two forms of government, viz. such as possess institutions of this kind, and all others; i.e. democracies and tyrannies.
(3) A consistent democratic constitution should exclude only one type of change in the legal system, namely a change which would endanger its democratic character.
(4) In a democracy, the full protection of minorities should not extend to those who violate the law, and especially not to those who incite others to the violent overthrow of the democracy.
(5) A policy of framing institutions to safeguard democracy must always proceed on the assumption that there may be antidemocratic tendencies latent among the ruled as well as among the rulers.
(6) If democracy is destroyed, all rights are destroyed. Even if certain economic advantages enjoyed by the ruled should persist, they would persist only on sufferance.
(7) Democracy provides an invaluable battle-ground for any reasonable reform, since it permits reform without violence. But if the preservation of democracy is not made the first consideration in any particular battle fought out on this battle-ground, then the latent anti-democratic tendencies which are always present may bring about a breakdown of democracy.
It was Popper’s view that the Marxists too often pursued a course of making the workers suspicious of democracy. He quoted Engels “In reality the state is nothing more than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and this holds for a democratic republic no less than for a monarchy.”
But such views must produce:
(a) A policy of blaming democracy for all the evils which it does not prevent, instead of recognizing that the democrats are to be blamed, and the opposition usually no less than the majority. (Every opposition has the majority it deserves.)
(b) A policy of educating the ruled to consider the state not as theirs, but as belonging to the rulers.
(c) A policy of telling them that there is only one way to improve things, that of the complete conquest of power. But this neglects the one really important thing about democracy, that it checks and balances power.
Such a policy amounts to doing the work of the enemies of the open society; it provides them with an unwitting fifth column. And against the Manifesto which says ambiguously: ‘The first step in the revolution of the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class—to win the battle of democracy’, I assert that if this is accepted as the first step, then the battle of democracy will be lost.

For instance, let us consider more closely the use made in the political struggle of the threat of revolution or even of political strikes (as opposed to wage disputes, etc.). As explained above, the decisive question here would be whether such means are used as offensive weapons or solely for the defence of democracy. Within a democracy, they would be justified as a purely defensive weapon, and when resolutely applied in connection with a defensive and unambiguous demand they have been successfully used in this way. (Remember the quick breakdown of Kapp’s putsch.) But if used as an offensive weapon they must lead to a strengthening of the anti-democratic tendencies in the opponent’s camp, since they clearly make democracy unworkable.
The remainder of the chapter sketched some of the ways that the Marxists doctrines played out in practical politics, culminating in the rise and triumph of fascism. While the social democrats lacked the will to resist effectively, the communists managed to convince themselves that there was no need to resist (ultimately) because fascism represented the last gasp of capitalism and it should be allowed to run its course.
They even hoped that a totalitarian dictatorship in Central Europe would speed up matters. After all, since the revolution was bound to come, fascism could only be one of the means of bringing it about; and this was more particularly so since the revolution was clearly long overdue. Russia had already had it in spite of its backward economic conditions. Only the vain hopes created by democracy were holding it back in the more advanced countries. Thus the destruction of democracy through the fascists could only promote the revolution by achieving the ultimate disillusionment of the workers in regard to democratic methods. With this, the radical wing of Marxism felt that it had discovered the ‘essence’ and the ‘true historical role’ of fascism. Fascism was, essentially, the last stand of the bourgeoisie. Accordingly, the Communists did not fight when the fascists seized power. (Nobody expected the Social Democrats to fight.) For the Communists were sure that the proletarian revolution was overdue and that the fascist interlude, necessary for its speeding up, could not last longer than a few months. Thus no action was required from the Communists. They were harmless. There was never a ‘communist danger’ to the fascist conquest of power. As Einstein once emphasized, of all organized groups of the community, it was only the Church, or rather a section of the Church, which seriously offered resistance.


At August 28, 2006 8:42 pm, Blogger skepticlawyer said...

More of your post shortening skills needed, Sukrit...


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