Re: [OPE-L] After the Paris Commune: the state, radical democracy, and the common sense of socialism

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun May 22 2005 - 11:41:14 EDT

> [...] what changed was that they learned from workers themselves what
> form the state had to take to be a workers' state.  [...]
>    Take a look at the discussion there, too, of the form of a state
> which no longer stands over and above society as Marx described the
> Commune in the  Outlines for Civil War in France.

Michael L,

[Sorry, this post ended up being longer than I originally planned.]

Two comments on your most recent posts:

1. (responding to the excerpts above)  Yes, Marx learned from the
historical experience of the Commune of 1871.  Far more important *for
us* than comprehending Marx's evaluation of that Commune is evaluating
the  historical experience of  the state in 20th Century "socialist"
societies.   A century of experience in the USSR, the PRC, the DDR,
Albania, Kampuchea, Vietnam,  Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, et al
should warn us of the dangers associated with a "workers state."  (NB: I
omit mention of Cuba.  But the Cubans never claimed to have a "workers
state", did they?) In all of these experiences a bureaucracy and an
elite rather  than the workers themselves governed.  None of those cases
could be said to  be a "workers democracy"  in any meaningful sense of
the term.  If we haven't  drawn this conclusion yet, then workers
internationally have and I think that in  Venezuela and around the world
socialists will have to convince workers  that their "plan" for socialism
ensures that the "mistakes of the past" won't be repeated.   This
requires a public discussion of  democratic  and popular forms of
governance and control as part of the revolutionary process (and, yes,
of course, I agree that it must be grasped as a process).

2.  another of your posts ("some answers for john holloway") raised the
question "How do you avoid clientelism and corruption among the
Chavists?". You reply that it is a constant struggle (against a "parasite
in search of a host") and that if you are not advancing you are losing.
You also express other legitimate concerns including divisions among the
Chavists (where there are "daily charges of corruption"), the problem of
an aristocracy of labour, etc.  You emphasize, once again,  that it is a
process and that "there is nothing more certain to ensure its defeat
than abstract demands for immediacy."

Even as I agree with you that those demands are not an appropriate tactic
at the present time,  the forces who make these demands are not -- as you
seem to imply -- a  significant danger.  They are, after all, an
insignificant force at present and if they make such demands then they
only expose themselves  as sectarians and dogmatists.  So, why then are
you so concerned with them?

On a related note, are the perspectives of autonomist Marxists and
anarchists  gaining wide acceptance and popularity in Venezuela?  If not,
why the focus now on John's perspectives?   The antagonism (and, in some
cases, venom) directed at him and his book is, for me at least,

In your explanation of the referendum process and the period immediately
afterwards,  you pointed to a conflict between one political perspective
that sought to build upon the  "patrols"  and the Chavist parties.  The
rival Chavist parties, you say, didn't favor  the idea of a "new political
front" based on the patrols "of course, because it represented  a loss of
influence" and Chavez yielded to this".

If it is true that "if you are not advancing then you are losing"  then ....?

I *don't* think that the revolution is losing, but I do think (and you
agree) that there are dangers.  You write that:

      "time and momentum are critical. The revolution must deliver --
       economically and politically."

Agreed again.

*Almost everything* that you wrote in this post suggests *why* the
struggle against the "old way of doing business"  *by the state* is an
urgent political task for the revolution to move forward.   It also
suggests that Chavez's supporters must increasingly organize *outside*
of the existing state  structure to put pressure on the political parties
and government officials to move the revolution forward and to create
truly democratic and popular forms of decision-making (which implies
accountability, transparency,  the right to recall elected officials,
effective policies that prevent and harshly punish corruption, taking
away the material incentive -- including indirect benefits -- of holding
public office, etc.).

*Of course*, I recognize that this is a process and can't happen over
night. *Of course*, I realize that it will be a matter of *struggle*
rather than  simply developing slogans and making pronouncements.  But,
I think this is a *partial* answer (or at least one possible answer) to
an issue you  raised:

      "many Chavez supporters are confused about the talk of socialism;
       how to make the idea of socialism increasingly appear as common
       sense is the immediate concern here."

Wouldn't the perspective of *radical* democracy -- where the poor and
working class themselves directly and collectively determine their own
future -- make common sense?  Wouldn't a demand  to make Venezuela *more*
democratic than any other nation make common sense?  Doesn't real
democracy not only require political changes in terms of the process, but
also *economic* democracy?   That is, if democracy makes common sense,
shouldn't *extending* democracy to the economic sphere also make common
sense?  Let the people decide whether the claim of wealthy landowners
to ownership of the land is justified.  If they acquired ownership
through theft to begin with (by privately appropriating lands which had
been lived on by native peoples) then should they continue to benefit by
that theft?  Let the people decide.  Should the property of those who
committed or supported acts of treason against the people (the coup)
become the property of the people?  (Doesn't the demand that there be
"confiscation of  the property of all emigrants and rebels" make common
sense in Venezuela?) Let the people decide.  Should the holdings of
transnational corporations be nationalized?  Shouldn't that be a question
that the  people should be able to democratically decide upon?  Isn't this
a common sense  way of building support for socialism?  I.e.
by _empowering_ workers, by letting _them_ decide the direction and pace
of  change.

In solidarity, Jerry

PS1: Of course, there are other slogans and demands that might resonate
well in  Venezuela as being common sense.  I read a quote from
Catholic Archbishop Dom Helder Camerra  that Chavez might like:
"When you give food to the hungry, they call you a saint.  But when you
ask why the hungry have no food, they call you a communist."

PS2:  On debates over  whether changes in the "Constitution" should be
supported:  it is interesting to note that Antonio Negri just recently
supported  the EU Constitution.  For links, see:
< > < >

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