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

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Sun May 22 2005 - 18:20:32 EDT

At 11:41 22/05/2005, jerry wrote:
> > [...] 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."

Without getting into specifics, yes, I agree--- see my 'Kornai and the
Vanguard Mode of Production' in the Cambridge Journal of Economics (May
2000). Given that century of experience, too, it is all the more important
to go back (which I do in my Ch. 10) to look at Marx's conception of the
workers' state (which bears little resemblance to that practice).

>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?

I can't say how significant various forces are; there is a visible current
in the trade union movement which calls for nationalisation of industry and
banks with workers control.

>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 my case, your premise is quite wrong--- I wrote my critique of John's
book over a year ago for the forthcoming Historical Materialism symposium,
and my basic theoretical critique here relates to it (except where getting
specific to Venezuela in accord with the thread that PaulZ began). I was,
in fact, quite surprised at how critical the article ended up. I said as
much when I sent it to John last year once it was accepted; his response
was that he knew that I would have to be very critical and that was fine.

>*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.).

The laws are all there for this to happen. These desirable developments
don't always drop from the sky. I find that sometimes people who valorise
spontaneity, etc exaggerate (to themselves as much as anyone) how much le
peuple (however active and creative in responding to crises) are prepared
to work on such things continuously when maintaining their lives continues
to be difficult.

>       "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.


>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.

         There's rather a great difference between supporting a democratic
constitution written by the organised social movements and a neoliberal
document that, like the NAFTA arrangements, is a bill of rights for the
corporations (ah, yes, but Negri might say--- those are OUR corporations!).

         in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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