MARXIST OUTLOOK


    The purpose of this site it to explain the general scientific outlook of Marxism, dialectical materialism, in the form in which it must concretely exist in the present - the theory  of world social revolution

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    The purpose of this site it to explain the general scientific outlook of Marxism, dialectical materialism, in the form in which it must concretely exist in the present - the theory  of world social revolution



 

Proposal: A Fight for a New Democracy

 

   As the world-wide meltdown of the banking and finance system unfolds it will increasingly affect the lives of ordinary working people. In spite of all verbal guarantees we can expect to lose our savings if we have any. With the collapse in share prices our pension funds are becoming worthless, negative equity and house re-possessions are escalating, and councils that have lost money will be unable to provide basic services. Surely the greatest injustice of all is to make a person redundant then repossess his house leaving him without an income, homeless and in debt. As it is millions are saddled with debts they can never repay. Without any doubt working people are facing a desperate situation. Bankruptcy of large and small enterprises is escalating and we can expect unemployment on an unprecedented scale.  Without a functioning banking and finance system it is difficult to see how basic infrastructure such as power generation, transport, and services such as health and education could continue to function.  It is likely that basic services like street lighting, water supply, refuse collection and sewage would also fail before long.  Factory production must surely cease and since the main bulk of our food is imported a breakdown of the currency system would lead to severe food shortages. 

 

   What is the government’s response to this Crisis? Put simply, it is to tax us heavily so as to get money to give to the banks, which will, in turn, make the debt crisis even worse by extending further loans to corporations and individuals.  We give them the money, and they lend it back to us at interest! Appeals have been made for help for individuals who have been thrown out of their houses and saddled with mounting debts, but all the government will do is to ask the banks and the bankruptcy courts to “be more helpful”.  In spite of the loans we have given them the banks are still refusing to lend, with the result that the question of bank nationalisation is forced on to the agenda.

 

   Since the government will not help ordinary people it is up to us to fight for ourselves, and strict unity and co-operation within and between communities would be vital. At all costs we must avoid fighting among ourselves. Past experience has shown that in such circumstances working class communities spontaneously organise along soviet lines, because these naturally arise out of direct practical need as the best means of meeting the problems that result from catastrophic collapse of capitalist economy. Here we give a proposal for a constitution for a soviet system.

 

 

 

Proposed Constitution for Community Soviet

 

1.  AIMS

 

     The purpose of the Community Soviet is to provide representative organisation for working class communities in order to ensure the continued availability of the material and cultural means to life in the period of crisis and collapse of capitalist economy and democracy, and thereafter to function as a system of local government.


2. REPRESENTATION

 

   No organisation or person who employs wage labour shall have access to or be represented on the Soviet.


   Representation of the people will be on the basis of workplace or neighbourhood. Such delegates must be elected at properly convened mass meetings at which every person of age 16 and over will have one vote by show of hands.  Delegates thus elected will be subject to immediate re-call by a simple majority vote of the mass meeting at any time. In order to be accepted by the Soviet such delegates must present minutes of the mass meeting at which they were elected.

 

3.  ORGANISATION AND STRUCTURE, LOCAL

 

     The Soviet will elect its officers and Executive Committee at least once per year, and all officers and EC members are subject to immediate recall at any time by simple majority vote.  The Officers shall be Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Publications Organiser, and the strength of the EC shall be as decided for practical purposes by a full meeting of the Soviet.

 

     The EC shall decide on the formation of commissions to take charge of practical organisational work according to the needs of the community. Commissions for Food and Essential Supplies, Housing, Fuel, Transport, Information Technology and Research and Communications, and Local Security shall be among the Commissions established. Officers to lead the Commissions shall be elected by a full meeting of the Soviet having regard to the particular knowledge and expertise of individual delegates, and Co-operatives for the supply of essential commodities and services shall be established.

 

4.  FINANCE

 

       Under the leadership of the Treasurer all delegates will collect finance from their respective constituents to provide necessary finance for the Soviet to function.  The Treasurer will keep accounts and make regular financial reports to the EC and the full meeting of the Soviet.

 

5.  NATIONAL ORGANISATION


   No organisation or person who employs wage labour shall have access to or be represented on the national system of Soviets.


  The officers and EC shall seek to contact and communicate with other local soviets in order to  build a network of soviets on a national basis, and to organise local soviets within district soviets, and district soviets within a national soviet, and thus establish a system of democratic representation and government to replace the present Parliamentary system.  Local soviets will provide the finance necessary for the district and national soviets to function

 

6. INTERNATIONAL  ORGANISATION

 

    The National Soviet shall seek to contact similar organisations in other countries and co-operate with  them.

 

 

 

The History of Soviet Organisation

 

   There is nothing new in this proposal that working people build an alternative democracy of the soviet type; rather it is a proposal to renew and continue a process which began as long ago as 1871, and in order to grasp the essence of this vital practical task we must be familiar with its history so far. The world including human society must be taken as an integral physical process historically developing according to the dialectical laws of nature, and like all physical processes there is in principle only one correct solution to each of the problems and malfunctions manifested in the course of its development. The repeated struggles of working class communities in the last 200 years have manifested closely similar features and developments which demonstrate the objective necessity for the soviet type of organisation.

 

   The first attempt made by working people to build their own democratic state system was the Paris Commune of 1871.  On March 26 the workers of Paris, who had been suffering appalling conditions due to the siege of Paris by the invading Prussian army, elected the Commune, a council or soviet, in order to take control of their situation. Among their political leaders at the time were members of the First International led by Marx and Engels, and anarchists such as Proudhon and Blanqui.  The Commune began immediately to function as a legislative and executive body rolled into one, and this in opposition to the Government of the Third Republic which had come into being the previous September, hence at this juncture there was a situation of dual power, two centres of authority competing to be the single governing power. The Government of the Third Republic relied for its support on the capitalist ruling class of France and Europe, while the Paris Commune represented the working class through the system of local Communes that sprang up spontaneously all over the country.

 

   The Commune was elected by universal suffrage and those elected, mainly workers, were subject to immediate recall by simple majority of the constituency that elected them.  All branches of the state administration were to be responsible to the Commune, including the police, judiciary and armed forces, and all state employees, officials and officers were likewise to be elected and subject to immediate recall.  Political lessons of the greatest historical importance can be drawn from the programme of action upon which the Commune immediately decided.  As soon as it met it began to function as a legislative body and the following, among other things, was enacted:-

 

1. The standing army was abolished and all citizens capable of bearing arms were to be enrolled in a National Guard which was to be the sole armed force and responsible only to the Commune.
 

2.  An order was issued for the occupation and seizure of all factories which were to be run as co-operatives by the workers.
 

3. The highest salary for a member of the Commune or state functionary was to be that of the average workers wage.
 

4. All debt obligations were postponed for three years and interest payments abolished.

 

     This was in essence a sound programme for the transfer of state power to the working class and the transition from capitalist to socialist economy, but the forces united round the Third Republic government fiercely resisted. Troops were dispatched from Versailles and with the connivance of the besieging Prussian troops, their national enemies but at the same time their class allies against the workers, they entered Paris and began to massacre the workers. As many as 30,000 workers were executed, 38,000 were imprisoned and 7,000 deported. However, it spite of this defeat the Paris Commune was a historical turning point because although there had been massive revolutionary struggles in the past this was the first time the working class actually set up a government and wielded power for a short period. As Karl Marx remarks:-

 

   “The multiplicity of interpretations to which the Commune has been subjected, and the multiplicity of interests which construed it in their favour, show that it was a thoroughly expansive political form, while all previous forms of government had been emphatically repressive. Its true secret was this.  It was essentially a working-class government, the produce of the struggle of the producing class against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.

 

   “Except on this last condition, the Communal Constitution would have been an impossibility and a delusion.  The political rule of the producer cannot co-exist with the perpetuation of his social slavery.  The Commune was therefore to serve as a lever for uprooting the economic foundations upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class-rule.  With labour emancipated, every man becomes a working man, and productive labour ceases to be a class attribute.” (K. Marx, The Civil War in France)

 

   Marx considered that the most important lesson to be learned from the experience of the Commune was that …

 

   “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” (Op. Cit.)

 

   The Commune, he observed, had begun to build a completely new kind of state in which there was no separation between the legislative and executive functions, as we have today between parliament and the civil-service and various state agencies. There had been nothing like the Commune in previous history, so that although it was born out of immediate necessity it was the new form “at last discovered” which would lay the basis for the emancipation of the working people.  However, this was only possible if the working people could, as Marx put it, “win the battle of democracy”.  Under the capitalist state system democracy is circumscribed within strict limits since whatever people vote for the right of private ownership of the means of production, land, factories, bank finance etc, indeed all the wealth of society, can never be challenged. Clearly this confers ultimate power on the small minority class which owns the wealth, so that the majority of the people are effectively disenfranchised when it comes to any kind of control over the social wealth and productive capacity of society, and universal suffrage, elections and parliaments etc., are a fraud on the people.   The Commune demonstrated that to win the battle of democracy the working class must build its own democratic system and impose it on society as a whole, which in practice  meant replacing the parliamentary system with the Commune system and combining the legislative and executive functions of the state into one, thus giving the people complete control of the wealth of the nation through the democratic system.

 

   As we have seen, the attempt by the Paris workers to win democracy for the people was put down in the most savage and bloody fashion by the capitalist ruling class, but that was not the end of the matter. In 1905 the battle was renewed, this time in Russia. At the start of the twentieth century Russia was still almost entirely a backward feudal country, in its cultural being as much Asiatic as European.  The Czar ruled through a heavy handed and despotic bureaucratic state system and democracy of any kind was unknown.   Capitalism came to Russia from outside, by way of foreign direct investment in industry, just as is happening today in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.  Foreign concerns built gigantic factories to take advantage of the inexperienced and un-organised wage labour force which was recruited from the uneducated peasant population, and in this way the capitalists sowed the seeds of its own destruction by creating the modern working class, the proletatiat.. 

 

   Conditions for the workers in Czarist Russia were extremely harsh; they worked an eleven hour day and a six day week and in 1904 cost of living increases reduced real wages by 20%.  The previous year a priest by the name of Father Gapon had formed the Assembly of Russian Workers and when four of its members were sacked from the giant Putilov Iron Works he called for industrial action and 110,000 workers came out on strike.  An appeal to the Czar was drawn up calling for reduced hours, wage increases, an end to the Russo-Japanese war, and calling for a Constituent Assembly, a representative and legislative body of the parliamentary type. The appeal was taken at the head of a huge procession to the Winter Palace to be presented to the Czar, but the procession was attacked by Cossacks and police and over 100 workers were killed and 300 wounded, and as a result of this incident, which is remembered as Bloody Sunday, a wave of strikes and protests began which continued into 1905.

 

   The battle for democracy had begun again, once again as the immediate struggle against intolerable conditions for the disenfranchised working people, and once again it quickly transcended such limits to become a struggle for revolutionary social change. Strikes began all over Russia, the railway system was paralysed and there was a mutiny in the navy. Then, just as had happened in Paris, workers councils began to spring up, this time to be called Soviets rather than Communes, and the most important of these was the St. Petersburg Soviet which elected Leon Trotsky as chairman.  The battle for democracy now had a double aspect; on the one hand the demand for a Constituent Assembly amounted to a demand for a parliamentary system based on a bourgeois or capitalist society which was developing on the basis of the growing manufacturing economy, which would mean that democracy would be confined to the capitalist class, and on the other hand for a democratic system of the Commune or Soviet type based directly on the working classes, the proletariat and peasantry. In the event neither was successful. The demand for the constitutional assembly was ignored and in December 1905 the leaders of the Soviets were arrested and the soviets were dispersed. The Czar made a few meaningless concessions, such as the setting up of a new body, the Duma, but this consisted of appointees by the Czar and he later dissolved it.

 

   This period has gone down in history as the 1905 Revolution, and although it was unsuccessful it changed Russia for ever.  In January 1917, immediately prior to the great revolution of that year, Trotsky summarised the results of the 1905 Revolution as follows:-

 

   “The revolution was defeated.  The same old forces and almost the same figures now rule Russia that ruled her twelve years ago.  Yet the revolution has changed Russia beyond recognition.  The kingdom of stagnation, servitude, vodka and humbleness has become a kingdom of fermentation, criticism, fight. Where once there was a shapeless dough – impersonal formless people, ‘Holy Russia’, - now social classes consciously oppose each other, political parties have sprung into existence, each with its programme and methods of struggle. January 9th, [1905], opens a new Russian history.” (L. Trotsky, The Lessons of the Great Year)

 

   And so it did.  We now come to the first time in history at which the working class won the battle for democracy, the Russian Revolution of 1917.  Once again it began with a massive response of the people to the intolerable conditions of life that resulted from the World War which began in 1914. Millions had been conscripted into the army which was suffering appalling casualties, and while there were shortages of all kinds of essentials and workers were suffering harsh working conditions, huge profits were being made by industry. Agitation began on the 23rd February and soon there were massive strikes and demonstrations, and the troops of the St. Petersburg garrison mutinied and joined the people.  The Duma, which had been dissolved more than once by the Czar since 1905, was meeting again in one of the historic buildings of St. Petersburg, the Tauride Palace. A delegation was sent to the Czar’s ministers to negotiate some kind of concessions to calm the people but the Czar promptly dissolved the Duma.

 

   In another wing of the Tauride Palace another meeting took place.  Leaders of the people, that is leaders of the workers parties and individuals who had been leaders of the Soviet in 1905, formed themselves into the “Provisional Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers Deputies”. Soviets were being formed everywhere and the Executive Committee summoned them to elect deputies to the St. Petersburg Soviet at once, so that it became the centre of a national system of Soviets. Trotsky describes what happened when it met:-

 

   “At the first session it was decided to unite the garrison with the workers in a general Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Who first proposed this solution? It probably arose from various, or rather from all sides, as an echo of that fraternisation of workers and soldiers which had this day decided the fate of the revolution.  From the moment of its formation the Soviet, in the person of its Executive Committee, begins to function as a sovereign.  It elects a temporary food commission and placed it in charge of the mutineers and the garrison in general.  It organised in parallel with itself a Provisional revolutionary staff – everything was called provisional in those days – of which we have already spoken above. In order to remove financial resources from the hands of the officials of the old power, the Soviet decides to occupy the State Bank, the Treasury, the Mint and the Printing Office with a revolutionary guard. The tasks and functions of the Soviet grew unceasingly under pressure from the masses.  The revolution finds here its indubitable centre.  The workers, the soldiers, and soon also the peasants, will from now on turn only to the Soviet.  In their eyes the Soviet becomes the focus of all hopes and all authority, an incarnation of the revolution itself.  But representatives of the possessing classes will also seek in the Soviet, with whatever grindings of teeth, protection and counsel in the resolving of conflicts.” (L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Sphere Books Ltd., Vol. I, page 160)

 

   Clearly here was complete democracy for the working people, for they were empowered through a democratic system, Soviets, to make all decisions concerning their real material interests, including matters of state finance, the economy, foreign policy and the direction of supplies and industry. Most importantly, the people were exhausted by the war and wished to bring it to and end immediately. But it wasn’t going to be straight forward, the new democracy, the first in Russia, would have to fight for its survival. The three main political parties now for the first time freely campaigning in Russia were the Constitutional Democrats, otherwise known as the Kadet party, (similar to our Tory Party although at the time generally referred to as liberals), The Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party which was split into two opposing sides, the Bolsheviks or majority, and the Mensheviks or minority, and the Social Revolutionary Party.

 

   The Bolsheviks were fully committed to the Revolution and called for all power to be transferred to the Soviets, the land to be given to the peasants and an end to the war, but they were as yet in a minority in the Soviets.  The Mensheviks were in a controlling majority on the Executive Committee and the Soviet and the Social Revolutionary Party was also powerfully represented and mostly in a majority in the country.  Both of these parties took the view that the workers could never successfully rule and govern the country through the Soviets and that it was necessary to allow the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, to form a government and to develop the country along capitalist lines, which would of course have meant the kind of class system we have today, with democracy limited to the capitalist ruling class. Soviets were springing up like wild-fire all over the country and the workers and soldiers expected them to govern the country, but the Menshevik leaders connived with the liberal, (Kadet), leaders of the Duma and asked them to form a government. In effect, they were allowing the capitalist class to impose their democratic system.

 

   The bourgeois liberal leaders agreed and set up what they called the Provisional Government, appointing rich industrialists and land owners as ministers, with Prince Lvov as prime minister, and immediately set about crushing the Revolution.  They connived at re-instating the Czar, insisted on continuing the war and resisted all the demands of the workers. Finally, in August 1917, they connived with the reactionary Cossack General Kornilov at the overthrow of their own government and the installation of a military dictatorship. The workers and soldiers resisted and the coup was an abysmal failure, and as a result the Bolsheviks won overwhelming support in the Soviets and completed the Revolution to establish Soviet, that is working class, democracy and government.

 

   The history of the battle for democracy in Russia had now unfolded in a most unexpected way; the bourgeois stage of history, with democracy being limited to the capitalist class with the working class remaining in effect disenfranchised had been skipped over. As explained above, capitalism had come to Russia only recently according to the historical time-scale, as a result of foreign investment, and the capitalist class had not had time to develop and put down firm roots in society. It was simply too weak to impose its solution and govern the country, and the Soviets became the undisputed constitutional system wielding state power. The working class struck the final blow in the battle for democracy by ruling that those who employed wage labour were not eligible for election to the Soviets. The capitalist class were excluded from the democratic system and the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat had begun.


   Unfortunately, as subsequent history was to show, this new democracy soon ran into trouble. The capitalist class in the rest of the world reacted with terror at the thought of losing their monopoly of democracy, they invaded the new Soviet Republic and when their armies were driven out they blockaded it. By the late 1920’s the reactionary elements of the Menshevik type rose to power again, all the leaders of the Revolution such as the Bolsheviks were arrested and even assassinated, and although these reactionary and counter-revolutionary elements, with Stalin at their head, could not go so far as to bring back capitalism they ruled as a bureaucratic dictatorship which lasted till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

 

   We must now learn the lessons of this mighty victory in the struggle for democracy for the working class just as did Marx from the Paris Commune. Shortly after the Revolution Karl Kausky, one of the leaders of the German Socialist Party, attacked the Bolsheviks for the dictatorial way in which they were suppressing capitalism in order to complete the transition to socialist economy. Kautsky argued that, since the working class was a huge majority and the capitalist class a tiny minority, dictatorial methods were unnecessary and even harmful because the workers could simply out-vote them on all important questions.  Lenin answered him as follows:-

 

   “That is undisputably true. [That is, that the capitalist class is a tiny minority, not Kautsky’s conclusion]. Taking this as the starting point, what should be the argument?  One may argue in a Marxist, a socialist way; in which case one would take as the basis the relation between the exploited and the exploiters.  Or one may argue in a liberal, a bourgeois democratic way; and in that case one would take the relation between the majority and the minority.” (V.I. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky)

 

   These two questions are historically connected, since it is the material relations between the classes which determines the democratic life of society.  The economic power of the possessing class confers upon it ultimate political power regardless of any democratic system.  Through its ownership and monopoly of social wealth it imposes its hegemony and ideology on society.  It owns and controls the media and penetrates all the controlling positions of the economy and state, including the education system and legal professions etc. What cannot be achieved in this respect by official or "honest" means is accomplished by nepotism and a sophisticated system of corruption. On a previous page of the same work Lenin explains:-

 

   “Take the fundamental laws of modern states, take their administration, take the right of assembly, freedom of the press, or ‘equality of citizens before the law’, and you will see at every step evidence of the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy with which every honest and class-conscious worker is familiar.  There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order’, and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.  Kautsky shamelessly embellishes bourgeois democracy and omits to mention, for instance, how the most democratic and republican bourgeois in America or Switzerland deal with workers on strike.”

 

   Hence we see that the much vaunted universal suffrage which the working class in Britain won through the bitter struggles for reform in the nineteenth century, and which was denied to women till the early twentieth, is not at all what it appears to be on the surface.  Those who would confine our struggle within the limits of the present universal suffrage and the parliamentary system are binding us in chains. In his most important work on the question, The State and Revolution, Lenin explains:-

 

   “We must note that Engels is most definite in calling universal suffrage an instrument of bourgeois rule.  Universal suffrage, he says, obviously summing up the long experience of German Social-Democracy, is ‘the gauge of the maturity of the working class.  It cannot and never will be anything more in the present-day state.’”

 

    Lenin continues:-

 

   “The petty-bourgeois democrats, such as our Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and also their twin brothers, all the social-chauvinists and opportunists of Western Europe, [the Labour Party], expect just this ‘more’ from universal suffrage.  They themselves share and instil into the minds of the people the false notion that universal suffrage ‘in the modern state’ is really capable of ascertaining the will of the majority of the toilers and of securing its realisation.”

 

   Here we see the necessity for soviets. They transcend the limits of universal suffrage and the parliamentary system and give the working class political and state power as a class. Having won the battle for democracy we can then legislate for the necessary changes for socialist reconstruction of society. However, it is self-evident that the capitalist class will never co-operate with this, because it means that they will lose all their wealth, power and privilege and ultimately cease to exist as a class. Hence it is necessary to exclude them from the democratic system and impose a dictatorship over them, the dictatorship of the proletariat, just as they have exercised their dictatorship over the working class with their parliamentary system.


   Every revolutionary struggle of the workers for their true emancipation demonstrates this necessity, from the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and further, the class struggles in China in 1927, Germany in 1919 and 1933, Spain in 1935, Chile in 1973.  We propose that, in the present crisis which promises to be catastrophic for all working people, we now proceed to construct our soviet system.

 

Terry Button, November 2008