A comradely critique of the ‘Communistisch Platform’

July 28, 2014 in Party & Programme by Thomas Chefsky

Published below is a comradely critique from Jacob Richter of platform text of the ‘Communistisch Platform’, our comrades who run a website in Dutch. In this letter Jacob Richter felt it necessary to address some apparent shortcommings and questions some of the formulations of the platform: Read the rest of this entry →

The platform of the ‘Communistisch Platform’

July 6, 2014 in About Us, Party & Programme by Thomas Chefsky

In May 2014 comrades of the Marxist Center founded a magazine in the Dutch language: Komas (Compass). The magazine is build around a platform, which incidentally also bears the name of the group: Communistisch Platform. The group is a campaign to establish a party-movement. For ours readers we publish an English translation of the Communistisch Platform. Read the rest of this entry →

The Tower of Bebel (part 3 of 3)

October 31, 2013 in History, Party & Programme by Thomas Chefsky

While the Socialist International Congress in Brussels of 1891 was coming to a close, a small city nearby, famous for the development of its industries and socialist workers’ organisations, was preparing to welcome the delegates during their last days in Belgium. Proud as they were, the socialists from the city of Ghent did their best to promote their model of a socialist workers’ movement. A model that became an example for many abroad who thought the Liebknecht-Bebel model of social democracy in Germany was too revolutionary or would not last. These echoes of Belgium went as far as Russia.

An assembly in Ghent celibrating the 25th anniversary of the socialist co-op movement.

An assembly in Ghent celebrating the 25th anniversary of the socialist co-op movement.

“No one can be missed”, wrote Vooruit, Ghent’s socialist daily. For the next couple of days the paper would continuously appeal to the socialist artisans and artists to prepare for an excursion. Just 50 kilometres from Brussels, Belgium’s capital, nineteenth-century Ghent was a small industrial city dubbed “the Manchester on the continent” because it was the earliest industrialised city outside of Great-Britain. Because of that, it had a strong socialist workers’ movement. One that was about to show its strength to the international delegates who had gathered in Brussels for the first unified congress of what was to become the Second International.

On Tuesday, the second day of the international socialist congress, the Belgian social democratic leader Edward Anseele had announced the preparations for an excursion to Ghent. He reminded the congress of the Flemish Socialist Party, a forerunner of the Belgian Workers’ Party, a party modelled after the Germans which had its mainstay in Ghent. He told the delegates how this party had played an important role in the earliest attempts to refound the International after the collapse of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) in the 1870’s.

The German revolutionary Wilhelm Liebknecht remembered his visit to Ghent well. There he attended the international congress of 1877, an attempt of the Flemish socialists to salvage what was left of the social democratic (“Marxist”) and anarchist forces that had once made up the IWA. In his own words, Ghent was already in the 1870’s “the citadel of socialism”.

While all of the Ghent’s socialist gymnasts, musicians, propagandists, seamstresses and painters were preparing for the event, the representatives at the congress in Brussels are still debating the last issues of the day. The discussion on the First of May, international workers’ day, and on the adoption of a uniform name for the whole of the International, seemed to suggest that despite some disputes and differences of opinion, the Second International was one and indivisible.

Jean Volders, the Belgian who chairs the congress, announces that the congress has come to a conclusion. He reminds his guests that this is the first unified socialist congress in history and that “we leave this international assembly stronger, more united and with more solidarity than ever before”. Several speakers come to the front. In name of the Germans, August Bebel congratulates the congress with its greatness and dignity. Using that distinct cutting voice of his, he underlines the considerable significance of the assembly. He reminds his friends of the admirable spectacle given by the workers to the possessing classes and rulers, which forces them to recognize the power of the working class. This congress, he adds, is the most beautiful, the best he has ever seen.

After congratulating some of the individual attendees, Bebel shakes hands with Volders and hugs him amid  a loud and enthusiastic applausse from the floor. He really knew how to entertain his audience, it is true. Edward Anseele, standing among the Belgian representatives watches Bebel. This man, he must have thought, has to come and speak to the workers in Ghent. His city’s main socialist newspaper, Vooruit, wrote about Bebel one week later: “If only we could establish in the brains of every worker such a “Tower of Bebel” and build it further”. After everyone has spoken, Volders proposes to end the congress with the singing of the international revolutionary hymn: the Marseillaise.

“The Manchester on the continent, the capital of socialism”

By the end of the 19th century, the Belgian town of Ghent had build a whole socialist economy based on consumer co-operatives

By the end of the 19th century, the Belgian town of Ghent had build a whole socialist economy based on consumer co-operatives

On 23 Augusts 1891, at the start of a sultry Sunday morning in Ghent, a socialist tambourine and clarion band heads out to wake up the locals sometime before 9 a.m. Riders on white horses, former Internationalists who joined the IWA in the 1860’s, a brass band and so forth. At 9 a.m. all organisations and clubs of the socialist workers’ movement in Ghent gather near the market square in front of the building of their revered co-ops. From there a processions marches through the small industrial city towards the central station. In Brussels, meanwhile, a few hundred international and local guests from the congress prepare for their free trip to Ghent.

Of the 175 international guests at the congress, 160 responded to the invitation of the Ghent social democrats to visit their city. An enormous success because in their wake follow another 350 socialists from the city of Brussels. But when the train from Brussels arrives around noon, thunder-clouds gather over the city. Those responsible for the proceedings of the festival look up, they stroke their heavy moustaches and look at each other worried: there’s a cloudburst coming.

In order to not to lose time, the local leaders of the Belgian Workers’ Party squeeze in between huge crowds of people to greet their esteemed guests on the tune of the Marseillaise with red banners all around them. Vooruit welcomes the internationalists in “the old revolutionary city, the cradle of freedom in Flanders”. It emphasises how the workers “have erected great buildings institutions that compelled their enemies to show respect”.

When the procession goes back to the market square, it goes through the luxurious quarters that the bourgeoisie had built for itself only a few years before. Now the socialists show them who’s about to rule in this place. A long row of local party members leads the socialist internationalists towards the cooperative buildings near the market square. The socialist newspapers marvelled at the enthusiasm displayed by the crowds.

Edward Anseele, as the local leader of the BWP, who had once tried to copy the ideas and accomplishments of Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, serves his guests port and bonbons and invites Bebel to speak. “Never will we forget”, Bebel exclaims, “what we have felt, heard and seen in socialist Ghent. A city of which we have heard so many speak and of which we’ve read so much! If Ghent is the Belgian Manchester in terms of its industry, then it is also the capital of socialism. Without a doubt it stands at the head of the socialist movement.”

The guests are invited to a banquet in the same hall were the international revolutionaries of 1877 had once dined. Representatives from almost all countries that were represented at the congress give small speeches to celebrate the congress and the impressiveness of the socialist oeuvre they had seen in Ghent so far. At 4 p.m. the most important part of the excursion starts: a guided tour along the buildings of the Vooruit “empire”, a cooperative network so big it had its own textile factories, industrial bakeries, coal warehouses and shops.

The visitors are reminded of the Maison du Peuple in Brussels and are told about the gigantic bread factories of Joliment in the south of Belgium, the biggest producer of bread in the country – so the Belgian socialists claimed. Back then, there were already vague plans to build two “workers’ palaces”, one for the trade unions and the mutual aid societies, the other for the workers’ clubs such as socialist libraries, gymnasts, musicians, etc. The message of the excursion is clear: this city is ours and the Belgian model works. The visitors take note. “They couldn’t get enough of it”, boasts Vooruit the next day.

As the tour ends, the brass band guides the internationalists back to the train station. Not a moment too early. All the guests rush into the station under the loud noise of heavy raindrops clattering on the glass roof above the black locomotives. In the meantime the typesetters of Vooruit are already busy producing the next issue of the paper. “All foreigners [foreign guests] agreed to call Ghent the socialist capital of Belgium. We have to remain worthy of such fame, and have to strengthen it. To make this beacon in poor Flanders, this socialist Ghent, what it once was during the Middle Ages: not only the [socialist] capital of Flanders and Belgium, but of the [socialist] world International.”

Meanwhile, in Brussels, crowds with red flags and a band are awaiting the visitors at the station so they can escort them. At nightfall torches are added to the procession. On the tunes of the Marseillaise they enter the Maison du Peuple. There the crème de la crème of the late 19th century socialist workers’ movement exchanges their last regards. And “this”, the official report of the BWP wrote, “was the end of the congress”.

“Like children, the masses are allured only by results”

Anseele speaks at a rally in Ghent for general suffrage

Anseele speaks at a rally in Ghent for general suffrage

Though August Bebel was impressed by the economic and cultural patrimony of Belgian socialism in the 1890’s, he struggled with the idea that this could be regarded as a model for international social democracy. By the mid 1870’s, after the Gotha congress that had unified the German social democratic party, Bebel had mainly focused on building the party institutions. The pillars of the party were a democratic press, its political programme for taking political power through the overthrow of the empire and its branches while trade unions and cooperatives functioned mainly as auxiliaries.

The pivot on which the whole Belgian experience hinged, the key to understanding what they meant by their “programme of practical reforms”, was precisely the consumer co-operative. The Belgian historian Hendrik Defoort describes how the German Marxists had always counterpoised the political party and the programme of highly political demands to this Belgian model. Karl Kautsky kept referring back to the political goals of the Erfurt programme of 1891 while Bebel focused on the defence of the tactics of the SPD. Luxemburg, who was still new to the SPD, used the debate around the millennium to popularise revolutionism and she dismissed the potential of workers’ co-operatives on the basis of some of the conclusions Bebel had already drawn in the 1860’s.

But it wasn’t the excursion to Ghent which had sparked the debate. On the contrary, the initial push came from inside German social democracy. “The question of the capabilities of [cooperative and cultural] associations has hitherto been treated very curiously in the Marxist literature”, wrote Edward Bernstein in his notorious 1899 work Evolutionary Socialism. “If one leaves out of the question the literature of the ’sixties, one will find in it, with the exception of very general, mostly negative, observations, very little about the co-operative movement. The reasons for this negligence are not far to seek.”

As part of his initial series on the gradual growing into socialism of capitalism, the cooperative movement was given a prominent place by the German Marxist turned reformist Eduard Bernstein. It was this series which sparked the so called revisionism debate in Germany and the rest of Europe as well. Having described the reasons for the dismissal of the co-operative movement by German Marxists, he reminds his readers of the recent but relative success of this movement outside Germany.

“We can consider it as proven”, he writes, “that the co-operative society has shown itself to be an economic factor of importance, and if other countries are behind England in this, it has taken firm root in Germany, France, Belgium, etc., and gains ground more and more.” Such interventions by well-known socialists made it almost impossible for the Marxist leadership around Bebel to further ignore the issue. But that wasn’t all of it. The debate was not a strictly German one but spread rapidly to other sections of the International as well.

Just like Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue, who had re-interpreted the programme of the French Workers’ Party they had produced with the help of Marx and Engels in 1880, the Belgians had cherished a reformist re-interpretation of the German socialist programme. It was a vision of the programme which had also inspired the so called “economistic” tendencies within Russian social democratic circles. In Lenin Rediscovered, historian Lars T. Lih describes how in 1902 the Russian revolutionary Vera Zasulich, in an article written for a German audience, had observed that “in the beginning of the movement the generally acknowledged model for Russian Social Democrats was German Social Democracy. In contrast, during the time of economism, the model that was set forth was that of the English trade unions and the Belgian party with its co-operatives”.

Another Russian, Prokopovich, saw in the Belgian party a genuine model. He quotes one [Louis] Bertrand who asks: “What is the reason for the success of the worker party up till now – the socialist ideal or our programme of practical reforms?” His answer is according to Prokopovich is reforms, since “the [socialist] ideal allures only the more enlightened and more intellectual part of the working class”. Lih found it most striking how Prokopovich summed up the general feeling of Belgian socialists: “The masses are like children: visual demonstration is what strikes them. Like children, the masses are allured only by immediate and current results – not by high, abstract ideals”.

Culminating in the so called revisionism debate around the millennium, Bebel considered this current within German social democracy defeated.  Yet the co-ops made quick headway, which urged some social democrats to rethink the strategic ideas behind their party programme. So in reality right wing leaders, notably those who came from the trade union movement, kept referring back to the British and Belgian experience. This reformist influence on social democratic strategy was also reflected on the international level by the attitude of the French leader Jean Jaurès towards government participation.

Conclusion

“It is impossible to begin to discuss this question because it has not yet matured.” At the closing of the 1891 international congress, Jean Volders had proposed to postpone the question of a uniform name for the whole of the Socialist International. Another congress, he said, would sometime in the future decide on it. The first ever unified congress of the Socialist International had ended in a mood of unity although still many issues had to be discussed. In the years after the congress, different sections, in so far as they represented competing ideas within the socialist workers’ movement, put forward or supported separate social democratic models.

This internal debate on the strategy and tactics of social democracy only ended during and after the First World War when the Marxist wing of most parties finally crumbled and many genuine revolutionaries left their respective parties to found the Third “Communist” International in the early twenties. Many of those who had witnessed the debates of the Brussels congress were then already dead or had lost their positions as social democratic leaders because of old age. Unity of politics was not a given in the International. Until his death in 1913, Bebel was preoccupied with the question of both taking political power independently and the class-unity of the workers’ movement. The SPD eventually ended up in 1918 with bourgeois strings attached to the party and a break-up with the radical wing.

The many debates waged within international social democracy indeed represented a Babylonial tower. Not only the languages that people spoke, but also the differences of opinion in terms of strategy and tactics have defined this feature of the socialism of the Second International. Back in 1891, the name Tower of Bebel was not just a conservative joke. It was indeed Bebel who, through his German delegation, influenced many of the debates on that congress. The Belgian reaction, to use his fame to put forward their own model against the ideas of the German Marxists does not contradict this. It is a genuine expression of the complexity of the socialist workers’ movement back in its heydays.

Sources

  1. Newsclippings of the 1891 International Socialist Congress, from The Times
  2. International socialist workers’ congress held at Brussel, Belgian report from 1893
  3. Articles and reports from the 1891 Congress, from Vooruit (Belgian socialist newspaper)
  4. Lenin Rediscovered. WITBD? in context, by Lars T. Lih.
  5. Werklieden, bemint uw profijt, by Hendrik Defoort.
  6. Evolutionary Socialism, by Eduard Bernstein

The Tower of Bebel (part 2 of 3)

September 4, 2013 in History, Party & Programme by Thomas Chefsky

Thomas continues with his three-part on Bebel and the congress of 1891 in Brussels.

Socialists can do nothing to stop the war, they can only use it to spread socialist awareness.

Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel (1889). A life-long struggle against capitalist wars and the general strike tactic.

This is the second part of a three-part series on the influence of August Bebel and of German social democracy in general on the proceedings of the international socialist congress of 1891 1. We left off on Wednesday morning August 19, with the vote on protective labour legislation. This important debate featured a speech by German party leader August Bebel, who reaffirmed the unity within the German party and who defended the general Marxist attitude towards labour legislation. After a short discussion on the Jewish question had resolved that the Jewish worker cannot liberate himself when he does not struggle together with the international proletariat, the congress moved on to the more contentious issues of international organisation and tactics. In part three I will use the last days of the congress to discuss the existence of conflicting social democratic models within the Socialist International. Read the rest of this entry →

  1. I’ve used three sources for the proceedings of the Brussels congress of 1891. (They are listed below.) One source is made up of articles from the Times. Though this source omits certain parts of the debates and is focused on British speakers and British affairs, it is a fairly honest report. The other two are Belgian sources and it occurred to me that one is more cautious than the other when it comes to describing what was meant or even said. The official Belgian report  from 1893, it seems to me, is more conservative than the report from the Flemish (Ghent) socialist paper Vooruit. When it comes to quoting, Vooruit seems to be more precise. According to the official report for example, the resolution on strike action advised the workers not to go on strike without any assurance of success. However, the Ghent report writes about local strikes being insufficient because “the workers’ question is one and international, and can only be solved through international means”. Comparison was needed, hence the use of three sources.

Programme: A compass to liberation

August 13, 2013 in Party & Programme by Geary Middleton

Geary explains what Marxists understand under “programme”, why it matters and what differences there are.

marx-engels440x250

Marx and Engels took programme seriously

This will be the first part of a series on the question of “programme”. I intent to write a three-part on this question. This will be an introduction. The second part will be an investigation of the main contemporary alternative view on this, that is, the “transitional method” of the Trotskyist movement. The last part will look into the democratic republic as a goal and why it matters for our programme.

Read the rest of this entry →

by J. Levi

To Win the Battle of Democracy

August 13, 2013 in Party & Programme by J. Levi

Levi explains the differences between the limited bourgeois concept of democracy and the genuine communist goal of gaining full democracy.

stalin_voting

Communist democracy?

People have become increasingly fed-up with the political structure of society. The people want an end to the constant attack on them, most notably austerity measures. A demand which the state, in times of political and economic crises, is not willing to or unable to grant. For many democracy means voting every few years without actually changing anything. This is why we have to analyse the ways in which bourgeois democracy functions and propose a radical alternative.

Political structures are necessarily dependent on the economic structure of society. In an economic structure that leads to class-division, political life will always be structured in order to serve the dominant class in that society. It is for this reason that a communist society will have a radically different form of decision-making from bourgeois society.

Bourgeois Democracy

In capitalism, social-life is split up into the economic and the political life. In the political-life there exists some, albeit very limited, space for participation in the decision–making process. The economic-life is ruled by, what Moshe Machover describes as, “a combination of the micro-tyranny of private ownership and the macro-anarchy of the market”1. The means of production are ruled in an autarchic fashion by their owner, i.e. the capitalist. However the capitalist has these solely to make profit of them, which he does by exchanging the products on the market. Market-exchange is a very anarchic process, to which the capitalist has to respond otherwise he wouldn’t be able to sell his products. It would be absurd to claim the existence of democracy in an economic system, or bourgeois society as a whole, that is ruled by the combination of the magical hand of the market with the iron fist of the capitalist. Yet a majority of people still believe in bourgeois democracy or even see it as the only form of democracy possible.

It is easy to see where this comes from. Don’t we have elections? Can’t we vote for the representatives to defend our interests? While this is true, it is hard to say your vote is worth much, if anything. In a democracy there is supposed to be rule by the people. But how can people decide if there is no transparency? Bourgeois society leaves behind a massive paper-trail. Trade-agreements, military-decisions, health-care everything is to be calculated and rationalised. A lot of this information would hurt individual state interests if it ever became public, be it for economic or political reasons. In 2011 up to 92 million documents were classified by U.S. officials2. This information can only be secured by ways of repression. Business secrets, intellectual property and libel laws are all means of securing the constant flow of information. But there still exists a threat to the secrecy. Five million people have security-clearance, meaning that they have access to a part or even all of the classified documents3. It is clear that with such a high number of people cleared, there exists a real danger of information being leaked to the press. At the time of writing this article, Bradley Manning faces 90 years in jail4 for leaking a, relativelu, small amount of documents containing tevidence murder of journalists, war-crimes and reports from Afghanistan among many other things. Edward Snowden, who leaked the information about the activities the NSA, is the victim of a massive witch-hunt by both the media and the United States, who uses means of pure intimidation on Snowden and any government that is willing to give Snowden asylum. The message towards other possible leakers, the five million people with security-clearance, is obvious; shut your mouth or we will shut you down. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the opening of the books is essential for any meaningful democracy to exist.

We could of course look to the media. After all, it is the task of journalists to investigate any kind of wrong-doings by politicians. To point out all the flaws of the media and the ultimate bankruptcy of journalism would be a massive undertaking and therefore beyond the scope of this article. An important question, however, is where the media, the main source of information for the majority of the population, get their funding from. Producing shows, broadcasting a network, writing stories etc. is not a free undertaking, as anything in our society it costs money, a lot of it. The media can, in most countries, be split into two categories; the “public” media and the commercial or corporate media. The “public” media is funded by the state. It will do anything to secure these funds. It is common for political parties to threaten the funding of the media (think for example of Mitt Romney in the previous elections in the States). During election time time this would mean that in order to secure their funding they either have to promote the opposition parties, given that those parties would keep funding them, or have a more appealing message to the parties threatening to take them off the air. The corporate media is funded by, as the name indicates, private corporations. In their reporting they have to represent corporate-interests for the simple reason that they would lose their advertisers if they didn’t. This is a more open and transparent process in the U.S. but exists in any country where the media lives on corporate funds.

Let’s say that despite the restriction and bias of the information we receive, we can still elect people who could make decisions in our interests. To understand the fallacy of this argument we have to look at what politicians are and how decisions are made. Political parties rely on donations. There has been an enormous growth of corporate funding of parties in recent years5. A massive amount of important politicians go to work for big businesses when they end their political career. Like Strauss-Kahn, who admits his political career is over6. But everyone knows he still has massive influence in politics. There is no question whether or not he will use that influence to secure the economic position of the business he works for. The parliamentary system is full of careerists who see politics as a step towards a good job in a big corporation, something which the lobbyists gladly make use of.

Decisions are made by the whole parliament, but the proposals are not. The proposals are made by the government. But they do not make the proposals themselves. Behind every government-department sits a massive bureaucracy who advise the government and draft the proposals. These bureaucrats are experts in their field, however this also means that they usually have an interest in the decision being made. So the proposals are usually arranged in a fashion which is of interest to the bureaucrat. In theory, the parliamentary system sounds quite nice, but in practice you can only choose which representative of the bourgeoisie can misrepresent and rule over you in parliament.

These laws are part of the rule of law. The law is defended by the police and the judicial system. The police holds, with the exception of the United States, a monopoly on violence. People have no influence on the police force and there is very little control over police abuse of power or wrongdoing in general. Yes, if you are wrongly accused you can defend your case in court. But to see why court doesn’t work we have to look at the way court works. To succeed in court one needs a lawyer. In most countries there exists a system where the poorest can get a pro-bono lawyer. The richest can afford a lawyer themselves. This sounds good, if it weren’t for the fact that usually the average income is too high for a pro-bono lawyer. But it is far below being able to afford a lawyer. While it is no guarantee, it is obvious that the judicial system works in favour of the minority just because they have the means to afford a better defense.

Here we see the frightening nature of bourgeois democratic system. It is a system that is build up in ways that can only favour the bourgeoisie. Simply because they have the means to do so. Their rule over the economic life, and thus their profits from it, enables them to rule over political life as well. We all have freedom of speech, but they have the money to spread their opinion more widely. We all have freedom of assembly, but they have the means to organize more people. We all can defend ourselves in court, but they can afford the best defense. Even the most democratic system runs in favour of the dominant class, in a class society.

Communist Democracy

Communists are for the abolition of class-society. From this it follows that communism must have a form of democracy that does not exclude anyone from the decision-making process. With the abolition of rule by private property and class comes the need for a new form of democratic decision making.

Of course, we cannot propose a blueprint of democratic mechanisms. Without a doubt, we can say that these mechanisms will adapt to the social-context in which they are made, and the matters to be decided upon themselves. This, however, does not mean that we have to abstain from proposing alternatives. With the failed “experiments” of the twentieth-century still in their mind, people will always be wary of the sincerity of communists when they talk about democracy. We will never be able to change this view of communism if we keep clinging on to vague formulas of democracy.

If we have to give a simple definition of democracy in communism it would be that communism means the expansion of democratic decision making to all spheres of social life, most notably the economic sphere of life. This expansion means that the amount of decisions to be made, will greatly increase. This is exactly why we have to look into forms of democratic decision-making that are impossible under capitalism but are possible in a communist society.

An often heard answer is direct democracy. This means that everybody votes on every proposal. This sounds very nice, until you think about the amount of decisions that need to be made. Millions. From the construction of a road to the distribution of food. While on a local level a form of direct democracy could work, on a regional or international level it would be impossible and only lead to nothing getting done, since everyone is making decisions for everything. We need representatives, whether that is just as an executive-body or a decision-making body.

A problem with representatives is the abuse of power. Even in a society without money people will have disagreements, and so will representatives. There are a few ways by which we can try to get rid of such abuse. Firstly, having short-terms is of the utmost importance. Having a frequent rotation of office would not only help to tackle abuse of power, it would also keep politics lively. Second, the right to recall. A recall could stop abuse early on, however it could also make it impossible to govern at all, because of too many recalls. It is clear that these solutions have to be applied differently according to the way decision-making is organized.

The best known form of organization is the council or soviet-system. Councils will, without a doubt, play a massive role in revolutionary times and will be most definitely be created in great popular activity. The council has direct participatory democracy and therefore is a system often preferred by leftists. Another advantage of the council is that with recallability of representatives the gap could easily be filled by someone in the council. However, here we also see its disadvantage. The council requires participation. A lot of it. It requires permanent political mobilisation and activity, when that doesn’t exist it loses its value as democratic institution. Another problem lays in extending the reach of the councils. For this the local councils would have to elect representatives, or delegates, for a regional council and the regional council would have to elect the representatives for the “national”-council and they for the continental and they for the international-council. With this system of tiers there can form a contradiction between the grassroot council and the higher councils. Not only that, the highest tier loses any accountability to the lower tiers. The council that were formed in times of popular enthusiasm and self-organisation of the working-class turn into its opposite: an indirect un-democratic system of tiers. The council-model can work as a local form of organization or the organization of the workplace but not with too many higher tiers or it will lose its value.

But with the workplace organized around a soviet-model arises the problem of the residential areas. A reorganization of workplaces would require similar democratic reorganization of residential areas interdependent on the workplace councils. This is needed because workplace decisions affect the community and vice versa. Genuine democracy, social self-governance, relies on co-operative determination by the workplace and the community. But this also goes to a wider level. To distribute the products made on the workplace a regional, continental and international government must exist to a certain degree. How can we find a method of international government that is not like a form of state but is also effective in distributing resources and making decision?

An interesting model is demarchy.This refers to representatives being randomly selected, much like the jury system in the US. But it would have the same problems as the US jury system, a lot of Americans have a feeling of apathy towards the jury system, they would rather not get selected than they would. Because the people have no influence in the selecting of the representatives they would feel alienated from the decision-making process, because they can exercise no influence over the process. This could be solved by recallability but this could also lead to the problem of being unable to govern because of constant recalls. Though with recall you would have to to make decisions that get popular support. To organize this on an international level we must have collective responsibility. This means that from every region someone gets chosen and this group of representatives are responsible as a whole. Representatives could just have the ability to execute decisions, not make them. However I think they should have the ability to make decisions but should be recallable. How then do we choose representatives? I think the best way is to choose them from people who sign up to do this, so we don’t get the problem that people not interested in governing would be forced to do that. I think short terms are necessary, but not with recallability. Instead after this short period the representatives are judged and if they did their job poorly they will be excluded from the group that can be picked for a certain period, say five or ten years.

Before the failures of Stalinism the left was the biggest force striving towards the extension of democracy. Over time the successes of the left in those days have largely been reversed. Not only that but the power structure has evolved in something even more corrupt, and even more undemocratic than it was before. The left has been vilified as authoritarian-monsters. The left has largely kept quiet about the extreme lack of democracy while the power structure grew more and more corrupt. We must struggle for the extension of democracy as far as is possible in bourgeois society. But we must also recognize its limits and conclude that for real democracy we must go beyond capitalism. If we want to get rid of the failures of Stalinism associated with the left, we need to be at the forefront of the struggle for democracy and realize that “that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy”7.

The Tower of Bebel (part 1 of 3)

August 13, 2013 in History, Party & Programme by Thomas Chefsky

Thomas is delving into the early history of the modern workers movement and one of its giants: August Bebel who today died exactly 100 years ago.

TowerofBebel

 A giant of the workers movement

The launch of this site marks the 100th aniversary of August Bebel’s death. Bebel was the leader of the German social democratic party from its inception until his death in 1913. By using Bebel as a guide, I delve into the proceedings of the second congress of the Socialist International of 1891. This article about the attitude of both Bebel and the Second International towards labour legislation is the first of a three-part series. Part two will conclude the congress while part three will tell you more about the propagation of a Belgian social democratic model and how came into conflict with Bebel’s social democracy. Read the rest of this entry →