Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Reflections on Stiglitz's "Inequality Is Not Inevitable"

Some Reflections on Stiglitz's "Inequality Is Not Inevitable"
Thomas Riggins

In the June 27, 2014 New York Times Joseph E. Stiglitz published the above name article. It is an interesting take on the growing inequality in the United States but I think it is entirely too voluntaristic in tone and hence unscientific. He wants to know how the US, since at least 2007 (the Great Recession) has become the capitalist country "with the greatest level of inequality."

Stiglitz has moderated a series of articles in the NYT called "The Great Divide" which he says have presented examples "that undermine the notion that there are truly any fundamental laws of capitalism." Stiglitz is a mainline capitalist economist and the line  that "capitalism has no fundamental laws" is a tactic to head off socialist, and especially Marxist, studies on the nature of capitalism which appeal to certain "laws" or tendencies of capitalist development that are responsible for the exploitation of human labor power as well as the creation of crises  of over production, the determination of surplus value, the need to expand markets, the creation of monopolies, and other nasty features which produce human inequalities, the drive for war and other contributions responsible for the degradation of humanity and the ruination of the planet.

Stigilitz asserts that 19th century capitalism's "dynamics" need not apply to the [faux] democracies of the 21st. But that was already pointed out by Lenin in his work on Imperialism which shows how 19th Century capitalism morphed into monopoly capitalism controlled by finance and bank interests along with giant international corporations. This is the capitalism that still rules the roost in the 21st Century.

Stiglitz says we have "ersatz" [not real] capitalism because in the Great Recession "we socialized losses, even as we privatized gains" (whoever that "we'' is). It is not "ersatz" capitalism when the masses of the working people are stuck with the "losses'' and banksters and their allies end up with the "gains." That's how capitalism works.

Well since we have done away with "laws" of capitalism it can't be capitalism that is to blame for inequality (or war, pestilence and famine). So who is to blame. It is us. It is "our policies and politics."

Why has America "chosen" so much inequality? Partly because the "solidarity" we all felt in WWII has faded away, and victory in the Cold War meant "we no longer had to show our system could deliver for most of our citizens."  Well the "we" can't be "most of our citizens"  since they wouldn't say "Well the Cold War is over so we don't need the system to deliver for us anymore,"  Could the "we" be the capitalists, the banksters and the mainstream politicians and economists that work for them?

Stiglitz then goes on to describe the results of present inequality and the suffering in inflicts on millions of people. He certainly would like to get rid of it  and give everyone a good and decent living standard. What he portrays, however, is a state completely controlled by the capitalist class-- where money and wealth commands both the political machinery and the justice (legal)  system. A system where the masses of people are ignorant of how the system works and are manipulated and their values and welfare is ignored.

This is exactly the type of society produced by socialist and Marxist models of capitalism, how it works, and what its outcome is for working people and why it must be replaced by socialism. But Stiglitz does not, and perhaps cannot, go down that road. His is a voluntaristic solution. We must change the way we think about politics and poverty. The solution (LBJ's ghost is near) is "not just a new war on poverty but a war to protect the middle class." Now "war" is a very serious undertaking. Who must we make war against to protect the middle class? Well, its not the working class, its not the unemployed, its not immigrants and minorities. Who is left? "Our" own top capitalists and the politicians, news media, and educational institutions that they control. Is this going to be a bloody revolution?

No! The "war" will be a limited police action, if that. All we have to do is make the top wealthy people pay fair taxes, reverse a "politics of greed"  and seek "our children's access to food and the right to justice for all." This can be done by spending more on "education, health and infrastructure." For those of you who think such sweet, saccharine sentiments are the usual pie in the sky solutions to the social question, for shame: "Just because you've heard it before doesn't mean we shouldn't try again." And again, and again, and again, and….

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Piketty, The Wall Street Journal, and Rational Conservatives

Piketty, The Wall Street Journal, and Rational Conservatives
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the 21st Century, has almost had the effect of a tsunami on economic thinking here in the United States after its translation from French into English washed up on our monoglot shores. In France itself it has been treated as more or less just another economics book-- no big deal.

Its impact on the US is due to many factors, not least of which is the fact that our educational system is woefully inadequate by European standards as well as our lower cultural literacy compared to Europe. Piketty's work appears here as a revelation, but to the educated European he is only providing a fuller historical context for what most people already understand.

Marxists, especially, should have been under whelmed to learn that the capitalist system creates imbalances in wealth with a large pool of poor and exploited workers at one pole and a small group of capitalists hogging the social wealth at the other.

Piketty tells us this system is not sustainable and to prevent the "Marxist Apocalypse" the capitalists have to modify their behavior and moderate the social inequalities their system creates. The thought that capitalism might be replaced is indeed an apocalyptic nightmare for the bourgeoisie but for the working classes it might be more like a Marxist Epiphany come true.

The Wall Street Journal, no friend to the Left, has reviewed Piketty's book ("A Not-So-Radical French Thinker" by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, weekend edition May 24-25, 2014). Here we find, implicitly, that not only have some on the Left "lost it" over seeing Peketty as some sort of super progressive, but that many American "conservatives" have, explicitly, also gone completely off the deep end by referring to Piketty as a "soft Marxist."

The conservative movement is the U.S. is, however, overloaded with "thinkers" who are intellectually immature and dishonest, selling their brain power (such as it is) to the Koch brothers, the Murdochs, and their ilk. The WSJ review points out that Piketty is a professional academic economist and his book merits consideration. He is a neo-liberal economist who supports market capitalism and, like many other neo-liberals, he advocates "government redistribution to smooth out some of the market's excesses.".

The WSJ points out that in France you can find "honest-to-goodness actual Marxists [that] are still at large" and Piketty is not one of them. The fact that he has simply described how capitalism is actually functioning and this is enough to send so called conservative intellectuals into a nose dive (one from the American Enterprise Institute is especially mentioned) over "soft Marxism"  is evidence enough that many, I think most, conservatives have no regard at all for the facts or even rational discussion but are only mouth pieces for the corporate interests who support them as paid propagandists.

Piketty is worth reading. Marxists have a deeper understanding, I think, about the functioning of the capitalist system so there will be no surprises here, but readers will find a detailed history of wealth distribution and creation over the last three hundred years that will convince anyone with an open mind that this system is exploitative and is leading towards an implosion that could very well destroy it.

Marxists, of course, think the system must be replaced and is ultimately existentially unreformable. Neo-liberals such as Piketty do not agree and he proposes reforms in his book which he thinks will save the sinking ship (such as an international, or at least a European Union, wealth tax).

The WSJ review suggests that the right wing could benefit from reading Piketty. If the inequality he describes is not remedied "it could undermine the social order" and "for all the huffing and puffing about Mr. Piketty's supposedly revolutionary ideas, that conservative insight might be his most lasting contribution to the American debate." Indeed, it well might.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

V. J. McGill on Russell's Critique of Marxism

Thomas Riggins

In "The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell" volume in the Library of Living Philosophers (1944) V.J. McGill (1897-1977) published a detailed critique of Russell's political and economic philosophy. Russell was not pleased and made short shrift of professor McGill's efforts in his "Replies to Criticisms". Russell dismisses McGill's contribution as dealing with material "lying wholly outside philosophy" and says, in effect, he won't even bother to argue against McGill's positions as it would be "futile." Seventy years later in retrospect we might agree with Russell that his efforts to refute McGill would have been "futile." But why would they have been? This review will attempt to answer that question by showing McGill's critique was essentially correct and Russell simply wished to dodge the issues McGill raised.

 At the time McGill was on the faculty of Hunter College. In the 1950s he suffered a worse attack on his academic freedom than even Russell endured in the City College affair. McGill was stripped of his associate professorship and fired from Hunter for refusing to provide a list of names to the McCarthy Committee of "subversives" he had known in the 30s and 40s when he was active in progressive causes (he was a member of the CPUSA in the 30s but resigned in 1941).
The first part of McGill's paper deals with Russell's pessimism and theory of the  passions. McGill says that the concept of "power" is  basic to Russell's political and economic philosophy-- it is almost as if "the thirst for Power is the primary danger to mankind."

In a Free Man's Worship Russell says perhaps we should fight against the power of a "hostile" universe  but this fight against "an evil world" is itself a form of bondage so the wise man would be better off resigning from the world and engaging in contemplation.

Russell's pessimism as regards human nature is revealed by his attitude to war which he thinks results from "an impulse of aggression" present in human nature: "War," he says, "grows out of ordinary human nature." The only way to remedy this is to find an equal and opposite passion, such as "love" which represents "the instinct of constructiveness" and "the joy of life" with which to deflect the war drive.

Russell's pessimism, however, leads him to assert "all our institutions rest upon injustice" and we cannot destroy the "power of the State and private property." There is nothing we can do about it but wait for the masses to become as educated as the elite. Not even socialism  will end war. He gives an example of the ants, which he says have a socialist society, yet any strange ant that enters their society they instantly attack and kill. He concludes that human instincts are not much different from those of ants, especially when major racial differences are present "as between white men and yellow men." He wrote this before he went to China and was not instantly set upon and killed.

Russell thinks his theory of power better explains what has happened in history than do the ideas of Marx. The major error of Marx's economics is that Marx failed to understand "that love of power is the cause of the activities that are important in social affairs." History cannot be understood without this knowledge. Russell wrote his book Power to show that the concept of Power is as basic to social science "in the same sense in which  Energy is the fundamental concept in physics." It is difficult to see how a social science concept can have the same sense as a physical concept.

Power is defined "as the production of intended effects." Anything we do, intentionality, is the result of Power or "the love of Power." This is rooted in our instinctual nature. McGill points out that a concept, such as Russell's "power," that explains all our intentional acts whatever doesn't really explain any of them. This is such an elementary logical principle one wonders how Russell could have been unaware of it. It's just as if everything is the Will of God explains why anything happens. It really doesn't explain anything.

Some times this Will to Power leads to good, but most of the time it leads to evil Russell thinks. The most powerful men in history, according to Russell, were Buddha, Christ, Pythagoras, and Galileo because their Will to Power led beyond their empirical selves and created types of power that set men free from power. Russell gives no explanation as to how this could happen-- it is just a given!

This is asking too much and McGill suggests that Marx's views make more sense. Rather than explaining the differences between Buddha and Caligula by two types of Power seeking, "one of which sets men free whereas the other enslaves," McGill says it makes more sense "to analyze the historical conditions and social formations." The drive to Power thus becomes "unnecessary and supernumerary."

The second part of McGill's paper deals with Russell's views on capitalism and socialism. McGill claims Russell's social and political philosophy is founded on his idea of the will to power and the instinct of "possessiveness."  Let us now look at his theory of the State. The role of the state is to provide security for its citizens by maintaining the police and the military and enacting laws that least interfere with the activities of the citizens.

Russell appears to advocate a negative role to the state vis a vis the organization of freedom. Russell says the state is "the most serious menace to liberty." He maintains any positive role for the state is basically limited to the police and military functions of preserving order. It's true the state can do some good (garbage collection, education, developing science, correction of economic injustice for example) but these functions would be better performed "not by the State itself, but by independent organizations." 

McGill's criticisms are somewhat mitigated because his counter examples are so heavily influenced by the actions of the US State during WWII. The State power grew but so did the labor union movement so McGill thinks there is no contradiction between State power and private power-- contra Russell. McGill says "it is clear that voluntary organizations and the state may simultaneously grow in power, while freedom of the individual is not limited but increased."

I think McGill errs in contrasting the accidental features of any particular state with Russell' views of the concept of the state in general derived from the study of many different states. The national security state in the US today appears to limit rather than increase the freedom of its citizens.

Here is McGill's definition of freedom: "Freedom is the maximum degree of opportunity that an organization can supply its members, using all the resources  available to it in a given historical period."

 Under this definition Cuba maximizes freedom for its citizens more than the US does for its. This is because Cuba maximizes its resources in favor of the majority-- free health care, schooling through university level, rationing to provide adequate nutrition for all, housing for all, etc., while the US, with a tremendous superiority in resources, maximizes them to an economic elite even cutting the meagre amount provided in food stamps, medicare, housing allowances and unemployment insurance to millions of its less advantaged citizens.

So, while McGill erred with his particular example, I think the tenor of his argument was correct. Russell was wrong to make a generalized theory of the state the way he did-- the truth is rather that it depends on the kind of state-- a fully democratic or only partially democratic state (i.e., one which maximizes it resources for its people or one that doesn't) that determines the extent of real freedom. 

Russell opposes the centralization of state power and favors the diffusion of power and its assumption by non governmental bodies. McGill maintains that history is moving in the direction of centralization of state power and, depending on the type of state (he lists capitalist, socialist and fascist) this can bring about more or less freedom. There is no such thing as "the state" anymore than there is "the mammal" only different kinds that have developed historically and perform different functions. McGill should have said the centralization of the capitalist state (of which the fascist state is a subclass) is the protection of private property and serves the interests of a small elite, while that of a socialist state is the protection of social property and serves the interests of the majority. This is the position that McGill ultimately holds.

Russell thinks Marx's views on the "withering away of the state" are unclear. He doesn't see how you can both make the state stronger and then expect it to disappear. Especially when many of those in charge have instincts which "drive them towards tyranny"  and "a natural love for power." 

It is difficult to believe that Russell read Marx's The Civil War in France or Lenin's State and Revolution as both works are very clear on this issue. When the socialists take power they begin to dismantle the capitalist state and construct a new state that benefits the working people and as they learn self governance in this process a separate state machine to enforce order becomes obsolete and over time ceases to function (withers away). This may not work but the idea was certainly clearly expressed.

Russell says his antipathy towards Bolshevism is not because of its views about communism but because it supports the creation of an industrial society just as do the capitalists. It would appear he also thinks that, due to his privileged background he has values that working people don't have. These values have in the past been associated with being an aristocrat. Thus Russell values, he says, "fearlessness, independence of judgment, emancipation from the herd, and leisurely culture." I can only say that Russell has, what Americans call, a "big head"  since aristocrats also have a herd mentality concerning their values.

He does say that aristocrats have some negative values as well: arrogance, lack of empathy towards the herd, and cruelty to those they consider beneath them. Despite the best efforts of Robespierre there are still too many heads containing these vices. Anyway, Russell thinks that a future society will preserve the positive aristocratic values and eliminate, through education presumedly, the negative.

McGill also points out some very strange positions Russell articulates for someone who is devoted to logic. It seems as if knowledge of mathematical logic in no way prevents a person from thinking in terms of the most common informal fallacies that predominate in herd thinking.

For example, Russell says that one reason he turned against Bolshevism was the "wide spread misery" he saw around him on his trip to Russia and he also says that the misery he saw was not caused by the Bolsheviks but by the invasion and blockade imposted by the Western nations and Japan. Go figure.

What did he see in Moscow? He said everyone was working, there was security, art was flourishing, especially opera, ballet and theatre with blocks of tickets  reserved for working people so they could attend. In addition he thought it was the safest city in the world for women to walk around in. "The whole impression," he says, "is one of virtuous, well-ordered activity." Well, how to account for his conclusion that "The average working man, to judge by a rather hasty impression, feels himself the slave of the government, and has no sense whatever of having been liberated from tyranny."  

McGill points out that Russell's objections to Soviet socialism are not based on an analysis of facts and figures relating to the production and distribution of goods and services, but based on his theory of the instincts and human nature. He says, quote: "political obstacles have psychological" sources for Russell. These, as instincts, are what we today would say are built into our DNA. Soviet socialism is known to be failing a priori.

So much for McGill's views on Russell's first impressions of Soviet socialism. That was the 20s, he now turns to Russell's views in the 30s and 40s. McGill states that the books Russell read and praised were mostly written by authors with an anti-Soviet bent. His views were thus conditioned in a one sided manner and there is no evidence he made any serious effort to study and refute pro-Soviet works by an appeal to empirical research as opposed to opinions based on impressions and feelings concerning human nature.

McGill says Russell's "main objection" to the Soviet Union is that it restricts the freedom of individuals and minority groups. But every social system does this. This was a time of Segregation in the US and British colonial policies that restricted the freedom of majorities not minorities. There were laws passed in the USSR specially empowering minorities that had been oppressed under the Tsar. Universal education and literacy did more to free Soviet peoples than any event in the past history of Russia and the other soviet republics.

McGill quotes from a 1942 speech from Henry Wallace, the vice-president of the U.S., who said "Russia has probably gone further than any other nation in the world in practicing ethic democracy." McGill's point is that Russell's objection is just a subjective impression as "freedom" means different things to different people depending on their class orientation.

The third, and last, part of McGill's paper is his criticism of Russell's critique of Marx's political economy. Russell rejects the rationalism of the Enlightenment for a voluntaristic and, quite frankly, silly view of how social change is brought about.
He thinks nothing prevents the establishment of socialism other than men changing their attitudes so that they "preferred their own happiness to the pain of others." He says we could abolish poverty in twenty years if the majority of the population really wanted to do so but they won't do so due to apathy and sluggish imagination. Socialism and world peace could be established if we only had "good will, generosity [and] intelligence". No mention here of the economic laws of capitalism, social conditioning, or historical and cultural factors. But what happened to the white and yellow men and their ant like instincts?

Russell criticizes Marx yet has himself subscribed to many of Marx's conclusions. For example he wants to abolish private property-- the very basis of capitalism-- because he thinks it is an obstacle to progress and "its destruction is necessary to a better world." He opposes Stalin's means but not his ends. He also holds that "Industrialism cannot continue efficient much longer without becoming socialistic."

Russell seems to think Marx was an economic determinist even though Marx and Engels stressed that economic structures were the "predominant" influences but there were others as well such as religious, political and cultural. Russell himself wrote that "the economic interpretation of history … seems to me very largely true, and a most important contribution to sociology." 

However, he also has outrageous examples of what he thinks are incidences of individualism trumping economic interests-- he says the United States wouldn't be in existence "if Henry VIII had not fallen in love with Ann Boleyn." Because this love led to his breaking with the Pope-- otherwise England would have remained Catholic and, since the Pope had ruled the New World belonged to Spain and Portugal, would not have set up colonies in North America. BR seems oblivious to the fact the Catholic France did not pay any attention to the Pope in this respect.

Much more important than Russell's misunderstanding of Marx's theory of history is his failure to comprehend the labor theory of value and Marx's views on value, price and profit. Marx did not invent the labor theory of value. He refined and perfected the theory as it was articulated by Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

Russell points out that many commodities are sold on the market above and below the prices they should have according to the labor theory of value (e.g., when there are monopoly conditions or lack of demand) and so Marx's theory is wrong. But there are two objections to Russell's criticism.

First, Russell ignores the fact that Marx himself makes these very points and gives the reasons why a commodity's price is different from its intrinsic value (determined by the the socially necessary labor time not the labor time embodied in it) and therefore Russell is attacking a straw man. Unfortunately many people who have read Russell on Marx, without having read Capital, go away with the mistaken impression that Russell both understood and refuted Marx when he had done neither.

Second, Russell appears to think Jevons'  theory of marginal utility superior to Marx but Marx also talked about utility, or "use value" as he called it, and the role it played, along with socially necessary labor power, in the setting of "exchange value". More importantly, Jevons' theory depends on free market conditions "and does not apply to monopoly conditions,  which is precisely the fault he finds with Marx's theory." Russell's critique of Marx is confusion worse confounded.

Russell also attributes to Marx the belief in the "Iron Law of Wages"-- a theory that Marx went out his way to criticize. That is, Russell thinks Marx held that the worker's wages must always be at subsistence level. If this were true all workers in a given country would have the same wages as subsistence would be the same. This is so absurd one must wonder how Russell ever came to think Marx held that position-- it could not have resulted from reading Marx!.

In Capital Vol. 1 Marx says the "necessary wants", not the "subsistence" of the workers, is a function of the the history and level of civilization of a particular country and depends "on the habits and degree of comfort in which the class of free laborers has been formed."

I an not going to address all the examples given by McGill but the upshot is that most, if not all, of the positions Russell criticizes are not positions that Marx held at all. His picture of Marxism, as is his portrayal of Hegel's thought, is erroneous, misleading, and false. How could Russell have presented such a lopsided and incorrect presentation of Marxism? It remains a mystery to me. I cannot believe he deliberately falsified Marx's ideas so as to easily refute them-- there is no value in refuting a straw man. Nor can I believe he could not understand what Marx said. The only possibility is that he used unreliable secondary materials to arrive at his conclusions due to the pressures to get his materials ready for publication. Idleness in doing his home work is more praiseworthy than deliberate falsification or incomprehension.

A final word on McGill's "Conclusion"  to his paper before I turn to Russell's rather feeble response. McGill says Russell maintains he refuted Marxist economic theory  in his 1896 book on German Social Democracy. He appears not to have kept up with developments in economics as he restates his old arguments over and over [even though they are based on a misreading of Marx.]  

His major criticism of Marxism is its belief "in a strong central government in certain historical periods."  Russell holds to a theory of the human passions, or instincts, that is outmoded and has no empirical justification. He says, The "passions of acquisitiveness, vanity, rivalry and the love of power are the basic instincts" and "the prime movers of almost all that happens in politics." It would appear that Marxism is a priori wrong since it does not appeal to these instincts  to explain social reality.

Russell likes the concept of freedom expressed in Proudhon, the French syndicalists and Kropotkin-- i.e., in anarchism and syndicalism but their views on human nature were the opposite of his. He did not like either Marxism or the ideas of a reformed capitalism because he thought these ideas gave too much power to the central authorities and restricted his ideas about individual freedom. "His theory of human passions," McGill concludes, "thus left him no course but to waiver, with many fine intellectual excursions, between solutions he regarded as impractical and solutions he regarded as undesirable." 

What was Russell's reaction to McGill's paper? He was not impressed, to say the least. First, he says that McGill is dealing with aspects of Russell's thought that Russell thinks are "wholly outside philosophy." But I don't see why that should matter. The objections raised my McGill still need to be addressed.

Next, Russell says that with respect to Marxist economy and his attitudes towards the Soviet Union, "I shall not enter upon an argument  on either of these matters." He gives two reason for this-- one it would be "futile" and two it would not be doing "philosophy." 

I will skip the part about the Soviet Union because that was a partisan subject then, as now, and has too many appeals to subjective factors. But Russell is trying to  doge the issue when it comes to Marxist economics. Specifically, McGill pointed out errors in Russell's readings and interpretation of Marx's economics which showed that Russell attributed to Marx errors he did not commit and beliefs he did not hold. That Russell had a created a straw man and proceeded to criticize the straw man of his own creation as if he were Marx. Russell notoriously did the same with Hegel's philosophy.

Russell could easily have refuted McGill's claims by quoting a few passages from Marx that showed that he, Russell, had not distorted Marx's views but had accurately expressed them. Russell, however, would not have been able to do that since such passages in Marx's works are not to be found. This is the real reason why Russell will not enter upon an argument on this issue.

Russell makes better points on some other issues. He rejects McGill's assertion that he rejects the "rationalism" of the Bolsheviks because he does not in fact consider their views to held due to reason but as articles of faith. 

He also says he does not disagree with the usefulness of the state and  the necessity for  planning, as McGill implies, "provided the state is democratic." Since "democracy" means different things in capitalist and socialist viewpoints, Russell seems justified here even though there is ambiguity regarding some of the central terms.

Russell also says that in some of his books he used "instinct" in a popular sensenot a scientific sense as books such as Social Reconstruction were not written to make a "contribution to human learning." But certainly people would think they were going to "learn" something about the world and society if they read a book like this by Russell.

Evidently, from what he says, he wrote some books simply as personal propaganda to persuade people to adopt views held for emotive reasons. These were books that had a "practical purpose" not a purpose to teach anything. This is, I think, a terrible defense against McGill-- that he took Russell seriously when in fact he was only emoting.

I conclude, therefore, in retrospect, McGill's article on Russell's views on political and economic philosophy remains a valuable contribution to understanding Russells thought in the 1940s and that Russell's response was inadequate to the challenge.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Lenin on State and Revolution: The Paris Commune (1871) Replacing the Bourgeois State

Thomas Riggins

Lenin on the Paris Commune (1871): 

Chapter Three of State and Revolution is devoted to Lenin's commentary on Marx's analysis of the 1871 Paris Commune. It is divided into five parts. This article deals with the parts 2 -5 of the chapter:

2. What Is To Replace The Smashed State Machine?

According to Lenin Marx and Engels had no answer to this question when they wrote the Manifesto. Marx thought the experience of the working class would provide the answer.  He summed up that experience in his work The Civil War in France on the Paris Commune and, although Lenin says that experience was "meager", came to conclusions thought by Lenin to be valid some 45 years later when he wrote State and Revolution. Leaving aside the question whether Marx's conclusions are still valid after almost a century of further experience by the working class, I will only deal with Lenin's interpretation.

The form of state prevalent in the developed capitalism of the time of the Commune (on the continent and later on more widespread) was a state that functioned to support the bourgeoisie in its war against the working class. It was ultimately based jointly on the police and the military, whatever outward form it may have taken (constitutional monarchy or democratic republic), and ruled my means of a vast development of public workers (state employees) organized along bureaucratic lines and controlled at the top by people representing the interests of the big industrial conglomerates.

This was the type of state confronting the Paris Commune. The FIRST DECREE that the Commune promulgated, Marx says, "was the suppression of the standing army, and its replacement  by the armed people."  The leaders of the commune were elected by universal (male) suffrage and subject to recall if the people became dissatisfied with them.

Next, the police were depoliticized and put at the service of the Commune and the courts were also subjected to the rule of the people with their "sham" independence replaced by elected justices subject to recall. All this was, according to Lenin, an example of advanced democracy with the Commune representing the interests of the masses of people while  the previous bourgeois state (now smashed) represented the interests of the minority  of the landlords and capitalists.

One of the outstanding accomplishments of the Commune, which so impressed Marx, was that all the servants of the new state were paid no more than the average wages of working people. The Commune was not a "special force" serving the interests of a small class against the majority but was a "general force" serving the vast majority against their oppressors. 

For the  conservatives and ultra-rightists of today who rail against government spending the model of the Commune should be most enlightening  as Marx pointed out that the Commune "made that catchword of bourgeois revolutions, cheap government, a reality, by abolishing the two greatest sources of expenditure-- the army and the officialdom." Those Americans truly concerned to slash federal spending should welcome those initiatives.

3. Abolition of Parliamentarism 

This year, 2014, is an election year in the US and there is great concern for how the House of Representatives and the Senate will be constituted--i.e., which of the two bourgeois parties will be in control. Lenin, following Marx, maintains the real meaning of the election (and it is the same in every bourgeois democracy) is to "decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people." 

If we understand that we can get over certain illusions about bourgeois democracy and it's relation to working class interests. While it is important to try to minimize "the crushing"  whichever party intends for you, it is also important to keep in mind the only remedy to being crushed at all. There should be no conflict between these two goals. The way elections are conducted today, the very existence of the House and Senate, the separation of powers between legislature and executive powers are inimical to working class interests and the workers, while struggling for positive and realistic reforms, should constantly keep this in mind.

The way to escape the trap of bourgeois democracy, according to Lenin, "is not, of course, the abolition of representative institutions and the elective principle, but the conversion of the representative institutions from 'talking' shops into working bodies." This is what the Commune did. In Marx's words, "The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time."

Today, in the US, or any another bourgeois democracy, the people have no idea how their government works. It takes an Edward Snowden or a Chelsea Manning to pull back just a part of the cover of secrecy, lies, and trickery that the government employs against the people to keep them ignorant and prevent them from finding out how everything is loaded to favor the 1% and to keep the masses down. And woe to anyone who pulls back that cover of secrecy: President and Congress, the courts and the military, the bourgeois party leaders and their supporters in the press are aligned to condemn and destroy all who expose the truth to the people. Real democracy cannot exist in ignorance and secrecy. 

Lenin puts it more succinctly: "Take any parliamentary country … the real business of 'state' is performed behind the scenes and is carried out by the departments, chancelleries and General Staffs. Parliament is given up to talk for the special purpose of fooling the 'common people.' "

The elected representatives in the Commune not only enacted the laws but also were personally involved in putting them into practice. They were not "representatives" enacting laws and leaving it up to the executive to execute them.
They combined both functions within themselves and thus abolished "parliamentarism" as it is practiced in bourgeois "democracies." 

 Lenin says, "The Commune substitutes for the venal and rotten parliamentarism of bourgeois society institutions  in which freedom of opinion and discussion does not degenerate into deception,  for the parliamentarians themselves have to work, have to execute their own laws, have themselves to test the results achieved in reality, and to account directly to their constituents." 

Lenin admits that it is "utopian" to believe that it is possible to eliminate the old state  bureaucracy over night, in one fell swoop. But he does believe that the Commune gave an example of what could be done. It began immediately to construct a new kind of state bureaucracy to replace the old one. The new one would gradually replace the functions of the old one and the old one would gradually go out of existence. For Lenin, the commencement of this change over "is the direct and immediate task of the revolutionary" forces."

Why do we need any state at all? Why not just abolish the bourgeois state by fiat and be done with it? Because, as Lenin puts it elsewhere, there is no Chinese Wall between the ideas and attitudes of working people and those, determined largely by the ruling class, of society at large. All sorts of backward notions (racism, jingoism, homophobia, sexism, etc.,) permeate bourgeois society and also the brains of working people who can only learn to correct these ruling class attitudes by practice and learning in the struggle for socialism. Just struggling for higher wages and benefits will not cut it.

If the workers are going to legislate and execute the laws of the new society they will have to learn how to manage and supervise the institutions of society without being subordinate to bourgeois rule. They cannot wait to be given a new education before taking political power. They have to learn by doing. Lenin says, "we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control and 'foremen and accountants.'" 

The class conscious vanguard will lead the way and in the replacement of the old state with the new the workers at large will learn from the experience of socialist construction that they can be their own foremen and accountants. [At least that was the plan. It was a good plan if the difficulties of execution presented by a hostile social environment (internally and externally) didn't doom it.]

4. The Organisation of National Unity

The Commune only lasted two months and did not have time to implement any long term program. The plan was, however, to have all of France organized into communes-- every city and village. These would then elect representatives who would be in the national commune in Paris. Marx supported this long term program because it would destroy all of the negative features of the bourgeois state, its special organs for the repression of the masses-- the courts , army, and police, as well as the state bureaucracy,  and have these functions carried out by the masses themselves via their representatives in the local and national communes-- popularly elected and subject to immediate recall if they did not perform as expected.

This aspect, popular mass democracy, has, Lenin says, been played down and avoided by the opportunist non-communist left-- i.e., the social democrats who have abandoned revolutionary Marxism. The prime example, cited by Lenin, of the top party person taking the capitalist road within the German socialist party was Eduard Bernstein with his 1899 book Evolutionary Socialism [ Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie ]. 

Bernstein rejects the view that the first step of a revolutionary government should be the creation of the sort of democratic communal organisation Marx ascribed to the Commune, but rather the creation of a federal type of constitution of the kind proposed by Proudhon which, Bernstein says, is really the type of revolutionary government Marx had in mind-- not one making such a clean sweep as proposed by the Commune.

Lenin thinks it "monstrous" for Bernstein to misrepresent Marx's views to such an extent and confuse his ideas with those of the anarchist Proudhon. "Marx was a centralist" not a federalist with respect to government. While it is true that Marx agreed with Proudhon, and Bakunin, in wanting to see the bourgeois state destroyed, he was not at all sympathetic with the anti-state rhetoric of the anarchists  and their views on 'federalism'.  Lenin says only petty bourgeois Anarchists could confuse Marx's views on the destruction of the capitalist state with the destruction of centralism.

Lenin asks, "will it not be centralism if the proletariat and the poorest peasants take the power of the state in their own hands, organize themselves freely into communes, and unite all the action of  the communes into striking at capital, in crushing the resistance of the capitalists, in the transfer of private property in railways, factories, land, and so forth, to the entire nation, to the whole of society?" This is the goal of any people's revolution, to unify a country to create "conscious, democratic, proletarian centralism" and destroy "bourgeois, military, bureaucratic centralism."

5. Destruction of the Parasite-State

What was the great lesson of the Commune? Lenin says that Marx understood it but the socialists (non Bolsheviks) of his day have either forgotten it or have abandoned it. "its true secret was this," Marx wrote in The Civil War in France: "It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour." You can talk about democracy all you like but true democracy (rule of the people) can only be brought about with the abolition of the appropriating class (the capitalists). Minimum programs are fine as long as that goal is never lost sight of or played down for opportunistic reasons. This is where the synthesis of State and Revolution and Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder begins.

The Utopians, according to Lenin, were busy inventing socialist forms of government,  the Anarchists rejected political forms, and the Opportunists stopped with bourgeoisie democracy with its congresses and parliaments: "they broke their foreheads praying before this idol."

The next chapter we will discuss is Chapter 4 (dealing with Engels).

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lenin on the Paris Commune (1871): An Heroic Uprising

Thomas Riggins

Chapter Three of State and Revolution is devoted to Lenin's commentary on Marx's analysis of the 1871 Paris Commune. It is divided into five parts. This article deals with the first part of the chapter:

1. What Made the Communards Attempt Heroic?

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870 and led to the downfall of Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III) and the Second Empire. The German army surrounded Paris and France was forced to surrender. The war ended on May 10, 1871. The working people of Paris became radicalized during this period, repudiated the legitimacy of the bourgeois government,  and started a revolution to establish a socialist commune in Paris. The government fled to Versailles. The commune lasted from March 18 to May 28, 1871 when the French Army reimposed bourgeois rule in Paris by means of a blood bath.

From his vantage point in London Marx was a keen observer of what was happening in France. In late 1870, with revolution in the air, Marx warned the workers of Paris NOT to start a revolution to overthrow the French government. Lenin says Marx thought it would be the "folly of despair." The over all balance of forces was extremely unfavorable.

However, in March of 1871 the French government began to take measures against the workers that forced them to fight back and the die was cast. Even though he was pessimistic concerning the outcome, once the workers took up arms, Marx became one of the most ardent supporters of the Commune. The heroic failure of the workers, in Marx's words, "to storm heaven" was not in vain.

Although defeated their experience provided invaluable lessons for the working classes throughout the world, as Lenin put it. In the same way the experience of the Soviet Union and its ultimate defeat has left a trove of lessons for the working class of the twenty first century and will make the future (far future I fear) world socialist state immeasurably stronger and more stable due to the lessons learned (if learned) and errors not repeated.

In 1872 Marx and Engels wrote a new introduction to the Communist Manifesto  in which they said that their famous work had become "in some details out-of-date." They thought the experience of the Commune had shown that the working class could not just take control of the "ready-made" bourgeois state and then use it to create socialism. Lenin thinks that probably 99% of the people who read the Manifesto don't get the meaning of this conclusion by Marx and Engels. [They must have been very unclear!]

Due to opportunistic and revisionist leadership in the working class, Lenin says, most people now think Marx and Engels meant the workers can't just violently overthrow the state all at once but must gradually reform it part by part until it has become a socialist state. After all, the communards got wiped out when they violently seized power in Paris!

Lenin held that Marx (and Engels) meant just the opposite. The workers can't just "lay hold" of the state-- they must bust it up and make a new kind of state. Marx thought the communards were in the process of trying to do just that when they were overcome by the superior strength of the French state and the regular army.

It was not the attempt to "smash the state" that led to their defeat-- but it was a premature attempt from an initial position of weakness and that the armed struggle was forced upon them before they were ready for it. Lenin cites Marx's letter to Kugelmann of April 12, 1871 to support his interpretation. In that letter Marx says that "to smash" (zerbrechen ) the state "is the precondition for every real people's revolution on the Continent."

It is interesting to point out that Marx implies that a successful  uprising, the government being overthrown and a new government installed does not constitute a  real revolution-- no matter what it is called- coup, rebellion, revolt, uprising, etc.,  it is not a revolution. A revolution takes place AFTER the overthrow of the government and only after the state has been "smashed" (destroyed).  This is the "precondition" of the revolution which consists in the construction of a new kind of state-- a worker's (or worker's and peasant's) state. Thus, for example neither the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, of Mubarak in Egypt, nor of Yanukovych in Ukraine, were revolutions in the Marxist sense-- but merely the replacement of one form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by another form. They were intra class coups. A "people's revolution" on the contrary, Lenin says, is one in which the vast majority of the people, including the lowest social groups, "come out actively, independently, with their own political demands."

Lenin notes that Marx limited his remarks to the European "Continent"-- not including the UK or the USA (never mind the rest of the world). Lenin says this was ok for 1871, when Marx wrote his letter, because at that time in the UK and the USA there was still possible a peaceful revolution not involving smashing and bashing the state.

This is because they were fully developed capitalist states without fully developed military-bureaucratic cliques controlling them. This was changed by WWI and "the last representatives of Anglo-Saxon 'liberty'" are now run by such cliques and need a good smashing as well.

Today we call this "clique" the military-industrial complex-- it is international in nature- and wherever it dominates a peaceful revolution would not be possible according to Lenin. But is it possible to weaken the power of the military-industrial complex by people's struggles to such an extent that it is no longer dominant? Is this just wishful thinking and we really are on the darkening plain?

In trying to adapt Marx, Engels and Lenin's ideas to today we must remember, as Lenin pointed out, that in 1871 the proletariat was not the majority in any country of  continental Europe and the "people" was represented by the workers and peasants together. Marx thought the bourgeois state machine had to be "smashed" as that was the only way the workers and the poor peasants (i.e., the lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie) could have a free alliance and, Lenin says, "without such an alliance democracy is unstable and socialist transformation is impossible." Is such a characterization still valid with regard to workers and the lower and middle strata of the petty bourgeoisie  in the 21st century? Just what was supposed to replace the "smashed" bourgeois state? We will consider the answer in the next article.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

New York City Settlement of Fire Department Discrimination a Blow Against Racism but Panned by Ultra-Right New York Post Editorial

Thomas Riggins

Under the leadership of New York City's progressive new mayor Bill de Blasio a settlement has been reached between a discrimination lawsuit filed by the Vulcan Society (representing minority firefighters) and the city over the use of racially based civil service tests that favored white applicants.

In a case dating back to 2007 which found the city guilty of racism in testing, by a Federal Court, and still being appealed by the city, due to former mayor Bloomberg's refusal to accept the ruling, an acceptance of the court's findings by mayor de Blasio brings an end to this shameful episode of discrimination against minority firefighters and applicants by their own government.

However, there are some groups who still try and defend the racist practices of the Bloomberg years. One example can be found in Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation's  ultra-right New York Post which claims, untruly, that de Blasio "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."

In its editorial [3-18-2014] the Post tries to mislead its readers by distorting the facts and falsifying the information that they present to them (a common practice of Murdoch's operations in general). I can't help but get the impression that the Post is waging a disinformation war against working people in general and minorities in particular in the interests of its the anti-working class  owners.

In the first place there was no "victory" on the horizon against the proof of racism on the part of the NYFD. The Post claims that  "case had been moving in the FDNY's direction" because it was on appeal due to the appeals court's finding that the judge handling it (Nicholas Garauflis ) "had raised so much doubt about his impartiality that a key part of the case was assigned to another judge." The Post adds, "Even so…. the city agreed to shell out $98 million in back pay, medical benefits and interest to the suing firefighters."  The Post calls this a "surrender."
Actually it was a victory for the FDNY and the city.

The Post's version is misleading as it gives the impression that the charge of "racism" against the FDNY was in doubt and only if that were true would the case be "moving in the FDNY's direction" and maybe the $98 million need not be "shelled out." What is the truth?

Judge Garauflis found the FDNY guilty of "unlawful disparate impact" with respect to its testing policy. This is a technical legal term but simply put it means that it is illegal to give civil service tests that don't really test for knowledge that is related to job performance and have a negative effect on groups of people by failing them so they can't get the job. In this case the test is illegal because it has nothing really to do with the job being tested for.

The FDNY's test was such a test and it can be called "racist" because it had the effect of preventing minorities in general from being employed by the department. Even after this was pointed out to the department it continued to use such tests-- this is the reason for the suit.  This finding was not questioned by the appeals court and the $98 million and other penalties was going to go into effect period.

What  the appeals court objected to was Judge Garauflis' additional finding that the NYFD had intentionally designed the tests to be discriminatory.  The appeals court appointed another judge to handle this issue. But it also left Judge Garauflis in charge of the financial and other penalties in the case so there was no "shelling out" of any monies by the mayor.

Why was the settlement a victory and not a "surrender." Because the settlement entailed the city accepting the verdict of "unlawful disparate impact" which was not on appeal anyway and the Vulcan Society withdrew its complaint that this was the result of a deliberate plan to discriminate. Thus the appeal was ended.

The NYFD can feel, in some sense, vindicated because it can claim that it never
deliberately discriminated against minorities, and hence the city is not "racist" in that sense. It is also a victory for the people of New York City because when a racist practice is pointed out they have a mayor who moves to correct it not cover it up.

The only defeat goes to the The New York Post and its racist anti-working class agenda.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Smash or be Smashed? Lenin's Theory of the State

Thomas Riggins

In  Chapter Two of State and Revolution Lenin discusses the lessons of the European revolutionary movement of 1848-51 There are three sections to this chapter. The first section is entitled:

1.) The Eve of the Revolution

 Lenin points out that the first "mature" works of the Marxist world view were created on the "eve" of the 1848 upheaval-- namely Marx's 1847 work The Poverty of Philosophy  and Marx and Engel's joint work The Communist Manifesto. Every educated person has read the latter work but the former may not be so well known.

It was composed by Marx to confute the ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) whose Philosophy of Poverty appeared in 1846 and put forth an anarchist program for the working class: the class should abstain from politics and concentrate on economic struggles leading to the abolition of the state. However, this is not the place for a discussion of this work by Marx and I will only reproduce the quote that Lenin uses to illustrate Marx's first "mature" view on the state: "The working class, in the course of development, will substitute for the old bourgeois society an association which will preclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power proper, since political power is precisely the official expression of class antagonism in bourgeois society."

I don't think Proudhon would disagree with this even though he and Marx had deep disagreements about how to bring this about. The Communist Manifesto came out in November of the same year (1847) that Marx's book did. Here Lenin quotes from it that after the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie by a worker's revolution the workers will "raise the proletariat to a position of a ruling class" this will allow it "to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hand of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class."

This quote Lenin calls an expression of one of the central tenets of Marxism. i.e., the concept of "the dictatorship of the proletariat " ["worker's super democracy" for the queasy]. The term itself was coined by Joseph Weydemeyer (1818-1866 a supporter of Marxism and a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War) and adopted by Marx and Engels to describe the Paris Commune of 1871. Lenin says this formulation of workers control from the Communist Manifesto "is a slap in the face for the common opportunist prejudices and philistine illusions  about the 'peaceful development of democracy.'"  Well, it didn't work too well in Chile, the peaceful development that is, and Venezuela is currently going through a rough patch. What conclusions did Lenin draw from these quotes? There are four.

 First, while socialists can participate in electoral struggles and parliaments they cannot be ministers in bourgeois governments. 

Second, only that part of the working class engaged in large-scale production (the proletariat proper) "is capable of being the leader of all the working people" since workers scattered about in small scale works "are incapable of waging an independent  struggle for their emancipation."

Third, Marxism is the educational tool by which the worker's party is educated to become the "vanguard of the proletariat" which can lead the workers to their true liberation once they take power.

 Fourth, opportunism is a tendency in the working class which actually represents "the better-paid workers, who loose touch with the masses, [and] 'get along' fairly well under capitalism." The leaders of this tendency renounce revolution and "sell their birthright for a mess of potage." Lenin will now move on to the second section this chapter.

2.) The Revolution Summed Up

Marx summed up his conclusions about the revolutionary upheaval of 1848-51 in a work entitled The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte in 1852. The title refers to the date in the French Revolutionary calendar when Louis Bonaparte's uncle Napoleon seized power in a coup d'etat-- 18th Brumaire, Year VIII of the Republic--i.e., November 9, 1799. 

Lenin thinks this work made a great theoretical advance on the  Communist Manifesto written five years previously. What this means practically is that the Manifesto must be read in conjunction with the Eighteenth Brumaire if we are not to be led astray and end up misunderstanding Marxism.

Here is  the advance. In the Manifesto, Lenin says, Marx and Engels showed that the workers must get state power into their hands if they are ever to get rid of the capitalists and put an end to exploitation, but they did not explain how to do this. "The question as to how, from the point of view of historical development, the replacement of the bourgeois by the proletarian state is to take place is not raised here" (i.e., in the Manifesto).

The question of "how to" is answered by Marx in the Eighteenth Brumaire. The short answer is to "Smash the State." This is a catchy slogan misappropriated today by anarchists of all stripes and I do not intend to discuss their use of it. Lenin explains that after careful study of the actual course of the revolutionary events of 1848-51 and how the workers were deceived by the bourgeoisie and the methods by which the revolutionary advances were commandeered by the bourgeoisie to strengthen their class position at the expense of the workers (Lenin also uses examples from the history of the Russian Revolution) Marx concluded that the workers could not use the bourgeois state to attain their objectives.

In revolutionary situations, such as 1848 Marx held, Lenin says, that the workers would be compelled to use the destructive power of the revolution, "to concentrate all its forces of destruction" in Marx's words, "against the state power, and to set itself the aim, not of improving the state machine, but of smashing and destroying it." 

Lenin arrived at the same conclusion by studying the history of the revolutionary movement in Russia, not only the period 1905-07, but especially the six months he had just lived through covering 27 February to 27 August 1917. He stresses that these conclusions are not "logical deductions" made from Marxist theory but the result of empirical observations of the actual on going historical process.

We come now to an extremely important question asked by Lenin. He asks if it is proper to generalize Marx's conclusions regarding his study of the French revolutionary experience of 1848-51. We can go further now and ask if we can generalize Lenin's own conclusions based on his experience of conditions in Russia. What gives us the right to take conclusions based on the specific  historical conditions obtaining in these two European states and conclude that all socialist revolutions must eventuate in a violent establishment of a proletarian dictatorship?

Lenin himself criticized Engels view of France as the "classical" model of revolution. Engels' comment that in France "the struggle of the upward-striving proletariat against the ruling bourgeoisie appeared here in an acute form unknown elsewhere " is considered  "out of date" since the revolutionary struggled in France has been in "a lull" since 1871 (some 46 years from Lenin's perspective.)  Yet, Lenin thinks that Engels might be correct in the long term as this lull does not "preclude the possibility that in the coming proletarian revolution France may show herself to be the classic country of the class struggle to the finish."

Well, the "coming proletarian revolution" didn't come and today the French workers don't seem to be able to come up with anyone better than Fran├žois Hollande-- a sorry excuse for a socialist let alone a "revolutionary." And if the French workers were in a revolutionary lull in 1917, what can we say about the Russian proletariat of today who put up with the homophobic nationalist Putin?

Do these examples nullify the conclusions of Marx and Lenin (we will have more to say about Engels later) regarding the role of violence in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat? In the case of Marx Lenin didn't think so and his reasons, pari passu, can also be applied to his own case. Here is what he had to say. 

Lenin says that when we look over not just the developments that Marx noted in France, but the development of the bourgeois state in all the "advanced countries"-- he lists France, America, Switzerland, Britain, Germany and somewhat in Italy and Scandinavia, we see, in slower motion than in France, the development described by Marx and that "There is not the slightest doubt that these features are common to the whole of the modern evolution of all capitalist states in general."

What are these features?  These states are outwardly democratic but they are based on the powers bestowed on two basic institutions-- the standing army and a enlarged state bureaucracy. Democratic parliaments become increasing weaker and dysfunctional leading to the growth of the power of the executive branch of the government. The state apparatus functions under the control of, and to further the interests of,  the big capitalist national and multi-national corporations and banks leaving the working people more and more at the mercy of economic events out of their control. The state-apparatus claims to be representative of all the people and especially appeals to the middle classes by providing them with jobs and a living standard above the average of most working people. At the bottom are the workers whose productivity and creation of surplus value are responsible for all the wealth skimmed off by the capitalists at the top and grudgingly shared with segments of the middle class. Without organizing and socialist consciousness raising within the working class this situation will more or less tend to perpetuate itself. 

This is a rough description of the capitalist world of a hundred years ago at the beginning of the 20th century, according to Lenin. His theories and interpretation of Marxism are based on this world view. Leninism today is as relevant as is the description given above to picture the capitalist world of the beginning of the 21st century.

What will the working people put in place of capitalism? Lenin says the Paris Commune gave us a basic outline. Of course we have the model of the Soviet Union and other "socialist" countries to also look at. But Lenin's book was written before the October Revolution. Chapter Three of State and Revolution is devoted to the Commune, but I will end this paper with Lenin's short section 3 ("The Presentation of the Question by Marx in 1852") of Chapter Two before we go on to that chapter. Lenin added this section to the 2nd edition of his book (1918) it was not in the first edition of 1917.

Lenin begins this section with some quotes from a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer from Karl Marx dated March 5, 1852. Marx says that he himself deserves no credit for the theory of class struggle. "Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes."  Marx, however, does take credit for three things. 1.) Noting that classes only appear in history when certain specific modes of production have developed. 2.) That the class struggle "necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat." 3.) That the dictatorship is merely a transitional phase on the road to a classless society.

Lenin says it is a mistake to think that Marxism is basically just about class struggle. The bourgeoisie knows perfectly well that they are engaged in a class struggle against the working people. Here is a quote from multi-billionaire Warren Buffett stating there is "class warfare all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning" (New York Times November 26, 2006). It doesn't take Marxism to tell workers about the class struggle.

But it does take Marxism to tell workers what to do about it. Lenin puts it this way: "Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat [AKA' workers super democracy'--for the faint of heart]. This is what constitutes the most profound distinction between the Marxist and the ordinary petty (as well as big) bourgeois. This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism should be tested."

Lenin stresses that this is not an anti-democratic position. Many progressives today balk at the word "dictatorship" making a fetish out it and thus preventing them from understanding what Lenin is saying. To abolish capitalism the working people, the vast majority of the population, must gain political power, do away with capitalist institutions (including the capitalist state) and build new institutions representing humanity at large. They must have a worker's state to guide them along the way of the transition to a classless society. This new state "must inevitably," Lenin says, "be a state that is democratic in a new way (for the proletariat and the propertyless in general) and dictatorial in a new way (against the bourgeoisie)." 

We must remember that bourgeois rule takes many forms but in essence even the most democratic bourgeois state is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (of the 1% over the 99% as it were). Until we arrive at a classless society we have only two kinds of state to live in-- both of them class dictatorships, one of the 1% over the 99%, the other of the 99% over the 1%-- there is no third, so in the words of the old song "Which side are you on?"

This is Lenin's basic theory of the State according to Marxism. It in no way precludes mass democratic reform struggles within the capitalist system, participation in elections, or another practical methods to improve conditions on the ground for the working class under capitalism. But it does make us keep our eyes on the prize and maybe that baby in the bath water as well.

Chapter Three of S&R will be the next part of this series.