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a new introduction to the Communist Manifesto  in which they said that their famous work had become "in some details out-of-date."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 François 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.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences: U.S. Drug "War" Destroys Rain Forests

Thomas Riggins

Rain forests around the world are rapidly disappearing due to illegal logging, the growth of palm oil and other plantations, and clearance for cattle raising and other forms of  commercial agriculture. Now scientists warn of another threat to the rain forests of Central America-- especially those in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and some of their neighbors-- this according to a news report in Science Daily for January 30, 2014 ("Drug trafficking leads to deforestation in Central America").

It seems that the drug war in Mexico, fueled by the misguided anti-drug policies of the United States and the Mexican government (relying on military action and violence instead legalization and reform) has driven the drug gangs deep into the remotest areas of the jungles of Central America-- especially into supposedly protected regions where they are destroying large areas of the virgin forests to build airstrips, roads, and storage facilities to facilitate their drug activities.

They are also constructing "agribusinesses" in order to "launder their drug profits." It is almost impossible to believe that all this activity could be going on under the noses of the United States and its allies in the so-call "war on drugs" and is not being protected due to the graft and corruption of all the parties involved. This has been going on for years according Kendra McSweeney, a scientist at Ohio State University whose research, along with others, was the basis of the Science Daily report. "In response to the crackdown in Mexico," she said, "drug traffickers began moving south into Central America around 2007 to find new routes through remote areas to move their drugs from South America and get them into the United States. When the drug traffickers moved in, they brought ecological devastation with them."

The indigenous Amerindian people who live in the forests suffer as a result of the arrival of the drug dealers who strip the forest for their roads and landing areas for planes. Drug money is used to bribe government officials to turn a blind eye to the drig dealers as well as the deforestation activities. Ranchers, illegal loggers, and land speculators, according to the article, up their activities, at the expense of the forest people, stimulated by the influx of drug money and the dealers desire to launder their profits with "legitimate" businesses.  "Drug policies," McSeeney said, "are conservation policies, whether we realize it or not."

Besides the death and destruction to people, innocent and guilty alike, brought about by U.S. policies, the damage and destruction of the rain forests is a major ecological problem.  McSweeny concluded that "U.S. led militarized interdiction, for example, has succeeded mainly in moving traffickers around, driving them to operate in ever-more remote, biodiverse ecosystems. Reforming drug policies could alleviate some of the pressures on Central America's disappearing forests."

For the reasons revealed in this news article it is ever more important that the failed and useless U. S. "war on drugs" , which has become a " war on people and nature", be curtailed and ended and that rational policies be adopted to deal with the problems of addiction and the social conditions responsible for it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Withering Away of the State

Lenin on the "Withering Away'' of the State and Violent Revolution
Thomas Riggins

Lenin discusses these two topics in section four of chapter one of The State and Revolution (1917). This section begins with a long quote from Engels' 1870s work Anti-Dühring. The quote begins with " The proletariat seizes state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with. But thereby it abolishes itself as the proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms  and abolishes the state as state."

There is a problem with this formulation. Article 11 of the Soviet Constitution (1977) clearly stated "State property, i.e. the common property of the Soviet people, is the principal form of socialist property." This was the basis of the Soviet system (there were other forms of property-- individual, collective, etc., but this was the basis). Also in Cuba about 90% of the economy is under state control. The problem is that in no country in which the working class actually came to power and turned the means of production into state property did it also abolish itself as a class as well as abolish the state as state. On the face of it this quote from Engels seems not to be correct.

Lenin, of course, in 1917 could not foresee the future course of events in the development of socialism. Nevertheless his reasons for accepting the truth of the above quote and his defense of Engels' views are both interesting and pertinent to the ongoing  struggle for socialism today.

Lenin agreed with Engels position that "The first act by which the state really comes forward as the representative of the whole of society --- the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society--- is also its last independent act as a state."

This can only make sense if we have a particular definition of "the state" in mind. This definition includes the notion that a "state" is an organ used  to "hold in subjection" another social class or classes. The "state" is therefore a "special coercive force."  For Engels, when the productive forces of society are taken from the capitalists and turned into social property the capitalists cease to exist as a separate class distinguished by its ownership of the means of production. This ex-class is so tiny compared to the working people that it will in effect disappear and there will be no need for a "special coercive force" to hold down and exploit another class. Khrushchev's imaginary "state of the whole people" will be a reality and the state as state will gradually melt ("wither") away as the the self governing people create new forms of association based on the common ownership of the means of production.

Engels realized all this would take time.  He never thought this would take place overnight. "The state is not 'abolished'," he says. "It withers away." We should note that Engels was basing his views on the assumption that the socialists would come to power in the most advanced capitalist states where production and class consciousness of the working people were fully developed. His views were directed not only at the so-called anarchists  (who were demanding "the state be abolished overnight" but also, Lenin points out, at opportunists who used the "withering away" concept to argue that the state could slowly evolve into socialism without the sturm und drang of revolution.

We have just reviewed Lenin's introductory remarks to this section. He now wants to emphasize five major themes that were mentioned above. First: Engels said that when the workers take power they abolish "the state as state."  Lenin tells us , "it is not done to ponder over the meaning of this."  Socialist leaders in Lenin's day (and ours) would rather forget about this comment--- attributing it to an "Hegelian weakness" in Engel's thought.

This won't do. Lenin says  these words sum up "one of the greatest proletarian revolutions"-- i.e., the 1871 Paris Commune. Lenin will discuss the meaning of the Paris Commune in Chapter Three. For now he wants to stress that what Engels was saying  was that when the workers seize [or otherwise get hold of] the power of the bourgeois state the first thing they do is abolish it! A bourgeois state has no raison d'être in a worker's society. The state ("or semi-state") that withers away is the worker's state after the completion of the socialist revolution. No socialist revolution has ever matured to this extent.

Second: Lenin extols the "utmost lucidity" and "profound definition" of the bourgeois state given by Engels-- i.e.,  as  "the 'special coercive force' for the suppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie." It is the mechanism by which the 1% holds the 99% in thrall. This coercive force must be replaced by its opposite so that the 99% can keep the 1% from oppressing it. Lenin says the bourgeois dictatorship over working people (whatever its guise) will be replaced by the "dictatorship of the proletariat" over the bourgeoisie (i.e., a working people's state). The word "dictatorship" appears to present a problem to some nervous Nellies on the left, so I propose an acceptable alternative term might be "worker's super-democracy." Socialism will replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with worker's super-democracy (ceteris paribus ).

Three: Super-democracy is a concept fully in accord with Lenin's ideas. He refers to the socialist state as "the most complete democracy." This is not "Hegelian weakness" on Lenin's part even though it may seem paradoxical to equate the dictatorship of the proletariat with the most complete democracy. "Dictatorship equals democracy" only appears Orwellian to those unfamiliar with Hegelian dialectical logic.

 Another consequence that Lenin thinks "never enters the heads of opportunists" is that democracy itself will disappear under socialism. A charge all to familiar coming from the right and the bourgeoisie who only think of "democracy" in bourgeois terms. But when Engels talks of the "withering away" and "the dying down of itself" of the socialist state we must remember that "democracy" is a state form and it also dies away "when the state disappears." We will leave it to a future generation to figure out what a post-democratic socialist world will look like, only noting that it will be one without human exploitation and free of the tortured political definitions and concepts of the bourgeois era.

Fourth: Engels statements are directed at both the opportunists and the anarchists, but especially against the opportunists. From Lenin's point of view the opportunists are always harping about the benefits of engaging in bourgeois politics and down playing the revolutionary aspects of Marxist theory, especially when it comes to educating working people about socialism. "We are in favor of a democratic republic as the best form of state for the proletariat under capitalism," Lenin writes. "But," he adds, "we have no right to forget that wage slavery is the lot of the people even in the most democratic bourgeois republic."

Fifth: Lenin emphasizes what he calls Engels' "panegyric on violent revolution." He points out that none of the socialist leaders (outside of the Bolsheviks) ever mention this aspect of Marxist theory "and it plays no part whatever in their daily propaganda and agitation among the people" even though it is part and parcel of the theory of the withering away of the state.  Mutatis mutandis the same is true today as then.

Lenin was living in a revolutionary period of history-- indeed a violent revolution had just brought him and his party to power in Russia-- so it is natural that he should have been very keen on this aspect of Marx and Engels thinking. While the period of history we are currently living through is fraught with injustice, crimes against humanity, the resumption of neocolonial wars and occupations, state repression, racial profiling, voter suppression, enforced austerity measures against the working people, official corruption, and high crimes and misdemeanors of every imaginable kind perpetrated by bourgeois states from America to Zimbabwe, we are, I don't know why, not living in a revolutionary period anywhere near the intensity of Lenin's time, although the handwriting is on the wall (just as cursive is being dropped in the U.S.).

Lenin not only supports violent revolution but believes it is "inevitable." He quotes Engels (Anti-Dühring) on the role of violence that "in the words of Marx, it is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one, that it is the instrument with which social movement forces its way through and shatters the dead fossilized political forms." However, Engels goes on to say that in Germany it may so happen that violence will "be forced on the people."

 But "may be" and "inevitable" are not the same concepts. Engels in no way shied away from the notion of revolutionary violence but Lenin may not be justified, at least from the quote he reproduces in this chapter of State and Revolution, in drawing the conclusion that violence is "inevitable." It is possible for the workers to be so overwhelmingly organized and prepared to assume power that the bourgeoisie will be prevented from violently  resisting (cf. Lenin quote at end of article). If they do resist and there is violence and the workers fight back it is a violence of self defense and not due to some inevitable Aristotelian necessity (ανάγκη).

In questioning the inevitability of violent revolution I don't want to be accused of replacing dialectics with eclecticism. I am just trying to interpret Engels and Lenin by considering the logical implications of their comments. Lenin himself, right after stating that a violent revolution is inevitable says the bourgeois state "cannot  be superseded by the proletarian state (the dictatorship of the proletariat [or worker's super-democracy]) through the process of "withering away", but, as a general rule, only through a violent revolution."

But a "general rule" means "usually," or "for the most part" and allows for an exception-- it does not entail "inevitability." Yet Lenin goes on to say that violent revolution is inevitable  and "the necessity of systematically imbuing the masses with this and precisely this view of violent revolution lies at the root of the entire theory of Marx and Engels."

This is fine for 1917 but how could we preach this to "the masses" today when a quarter of the workers in the U.S. vote Republican and we don't even have sufficient class consciousness to form a Labor Party.  Would a party trying to "imbue" the working class with this outlook in the present circumstances  not be accused of ultra-leftism, of suffering from an infantile disorder? In fact, in 1920, when Lenin realized there was no world proletarian revolution on the horizon coming to save Soviet Russia, he changed his tune, at least with regard to practice, in his work "Left Wing" Communism An Infantile Disorder.

Indeed theory is one thing and practice is another. These two works by Lenin, State and Revolution and "Left Wing" Communism should not be seen as contradicting one another, or if they are they should be viewed as parts of a greater whole expressing the synthesis and unity of opposites-- they are not isolated stand alone works. The theoretical concerns of the first need not be stressed to the detriment of the practical considerations of the everyday practice of class struggle and the social, economic and political realities dealt with by the second.

Lenin realizes that so far he has only made general claims and will now proceed to back up his assertions by a "detailed and concrete elaboration" of the views of Marx and Engels on this topic as they expressed them by analyzing the two greatest European revolutionary events of the 19th century-- namely the uprising of 1848 and the Paris Commune. Their historical analysis is "undoubtedly the most important part of their theory" of revolution.

But before taking leave of this section, I want to quote Lenin himself presenting a non-violent transition to power of the the working class in Russia-- just to point out how views fluctuate on this issue. Here is Lenin on June 4, 1917 speaking to the First All-Russia Congress of Soviets: "You know that revolution is not made to order, that revolutions in other countries were made by the hard and bloody method of insurrection, and in Russia there is no group, no class, that could resist the power of the Soviets. In Russia, this revolution can, by way of exception, be a peaceful one [CW:25:23]."

This was June 1917-- three months before Lenin started to write State and Revolution. Lenin changed his mind, obviously, but revolutions are not made to order and there may always be an exception to a general rule.

Next up is Chapter II of S & R-- "The Experience of 1848-51". 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bum Rap for the Rapa Nui


Thomas Riggins

A new report in Science News Magazine (1-25-2014) by Bruce Bower details a reevaluation of the view that the Rapa Nuians, the native inhabitants of Easter Island ( Rapa Nui ), were responsible for the collapse of their population and society due to over exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of the rain forest on their island, a view recently popularized by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse (2005).

As Bower reports, the anthropologist Maria Mulrooney has published the results of her studies of the Rapa Nui culture (Journal of Archeological Science, December 2013) based on new radiocarbon dates from archeological sites on the island. She has concluded that after the clear cutting of the forest in the 1500s, to make room for agricultural production, the population of Rapa Nui remained sufficiently vibrant to carry on food production and continue their cultural development.

Exactly when the Rapa Nui arrived on Easter Island is unknown but it was on or before 1200 A.D. or so. Mulrooney maintains they had a thriving culture which was still going strong even after their "discovery" by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday 1722. This would indicate that they had not suffered"collapse" as a result of forest clearance.

Roggeveen reported that the island had about 2000 to 3000 inhabitants he was the first to report on the moai-- the giant statues (erected as religious symbols as part of an ancestor cult) for which the island is famous. They were all in place and standing when he was visiting the island (for less than two weeks). In his short time there he managed to kill a dozen or so natives and so his estimate of the population may be incorrect as many people fled and hid out until after he left.

The Spanish showed up in 1770, claimed the island for King Carlos III, then sailed away. The moai were all standing and the people were still engaged in agriculture. Captain Cook showed up in 1774 and noticed some of the moai had fallen but there was no sign of cultural "collapse."

Bower quotes Mulrooney as saying, "Deforestation did not equal societal failure on Rapi Nui. We should celebrate the remarkable achievements of this island civilization"

Yet the culture did end up almost completely destroyed. After Capitan Cook's visit Europeans visited more regularly in the 19th Century. It has been suggested that Rapa Nui's decline may have been caused by the introduction of European diseases. By the early 1800s most of the moai been toppled and the society had broken up into warring factions.

Peruvian slavers invaded in the 1860s and carried away 1500 of the 2000 or so Rapa Nuians into bondage in the mines of Peru.  By 1878 only 111 natives were still living on the island. 97 per cent of the cultural memory of the people had been lost after contact with the Europeans. The greatest loss may have been that of rongorongo  the native writing system of Rapa Nui and the only writing system created by any Polynesian group. All of those who knew the writing system died in the mines of Peru or from European introduced TB which ravaged the survivors.

Chile annexed the island in 1888. The Rapa Nui were given citizenship in 1966 but they no longer rule on their island. Of the 6000 or so people living on the island today about 3600 are Rapa Nui. The archeologist Carl Lipo is quoted as saying, "The idea of societal collapse on Rapa Nui has long been assumed but there is no scientific basis for it." He is referring to a self induced collapse. Their traditional culture was destroyed, and the people today are trying to reinvigorate it, but it is a bum rap to blame them for the loss of their civilization.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lenin's State and Revolution: Chapter One Part 2


Thomas Riggins

Chapter One Sections 2 & 3.

2. "Special Bodies of Armed Men, Prisons, ETC."

Still basing himself on Engel's Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,
Lenin points out that the state is the first form of society exclusively to base itself on a given territory as opposed to tribal societies and bands which can move about and change locations while searching for food and shelter. This is the first innovation of the state.

The second is that the state sets up a source of power independent of the general population. The Roman state, for example, maintained an army as opposed to  tribal societies such as the Gauls and Germans in which all the able bodied men were warriors. The public power of the state includes prisons, courts, an educational system and, Engels says "institutions of coercion of all kinds." However, Lenin stresses that, "A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power." Today we can see that while the bulk of the armed forces and police are recruited from the 99%, they are controlled by, and serve the the interests of the 1%.

This is the case because every state "is split into antagonistic, and moreover, irreconcilably antagonistic classes" so that the dominant class must control the instruments of state power to remain in control. This is denied, of course, by all the ruling class factions. In the US the Republicans accuse the progressives, especially progressive Democrats, of wanting to foment "class war" when they try to put forth new taxes on the rich or criticize the right of trying to curtail voting rights of the poor. The Democrats vehemently deny that there is "class war" and that they only want fairness for the "middle class" and to help the poor advance themselves via the "American dream." Meanwhile both parties support the National Security Agency's keeping tabs on every single American citizen (as well as those of other countries) in order protect the security of the state (i.e., class rule).

This is the context in which Lenin maintains that the "exploited class," or to use the metaphor currently in use, the 99 %, must create a new type of state "capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters."

3. "The State -- An Instrument for the Exploitation of the Oppressed Class."

The representatives of the state demand special immunities, honors and privileges above and beyond those accorded to regular members of society. Special honor is accorded to judges to underscore the importance of the laws enacted by the dominant class. The police and military can often literally get away with murders and brutalities that would subject regular citizens to extreme state punishment. Rampant police brutality and lawlessness is well known throughout the United States as well as military atrocities carried out abroad that amount to war crimes. Breaking up strikes of working people and clamping down on protesters are regular features of the police function. 

Lenin will answer the following question: "what is it that places them above society?" He quotes Engels to answer this question. "Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict between these classes." Because the state is the tool of the economically dominant class this class also becomes the politically dominant class. In the U.S. it is no accident that with the rise of progressive political movements the Supreme Court in the Citizens United ruling opened the flood gates so that unlimited amounts of money could inundate the electoral arena and allow the 1% to literally position itself to buy elections and asphyxiate the democratic aspirations of regular citizens. This is nothing new. Engels long ago remarked that "the modern representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage labour by capital." In face of the consensus of economists, for example, that in the U.S. a living wage would come to $15.00 an hour the most the government is willing to push for is $10.10 per hour. A fine illustration of Engels' point.

How does the 1% actually exercise control by the use of wealth? Lenin gives a couple of examples after quoting Engels---i.e., "direct corruption of officials" (America) and "alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange" (France, America). Imperialism and the banks working together have perfected the methods of both direct and indirect control of the state. Democratic republics, such as the U.S. and many others as well, are the best forms of government for the capitalists. "The reason why the omnipotence of 'wealth' is more
certain in a democratic republic," Lenin says, "is that it does not depend on individual defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capitalism has gained possession of this very best shell it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it." This may be why "No we can't" is a more realistic political slogan than "Yes we can" for workers under the control of a bourgeois democracy (but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try!).

Elections are important and voting is important in a bourgeois-democratic republic such as the U.S. Participation in elections is an important educational tool and helps working people understand the nature of bourgeois democracy and leads to greater class consciousness. Nevertheless, Lenin insists that we "note that Engels  is most explicit in calling universal suffrage an instrument of bourgeois rule."

Knowing how elections actually work, how they are corrupted by money, how the nature of bourgeois democracy is objectively structured to keep the working class under control, Lenin thinks socialists (i.e., real socialists not the phony social democrats) should not reinforce "the false notion that universal suffrage 'in the present-day state' is really capable of revealing the will of the majority of the working people and of securing its realisation." Well, the accuracy of this depends on what the meaning of what "present" means in "present-day state." Is Lenin out of date here, or not? In any event, Lenin is in favor of the struggle for universal suffrage but he is under no illusion that it will solve the problems of working class people.

We will finish off Chapter One next time with a discussion of the "Withering Away" of the state.