Updates

Articles

Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Why Architects

Why Architects?

Sandip Pendse


The inspiration for the title of this note is obviously the publication ‘Why Sociologists?’ by Daniel Cohn Bendit, a prominent leader of the students’ revolt in France in 1968. Daniel Cohn Bendit articulated and spearheaded the student-worker revolts. At the forefront of the revolts were students of Sociology from Sorbonne University in Paris, France. D. Cohn-Bendit’s writing analysed, explained, and justified the leading role of Sociologists in the rebellion that shook France to its roots. Those revolts included strikes, street actions, occupations of institutions and factories, and often street-battles with the police. D. Cohn Bendit analysed why sociologists were the main group that developed the critique of the then existing system and social structure in France and sought to transform the same.

The similarity of this note with the said writing, hence, ends almost with the title. Architects – practicing, theorising, or budding are not in revolt. Street actions would be far from their minds and their activities. Nevertheless, this note shares one essential concern with the above-mentioned writing. It too feels that the discipline of architecture and its practitioners today have begun to develop novel critiques of the existing society in various countries – specifically in India, and particularly of the urban societies, in both their physical as well as social aspects. The architects are, of course, not alone in this endeavour. Social scientists, geographers, ecologists, and many others are engaged in the same exercise. Architects are certainly not in the lead or in the forefront in this critical activity. They are, however, important contributors to the developing critique and provide insights that may not be easily available to the other disciplines.
It is necessary to add immediately that there is a major difference between sociologists of France of 1968 and architects of India of 2010. The sociologists had risen en masse against the system, first at Sorbonne and then at other universities in France. The ‘critical architects’ are a tiny minority, particularly in India.

Some reasons for this difference are obvious and quite apparent. France then was still recovering from the devastations of the War and later military and political defeats in the colonies. The problems of the system were generalised and felt by almost all sections of the society. Further entanglements in predatory wars in Indo-China (now under the leadership of the USA – a sore point for the French) created even more dissatisfaction. The establishment did treat sociology as a science of ‘management of dissent’ and of ‘manufacture of consent’. Nevertheless, for even this role to be effective, the sociologists had to familiarise themselves with theories that analysed the society in radical and critical manner. These often left a stamp – not desired by the establishment – on the sociologists. France, more over, had a strong live and lively tradition of critical, radical intellectual discourse. Many leading intellectuals of the period wrote primarily in French. While the English-speaking world engaged in collaboration and compact (of course, not fully – USA too witnessed student, black, and anti-war protests around the same period) the French tradition was one of critique and at least an intellectual call for transformation. This was also the period when social science students faced problems of career opportunities. Not everyone then sought to acquire MBAs and positions in management. The corporate world was still in the traditional mould. It valued science and technology along with economics (not ‘critical’ political economy but economics as an adjunct of management). Marketing and advertising were then not using social/ social-psychological (now clearly termed ‘market’) research. The establishment did not rely heavily on sociological methods for manipulation, for creation of consent, for entrenchment of hegemony in a major and generalised manner. Probably ‘social management’ and ‘social engineering’ were not yet established practices. NGOs, Civil Society Organisations, and New Social Movements had not yet occupied centre stage, at least in Europe. (In fact, the terms ‘civil society’ and ‘social movements’ were understood very differently then.) Post-modernism had not yet dissolved all ‘meta-theories’ and ‘meta-narratives’. Class, revolution, socialism were still valid concepts.

India in 2010 is very different. It has no continuous tradition of critical social thinking. There is hardly any critical social thought of a path-breaking radical variety after Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Architectural practice and education in particular is dominated by technical considerations (partly justifiably so) of problem solving and viability of designs.

There is also a massive disjunct in the society. The upper 25% (of sole concern to the corporate world since numerically they form a massive market far outstripping that of many other countries – including the developed countries) have no connection with the lower 75%. Often they have no idea of how the lower 3/4th lives.
Very strange occurrences also take place – in thought and mind. Misery, poverty, destitution are often displaced to another realm – for example, the rural sphere. The media (to be seen only as indicators – though also as moulders – of ‘middle class’ opinions) cry themselves hoarse over the suicides of farmers but are silent over the plight of the workers or slum dwellers – their suicides are not even noticed or recorded! There is a tendency to deny middle class complicity in misery and destitution. The impoverished farmer (if at all) gets attention but escapes even visibility when s/he moves to the city as even a construction worker!

There is, of course, another duplicitous element in the thought process. There is a constant demand for the abdication by the state/government of its regulatory roles and responsibilities and yet there is a constant demand upon the very same institutions to provide relief and succour as well as to control, regulate, and punish financial misdemeanours!

Post-modernism (however ill understood/digested) rules a convenient roost to dissolve notions of metanarratives, metatheories, as well as concepts like class, revolution (or even radical social change), and socialism.

Architects in particular face no personal career crises. They have no problems regarding employment or practice – at lucrative remuneration – so long as they suspend critical thinking, innovation, ingenuity, and originality. BPO threatens to become the norm soon for architecture as construction activity becomes corporate (among other less salubrious aspects), links up with FDI, global firms and global dictates.
The social, political, and cultural situation is also vastly different. (Some of the elements relating to these also create opportunities for architects to become critical and radical.) ‘India Inc’ is on a high with share markets, real estate, gold and silver prices booming. Salaries (even of government servants) and earnings have increased in unprecedented fashion. The establishment does not concern itself at the moment with the 3/4th of the population that survives in misery. {Obviously, one day it will wake up with a rude shock but today it seems to insulate and inoculate itself from this eventuality with a few stratagems. One of them is of course ‘ostrich vision’ or denial. It buries its head in its own golden sand and refuses to recognise the broader reality. Second is its faith in and reliance upon its repressive apparatus. It is confident that it can crush any protest/ revolt with its technologically superior repressive power. This view actually ignores some social and historical facts. The wielders of this repression in social strata terms belong to the repressed sections and despite the mental straitjackets are likely to realise this fact some day. Also, historically, regimes have come down when the so-called keepers of law and order have revolted for various reasons against the establishment and joined up with their class.}

Let us take the discipline (in the broadest terms) of architecture. We do know that a vast majority of practitioners (meaning those that create designs of built forms – and usually in the traditional sense of individual buildings) are hostile to any critical thinking. The hostility extends even to the inclusion of cultural studies or humanities in the curricula of architectural education. Two crucial elements prompt this view.≠ One is the fact that every problem must find an immediate solution and that too through technical design innovations. Second is the innate though inarticulate belief that there are no systemic problems; each from social to ecological has technological solutions.
Why then does the critical thinking arise and why the title ‘why architects’?

I believe there are multifarious answers.

Urban thinkers and many of them architects – though not all - have been critical of the existing reality of particularly the cities. The urban bias is obvious as well as easily understood. Architecture, design, and planning really come into their own specific role only in an urban milieu. The rural surroundings do not actually provide an environment for any architectural practice even in simple terms. Planning a village with scientific principles and creating any kind of rational layout is of course not yet possible. Other principles (of purity and pollution, of upwind and downwind, of upstream and downwind) still dictate the spatial distribution of dwellings and of community facilities. Rationality of the modern type has very little to contribute to these layouts. Radicalism, hence, has concentrated on the cities. There are many other reasons as well. The complexity that a city provided along with the plays on time and space are interesting problems to tackle. The utopian urbanists, hence, came up with dream and realist solutions. The ‘solutions’ were only one aspect. The critique of the existing cities (and the social forces that created them) was the other substantive one. Brasilia can be a failure but the ideas had numerous kernels for the future society.

Non-architect analysts of the urban situation also came up with many ideas of the city – critical, radical, and prophetic. No architects could actually ignore these once they entered the public sphere. Sociologists, political scientists, geographers have played crucial roles in providing such analyses.

There are more contemporary and urgent factors apart from these historical ones. Almost until the 1980s, all social critique was monopolised by the formal political spectrum. It alone – apart from the establishment ‘scientific’ institutions – made any pronouncements on the shape of things in existence and more importantly on the shape of things to come. This situation came to an end almost suddenly. The political spectrum faces an eclipse in the last few years. The commitment, credibility, and capacity has taken a nose dive over the past few years. The only concern the politicians have seems to be identity politics. Those who are capable of any analysis either do not perform it or are unable to reach out and raise a public debate on the relevant issues. This abdication of responsibility makes it imperative for others to attempt, raise, and popularise any critique.

One major issue is the approach to the cities. This is precisely where the architects play a role. Of course, many treat their discipline – rather profession – as means to an end – the end being personal aggrandisement. There are many others for whom the discipline and its practice is a vocation – itself an end. Those are the architects with the critical vision.

For decades, most analysts saw the urban situation as problematic but under control – of designers and planners. The problem has turned into a crisis in recent years, particularly with the advent of ‘globalisation’ and ‘global visions’ for some cities. At various levels the proffered ‘visions’ are out of tune with the reality, particularly demographic and political. These ‘visions’, generally proved to be unrealistic and unrealisable though they heavily represented the elite dystopia, The textile industry could  shut down in numerous cities, the communal riots could drive out the migrant labour, but that still did not sanitise the cities; did not make them exclusive playgrounds of the elite. The urban crises continued to haunt the society in general. This too prompted those who were intimately concerned with the design (as against planning – that to date neglects living human beings) of the cities to rethink and become ‘critical’.

The most important factor is, of course, the nature of architecture as a discipline. I do realise here that for many it is not a discipline – only a profession. I am also aware that for many it is a discipline with all the critical abilities of a discipline. It is perhaps one of the only disciplines that is truly interdisciplinary. It does not only combine technology with an artistic vision but also informs each aspect with the insights from the other. It is capable of demystifying and humanising technology. It does so because it is intimately concerned with human beings, their lives, and their aspirations. Ultimately, it uses technology to create a living environment for real human beings who not only reside but also live, react, and feel. It is a discipline that must negotiate between the cognitive and the affective aspects. (The super rationality of high modernism is long dead.) That is precisely why the architects – those who think sensitively, beyond technical challenges of design – are today in the forefront of critical activity. They question the society and above all the urban and built forms it creates as adjuncts to its programme of domination.

Dr. Sandeep Pendse,
Humanities,
KRVIA

Whither Tunisia?

Whither Tunisia?

Curfew in Tunisia! What is the political significance?

January 13 by Fathi Chamkhi
Just hours after his appointment, the new interior minister has declared a curfew from 20h to 5h30 on four governorates that constitute 'Greater Tunis', which house about one quarter of the population of Tunisia and which concentrates more than half of its business. Moreover, police continue to fire on demonstrators, and the death toll continues to rise.
Of course, nobody believes in Tunisia that the new minister is responsible for the order of the curfew or that of further assassinations, no more than his predecessor was directly responsible for earlier massacres. We all know that nothing is being decided without the approval of Tunisia Ben Ali, particularly security, an area that is under his control since well before his ascension to the head of state in 1987.
Replacing the interior minister who is considered by some observers as a pacifying measure is far from being one. Besides, what has changed, except for more repression?
In reality, Ben Ali, while designating a scapegoat (for all practical purposes, who knows?), seeks to relieve the pressure on some 'friendly governments' of the North because of their complicit silence vis-à-vis massacres in Tunisia, especially the French and Italian governments.
  1. -The social protest began on last 17th Dec. in Sidi Bouzid (Center west of Tunisia) following the immolation of an unemployed young 26-year-old graduate of the University, before spreading to the rest the country and then increasing. During the first week the dispute has remained limited in Sidi Bouzid and some nearby smaller towns, until the first victim was shot dead on 24th December.
  2. - The use of live bullets against the demonstrators was the response of power against the extension of the challenge to other regions, particularly Tela and Kasserine. But the use of firearms has remained ‘moderate’ for ten days, before turning to the massacre in the second weekend of January and beyond. The number of casualties can be counted in tens and the hundreds of wounded.
  3. -Since yesterday, a milestone in the expansion of the social movement was reached when the revolt was eventually settled in Tunis, the capital and heart of the country.
Following the failure of the bloody repression to stifle the movement, as was the case during the uprising in the mining region in 2008, the authority has deployed the army for a week, first in the interior cities, and throughout, especially in Tunis.
The decision of the curfew came as an intervention while the movement was spreading to the city of Tunis.
This brings us to the following remarks:
- A spontaneous protest movement started 27 days back and is rapidly spreading across the country, despite a bloody crackdown.
- In a country which is projected as a model for 'economic success' and is regarded as 'an emerging country' especially due to its programme for the implementation of liberal capitalist policies of international  financial institutions, which eventually explode as a powder keg

Finally, an economically oppressive and socially unfair system of systematic repression for over ¼th of a century which  led to an almost complete pacification of society, has eventually exploded due to the huge amount of social tension, humiliation as well as hatred that has built up. How it will end? Nobody can say right now, but one thing is certain: it is already dead!
- One thing is certain: power goes crazy because it cannot understand why its repressive machinery does not produce its usual effects! This power has repressed and denied rights, so much so that we can say, rightly, that it does not know anything other than that! Such power cannot be reformed!  That is what confirms the deployment of the army and the curfew, and the blindness that is its own, and that prevents it from understanding the historical sense of the social movement that unfolds before it. That said, all those in the opposition, who still hope for a democratic opening of power, even a little, are seriously mistaken. Such an error can only prolong the suffering of the Tunisian people.

- Some people, both seated in power and in opposition, want to deter Ben Ali from using armed force, and opting for a democratic opening. It seems to me that the formula of 'government of national salvation' pretty much summarizes these attempts. Will he resign if the situation so demands? I highly doubt it!
The revolution has started. That alone has the answer to all these questions.
Tunis, 12th January 2011
Fathi Chamkhi
RAID-ATTAC/ CADTM TUNISIA

Tunisia: The social and democratic revolution is on the march!


The social and democratic revolution is on the march!

Fathi Chamkhi
The Tunisian popular masses have just made erupted onto the political scene in a spectacular fashion! They have succeeded, after 29 days of a social and democratic revolution, in driving out the dictator Ben Ali! This is a great victory!
It is a great day for us all, which we share with all those who are fighting against the world capitalist order! Above all, we have re-conquered our dignity and our pride, which for a long time had been ridiculed and dragged through the mud by the dictatorship. Now, we have a new Tunisia to build: free, democratic and social.
But right now the counter- revolution is on the march! Ben Ali has fallen from power but his regime, although destabilized and weakened, is trying to maintain itself in place. The Destourian party/state is still there, and so are its liberal capitalist economic and social policies.
This regime, which is presented as an example of a “star pupil” by the international financial institutions, this regime which bled the Tunisian popular masses for 23 years, for the benefit o f an international capital that is greedy for profits, while enriching a minority of families, grouped around the government and organized in gangster clans, must go. That is what we want!
We refuse the attempt that is under way aimed at confiscating our revolution. This operation is being presented under the formula of a “government of national unity”, with which this illegitimate regime is trying to hang on to power.
At the same time, the defeated regime has unleashed its over-armed militias, including the personal guard of Ben Ali, which are sowing terror in the big cities of the country, in particular in Tunis and its suburbs. Groups coming from the disinherited and famished masses are also taking advantage of the current chaos to help themselves in the supermarkets: in particular Carrefour and Geant. Bands of looters are positioning themselves along the principal roads of the country, making it dangerous to travel! Basic products are starting to be in short supply or are non-existent: bread, milk, medicine…
The regime, which has demobilized the police force in the cities and the National Guard in the countryside, is letting all this happen, taking advantage of the chaos to impose its own solutions. The introduction of the curfew and the deployment of the army – which lacks manpower and which has never had to face this kind of situation before - do nothing but worsen the fear, since it is during the night that the armed militias act! Everywhere, citizens are trying to organize their own defence, often in coordination with the army.

Thousands of “popular citizens’ defence committees” are being set up to defend the population.
Only the establishment of a provisional government, without any representative of the Destourian regime, which will have the responsibility of preparing free and democratic elections, regulated by a new electoral code, for a constituent assembly, will be able to allow Tunisians take control of their destiny again, and to establish, in their country, an order that is just and beneficial to the mass of the population.
If the people aspire one day to live, destiny can only yield to their will!
Tunis, January 15, 2011
Fathi Chamkhi organizes RAID (Assembly for Alternative International Development)-ATTAC and the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) in Tunisia
The social and democratic revolution is on the march!
Fathi Chamkhi

The Tunisian popular masses have just made erupted onto the political scene in a spectacular fashion! They have succeeded, after 29 days of a social and democratic revolution, in driving out the dictator Ben Ali! This is a great victory!
It is a great day for us all, which we share with all those who are fighting against the world capitalist order! Above all, we have re-conquered our dignity and our pride, which for a long time had been ridiculed and dragged through the mud by the dictatorship. Now, we have a new Tunisia to build: free, democratic and social.
But right now the counter- revolution is on the march! Ben Ali has fallen from power but his regime, although destabilized and weakened, is trying to maintain itself in place. The Destourian party/state is still there, and so are its liberal capitalist economic and social policies.
This regime, which is presented as an example of a “star pupil” by the international financial institutions, this regime which bled the Tunisian popular masses for 23 years, for the benefit o f an international capital that is greedy for profits, while enriching a minority of families, grouped around the government and organized in gangster clans, must go. That is what we want!
We refuse the attempt that is under way aimed at confiscating our revolution. This operation is being presented under the formula of a “government of national unity”, with which this illegitimate regime is trying to hang on to power.
At the same time, the defeated regime has unleashed its over-armed militias, including the personal guard of Ben Ali, which are sowing terror in the big cities of the country, in particular in Tunis and its suburbs. Groups coming from the disinherited and famished masses are also taking advantage of the current chaos to help themselves in the supermarkets: in particular Carrefour and Geant. Bands of looters are positioning themselves along the principal roads of the country, making it dangerous to travel! Basic products are starting to be in short supply or are non-existent: bread, milk, medicine…
The regime, which has demobilized the police force in the cities and the National Guard in the countryside, is letting all this happen, taking advantage of the chaos to impose its own solutions. The introduction of the curfew and the deployment of the army – which lacks manpower and which has never had to face this kind of situation before - do nothing but worsen the fear, since it is during the night that the armed militias act! Everywhere, citizens are trying to organize their own defence, often in coordination with the army.
Thousands of “popular citizens’ defence committees” are being set up to defend the population.
Only the establishment of a provisional government, without any representative of the Destourian regime, which will have the responsibility of preparing free and democratic elections, regulated by a new electoral code, for a constituent assembly, will be able to allow Tunisians take control of their destiny again, and to establish, in their country, an order that is just and beneficial to the mass of the population.
If the people aspire one day to live, destiny can only yield to their will!

Tunis, January 15, 2011

Fathi Chamkhi organizes RAID (Assembly for Alternative International Development)-ATTAC and the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) in Tunisia

Russia: The Return of Fascism


Boris Kagarlitsky

There was nothing unexpected about the racially motivated rioting and attacks that took place in Moscow and other cities during the past 10 days. But many people are still shocked by the image of Russian youth giving Nazi salutes against the backdrop of the Kremlin wall and by reports of an angry, blood-thirsty mob sweeping through metro cars and beating dark-skinned passengers.

The rioters had no political agenda or ideology other than their hatred for non-Russians. Even the most demagogic of the mobs did not chant a single slogan calling for social or political change.

The fact that both sides turned out in large numbers in several cities within a very short span of time creates the strong impression that their actions were coordinated in advance.

Regardless of whether there was a screenwriter behind the rioting, the scenario that is playing out suggests only one possible ending: the collapse and destruction of Russia.

The logic of Russian fascists has always stood in sharp contrast to the logic and traditions of the development of the nation. The problem is not that most ultranationalists are poorly acquainted with the history and culture of the people in whose name they claim to speak, which is true of fascist movements in all countries. The problem is that, historically, Russia developed as an imperial nation for which ethnic and cultural diversity is the natural and only form of existence. If fascist propaganda in ethnically homogenous societies could claim to be an ideology unifying the majority of the population, then Russian fascism never even attempted to present itself in that light.

From the moment it first appeared in the 1920s, Russian fascism has been an ideology of national division focused on opposition to and destruction of the existing Russian state.

It was natural for Russian fascists to fight with Nazi Germany against their own country. Hitler’s plan to eliminate the Russian state did not contradict the ideas of Russian fascists. That plan called for the existing Russian nation with its history and traditions to give way to a new ethnic community of pureblood Slavs and Aryans. This group had nothing in common with the larger Russian population — ethnically, culturally or even religiously, because Christianity supports a unity based on common faith, not shared bloodlines or tribal affiliations.

But where did all these fascists come from? How is it possible that they prefer Hitler to taking pride in their own country and its history?

Surprisingly, a significant number of those who turned out to beat Russia’s “blacks” are from well-to-do families, and they are graduates of respectable schools and universities. The cause of the unrest does not lie in the poverty or lack of privileges suffered by certain individuals or social groups, but in the larger social crisis gripping Russia. The mobs of modern-day Black Hundreds and the gangs of North Caucasus natives are the product of the general breakdown of the processes of social integration and education.

Many years ago, Erich Fromm in his book “Escape from Freedom” described how the unraveling of social ties in a society that lives according to the principle of every man for himself would create a psychological and cultural breeding ground for fascism. If the economic processes moving in that direction are not stopped, we will be headed not for a totalitarian nightmare.

 

* Source: The Moscow TimesSaturday, December 25, 2010. From Zspace: 
http://www.zcommunications.org/the-...

* Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.

Pakistan: Sharia Court Launches Major Challenge to Protection of Women Act

December 23, 2010.

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Sharia Court Launches Major Challenge to Protection of Women Act

On 22 December 2010, after three years and four petitions, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) of Pakistan declared several critical clauses of the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act of 2006 unconstitutional. In place of this act that created protections for women, the FSC supports the reinstatement of the Hudood Ordinances VII of 1979, which were used to discriminate against, falsely convict and imprison, and otherwise destroy the lives of hundreds of women.

Although the FSC does not have the power to make or change law, Article 203DD of the Constitution does give the FSC to rule any law which is “repugnant” to Islam based on the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The dangerous, potentially destabilising implications will not be legal but rather primarily social and political, as the FSC declaration will incite Islamic fundamentalists and their supporters to suppress the rights of women for fair trial which they have achieved after a long history of struggle.

The petitioners sought to diminish the Protection of Women Act and reinstate provisions of the Hudood Ordinances concerning the kidnapping, abduction, or forced induction of women for purposes of marriage; kidnapping and abduction to submit the victim to “unnatural lust”; the selling or buying of a person for prostitution; cohabitation under false pretences, such as claims of lawful marriage; and enticing or kidnapping a woman with criminal intent.

The FSC has claimed that elements of the Protection of Women Act are not consistent with Islam and thus violate Article 203DD because they conflict with the FSC’s support of the Hudood Ordinances. The sections in question, 11, 25, and 28, are those pertaining to zina (adultery, rape) and qazf (enforcement of hadd). The FSC advocates the restoration of provisions of Hudood that require women who have been raped to produce four witnesses to support her testimony—and the reestablishment of the right of police to arrest women on a charge of adultery on the basis of their report of rape.

The court also held that sections 48 and 49 of the Control of Narcotics Substances Act of 1997 and portions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 fall under the Hudood Ordinances and should not give judicial powers to the high court instead of deferring to the FSC. The court would attempt to extent the term “Hudood” to cover apostasy, human trafficking, war against the state, and the right of retaliation. The FSC stated that the provisions it states are unconstitutional should be eliminated by 22 June 2011.

The FSC does not have the legal authority to overturn these provisions of the Protection of Women Act, the Control of Narcotics Substances Act, or the Anti-Terrorism Act. The former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Qazi Anwer, stated that the FSC does not have the constitutional authority to declare laws unconstitutional. Only the high courts and the Supreme Court have that power. Meanwhile, Parliament is the only body that can make laws or amend the Constitution.

Yet the implications of the FSC declaration will be tremendous for Pakistan. Of most concern is the effect the ruling will have on Islamic fundamentalists and the likelihood of a resurgence of support for the Hudood Ordinances and the repeal of the Women’s Protection Act. Extremists may start campaigns against women’s rights and protections similar to those currently ongoing surrounding blasphemy laws. The possibility that these fundamentalists may be incited to vandalism, violence, and extrajudicial killings is very real.

Beyond civil society, conflict and insecurity could provoke the extra constitutional forces to take action to support this extreme religious group over secular opponents—and invite the involvement of external actors which would prefer an Islamic fundamentalist government in Pakistan. The effect may be the destabilization of the government as well as the erosion of authority and support for democratic and civilian rule.

What do socialists say about democracy?

We are reproducing this important article by well known revolutionary Marxist activist and author Paul Le Blanc from International Socialist Review, No. 74, November-December 2010. 

What Do Socialists Say About Democracy 

By PAUL Le BLANC

“DEMOCRACY DOES not come from the top, it comes from the bottom,” Howard Zinn tells us at the beginning of his wonderful film The People Speak. “The mutinous soldiers, the angry women, the rebellious Native Americans, the working people, the agitators, the antiwar protestors, the socialists and anarchists and dissenters of all kinds—the troublemakers, yes, the people who have given us what liberty and democracy we have.”1 This insight from Zinn provides a key to our topic—the relation between democracy and socialism, especially the socialism associated with the outlook of Karl Marx.

The great democratic ideal of our country, historically, has been that we live in a land in which there is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with liberty and justice for all. It is worth raising a question about how much democracy—how much rule by the people—actually exists in this American republic of ours. The definition of “republic” is rule (or government) by elected representatives—not quite the same thing as government by the people. We’ll need to come back to that shortly. But certainly even an imperfect democracy is better than rule over the people by a government that decides it knows what is best for them. Many right-wingers today claim this is the goal of socialism.
That is a lie. Yet one of the tragedies of the twentieth century is that so many self-proclaimed partisans of socialism plugged themselves into that lie, leaving “rule by the people” out of the socialist equation. They defined socialism as government ownership and control of the economy, and government planning for the benefit of the people, who some day (but not yet!) would be permitted to have a decisive say in the decisions affecting their lives. This so-called socialism from above was central to the ideology of certain elitist reformers associated with the so-called moderate wing of the socialist movement, and it was also central to the Stalin dictatorship in Russia. Even down to the present day, some well-meaning folks use this logic to describe despotic regimes (such as that in North Korea) as “socialist.” Such thinking has disoriented millions of people over the years. But as the Afro-Caribbean revolutionary internationalist C. L. R. James insisted (using the word “proletarian” where many of us would say “working class”),

The struggle for socialism is the struggle for proletarian democracy. Proletarian democracy is not the crown of socialism. Socialism is the result of proletarian democracy. To the degree that the proletariat mobilizes itself and the great masses of the people, the socialist revolution is advanced. The proletariat mobilizes itself as a self-acting force through its own committees, unions, parties, and other organizations.2
Similar things were said in earlier years by the Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci, the Chinese dissident Communist Chen Duxiu, and the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui, to name three of many.

“Socialists should not argue with the American worker when he says he wants democracy and doesn’t want to be ruled by a dictatorship,” said James P. Cannon—a founder of both the U.S. Communist Party and U.S. Trotskyism—in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian workers’ and students’ uprising against Stalinist bureaucratic tyranny. “Rather, we should recognize [the worker’s] demand for human rights and democratic guarantees, now and in the future, is in itself progressive. The socialist task is to not to deny democracy, but to expand it and make it more complete.” Cannon stood in the revolutionary Marxist tradition of not only opposing capitalism, but also opposing oppressive bureaucracies in the labor movement throughout the world, asserting that “in the United States, the struggle for workers’ democracy is preeminently a struggle of the rank and file to gain democratic control of their own organizations.” He added that—both in Communist countries and capitalist countries—“the fight for workers’ democracy is inseparable from the fight for socialism, and is the condition for its victory.” We can find the same kinds of points being made by Eugene Victor Debs and others during an earlier heyday of American socialism in the first two decades of the twentieth century and by revolutionaries in Europe—Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and many others.3

The failure to recognize that genuine democracy and genuine socialism are absolutely inseparable is only one source of confusion. Another source of confusion has to do with the relationship between capitalism and democracy. Most of what I have to share here will actually focus on that question. A useful case study for us will be the American Revolution and its aftermath. Then we will need to touch on what some have called “the democratic breakthrough” for which Karl Marx and the labor movement with which he was associated are largely responsible. We should then consider descriptions of so-called democracy in the United States over the years by people in a position to know. We will conclude with some key insights from Lenin and Trotsky on combining the struggles for democracy and socialism.

First we should acknowledge an element of confusion that flows from a particular understanding—or misunderstanding—of Marxism. Marxist theory outlines different stages in human history based on different economic systems, first a primitive tribal communism that lasted for thousands of years, then a succession of class societies—in Europe including: ancient slave civilizations, feudalism, and then capitalism, with its immense productivity and economic surpluses that have paved the way for the possibility of a socialist society.

The misunderstanding flows from the fact that according to Marxists, the transition from feudalism to capitalism is facilitated and largely completed by something that has been termed “bourgeois democratic revolutions.” Bourgeois, of course, refers to capitalism, and the term bourgeois-democratic revolution refers to those revolutionary upheavals, involving masses of people in the so-called lower classes, that have swept aside rule by kings and domination of the economy by hereditary nobles or aristocrats, creating the basis for both the full development of capitalist economies and more or less democratic republics.4 Some Marxists, and many capitalist ideologists, have projected an intimate interrelationship between the rise of capitalism and the rise of democracy. Just as “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage” in the old song, so capitalism and democracy naturally go together. But, as a number of sharp-minded historians and social scientists have argued, this notion is quite misleading. In order to clarify that, we should take a look at an aspect of our own bourgeois-democratic revolution, the American Revolution of 1775 to 1783.
The American Revolution and democracy
The big businessmen, the capitalists, the ruling elites of the thirteen North American colonies were the great merchants of the North and the great plantation owners of the South, and they did not want to be bossed around and constrained by the far-off government of an incredibly arrogant monarchy and aristocracy, combined with privileged merchants in England, who dominated the British Empire. To be able to pose an effective challenge, however, they needed to persuade a much larger percentage of their fellow colonists—small farmers, shopkeepers, artisans and craftsmen, laborers and more—to make common cause with them. It became clear that these plebian masses were particularly responsive to the kinds of revolutionary-democratic conceptions that radicals like Tom Paine put forward in incendiary bestsellers such as Common Sense. Such notions were consequently incorporated into magnificent rhetoric that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was used to rally enough support throughout the colonies—now transforming themselves into independent, united states of America—to stand up to the greatest economic and military power in the world. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it declared, “that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The document went on that governments are not legitimate if they do not enjoy the consent of the governed, and that the people who are governed have a right to challenge, overturn, and replace governments not to their liking.5

Yet certain revolutionary leaders who wished to conserve the power of the wealthy minority of merchants and plantation owners were uncomfortable with the implications of such potent stuff. Early on, one such conservative, Gouvernor Morris, commented:

The mob began to think and to reason. Poor reptiles! It is with them a vernal morning; they are struggling to cast off their winter’s slough, they bask in the sunshine, and ere noon they will bite, depend upon it. The gentry begin to fear this. . . . I see, and I see it with fear and trembling, that if the disputes with Great Britain continue, we shall be under the worst of all possible dominions; we shall be under the domination of a riotous mob.

John Adams fretted that, “our struggle has loosened the bands of government everywhere. That children and apprentices were disobedient—that schools and colleges were grown turbulent—that Indians slighted their guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their masters.” Adams was dismayed by pressures to give propertyless men the right to vote (and by pressure from his own wife even to extend this right to women). He brooded: “It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions and prostrate all ranks to one common level.” He warned: “Men in general in every society, who are wholly destitute of property, are also too little acquainted with public affairs to form a right judgment, and too dependent upon other men to have a will of their own.” Alexander Hamilton, a visionary enthusiast of an industrial capitalist future, was perhaps clearest of all. “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people.” Since the “turbulent and changing” masses “seldom judge or determine right,” the wealthy elite must be given “a distinct permanent share in the government.” Or as he put it earlier, “that power which holds the purse-strings absolutely must rule.”6

Three years after the revolution was officially won, and in the wake of Shays’s Rebellion of small farmers and poor laborers in Massachusetts, General Henry Knox wrote to George Washington: “Their creed is that the property of the United States has been protected from the confiscation of Britain by the joint exertions of all, and therefore ought to be the common property of all.” Knox’s exaggeration expressed the anxiety of the well off in the early republic. “This dreadful situation has alarmed every man of principle and property in New England,” Knox continued. “Our Government must be braced, changed, or altered to secure our lives and property.” By the late 1780s, a majority of the states had given the right to vote to a minority—white male property owners. Of course, some of the property owners might be small farmers, artisans, and some shopkeepers with ties to what Hamilton called “the mass of the people.” Most of the state governments had a more representative lower house for such folk—but it was held in check by a more powerful upper house that was controlled by the rich. In addition, many powerful state and local offices were appointed from above rather than elected.7

It is likely that a great majority of the Founding Fathers who gathered to discuss and compose a new Constitution of the United States in the late 1780s saw things in the manner explained by Aristotle many centuries earlier: “The real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth…, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is democracy.” The fact remained, as Ellen Meiksins Wood has commented, that “the colonial and revolutionary experience had already made it impossible to reject democracy outright, as ruling and propertied classes had been doing unashamedly for centuries and as they would continue to do for some time elsewhere.” We will look at what happened “elsewhere”—at least in Europe—in a few moments. But what happened in the early American republic at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was an attempt to fuse democracy (government by the many) with oligarchy (government by the few) in a way that would conserve the power of the wealthy. The key was the notion of representative democracy in which the laboring multitude is represented by figures from the wealthy elite. Or as Alexander Hamilton put it in No. 35 of the Federalist Papers, “an actual representation of all classes of the people by persons of each class is altogether visionary,” and, instead, workers in the skilled and manufacturing trades, thanks to “the influence and weight and superior acquirements” of the wealthy merchants, will generally “consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community.” Ellen Wood’s paraphrase is nicely put: “Here shoemakers and blacksmiths are represented by their social superiors.” She adds, “these assumptions must be placed in the context of the Federalist view that representation is not a way of implementing but of avoiding or at least partially circumventing democracy.”8

Even the more liberal-minded Founding Father, a close associate of Thomas Jefferson’s, James Madison—in No. 10 of the Federalist Papers—observing that “the most common and durable source of factions [in society] has been the various and unequal division of property,” emphasizes: “Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” Here again we see the laboring majority and the wealthy minority. Insisting that “a pure democracy” will enable “a majority… to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens,” Madison hailed the Constitution’s conceptualization of a republic because it “opens a different prospect and promises the cure for what we are seeking.” Madison returned to this concern in No. 51 of the Federalist Papers, and praised the Constitution for creating structures and dynamics that will fragment the majority. Among other things, the checks and balances the Constitution established are able (as he puts it) “to divide the legislature into separate branches, and to render them by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common dependence on society will admit.”

There is another element in Madison’s calculations. He reminds us: “If the majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.” The solution is to ensure that, “whilst all authority [in the government] will be derived and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.” A geographically extensive republic, fragmented into states, with a “great variety of interests, parties and sects which it embraces,” will block a majority coalition that could endanger the wealthy minority.9

Even setting aside its original embrace of slavery, the design of the U.S. Constitution became a bulwark of privilege even as more and more men, and finally women as well, were able to conquer the right to vote. Three modern-day social scientists—Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Huber Stephens, and John D. Stephens—have produced an important study entitled Capitalist Development and Democracy. They suggest it was a “constitutional or liberal oligarchy” (we could also call it an undemocratic republic) that was set up in the 1780s. They go on to trace important gains that were made in the 1820s and 1830s, in the 1860s, in 1920, and in the 1960s, to expand the right to vote and to make the government more responsive to the desires and needs of the majority.10

The expansion of voting rights was not a gift from on high, but was achieved through tenacious, protracted, and sometimes violent social struggles, spearheaded by the kinds of “troublemakers” that Howard Zinn has so lovingly described. And yet even with all this, genuine rule by the people cannot be said to have been established in our country—a reality we will explore shortly. But first we should turn our attention to what Rueschemeyer and his colleagues document as the democratic breakthrough in Europe.

The democratic breakthrough
Following, revising, and elaborating on studies of earlier social scientists such as Göran Therborn, they comment that “the bourgeoisie, which appears as the natural carrier of democracy in the accounts of orthodox Marxists, liberal social scientists and [others], hardly lived up to this role.” Throughout Europe, the men of wealth and property were generally as reluctant as their U.S. capitalist cousins to go in the direction of rule by the people, preferring some form of liberal or constitutional oligarchy, or sometimes even to cut deals with kings, aristocrats, and generals. They tell us that “it was the growth of the working class and its capacity for self-organization that was most critical for the breakthrough of democracy. The rapid industrialization experienced by western Europe in the five decades before World War I increased the size and, with varying time lags, the degree of organization [of the working class] and this changed the balance of class power in civil society to the advantage of democratic forces.” Their studies confirm “that the working class, represented by socialist parties and trade unions, was the single most important force in the majority of countries in the final push for universal male suffrage and responsible government.” (It took additional feminist ferment, generally supported by socialists, to include women into the equation.)11

Here too, genuine rule by the people cannot be said to have been established in these countries. But it is undeniable that these gains, the right to vote and to organize politically, made it easier for the laboring masses to pressure the wealthy minority. This definitely brought about meaningful improvements for millions of people.
There is one additional very key point for us here. Another social scientist, August Nimtz, embracing the work of Rueschemeyer and his colleagues, finished connecting the dots, in his very fine study Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough. Essential elements in the thrust of working-class democracy, Nimtz documents, were the intellectual and practical-political labors of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist League, in the 1848 revolutionary upsurge, during the quiescent interlude that followed, and then in the years of the International Workingmen’s Association, First International, and Paris Commune. Nimtz is especially good at conveying a sense of the crucial importance of the First International in the larger political developments of the 1860s and 1870s, and particularly in the development of the labor movements of Europe and North America. He supplies extensive documentation for what he calls his “most sweeping claim”—that “Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were the leading protagonists in the democratic movement in the nineteenth century, the decisive breakthrough period in humanity’s age-old struggle for democracy.”12

And yet Marx and Engels themselves were highly critical of the so-called democracies that were coming into being in various capitalist countries, not least of all in the United States. It was not because the two men were antidemocratic, but precisely because they were fierce advocates of genuine democracy, that they were so critical. For Marx, communism (or socialism, which for him meant the same thing) was what he once called “true democracy,” which he passionately favored. He and Engels explained in The Communist Manifesto that under capitalism “the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of modern industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative state, exclusive political sway,” and that “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” Against this, they argued that workers must increasingly unite in the struggle for a better life, waged in their workplaces and communities, which would need to amount, finally, to what they called “the organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party” that would be capable of bringing about “the forcible overthrow of the bourgeoisie,” laying “the foundation for the political sway of the proletariat.” This meant that communists and all the other working-class parties must seek “the formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.” The “first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy,” and then increasingly to take control of the economy in order to bring about the socialist reconstruction of society.13
Without this, genuine democracy would be impossible. In describing the first workers’ government in history—the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871, which pro-capitalist military forces soon drowned in blood—Marx commented that “instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in communes.” Twenty-two years later, Engels commented to a comrade living in the United States, “The Americans for a long time have been providing the European world with the proof that the bourgeois republic is the republic of capitalist businessmen in which politics is a business like any other.”14
The limits of bourgeois democracy.
A brilliant description of “practical politics” has been offered by one of the outstanding working-class revolutionaries of the United States, Albert Parsons, one of the Haymarket martyrs who described himself as a socialist, a communist, and an anarchist. A tireless activist and organizer, he was also editor of The Alarm, the English-language paper of the International Working People’s Association—which was a powerful force in Chicago during the 1880s.
Parsons put these comments on page one of The Alarm during the election season of 1884:
There is not one sound spot in our whole social system, industrial, political, or religious. It is rotten to the core. The whole scheme as we now have was originated by pirates, founded upon fraud, and perpetrated by force. The United States of America possesses in all its glory that sum total of all humbugs—the ballot. This country is now in the midst of its periodical craze—a presidential election. The voters are enthused by the politicians, parading with torches, bands of music and shouting for this or that nominee or party. A man can no more run for office without money than he can engage in business without capital.
The article argued that even if a poor man is nominated because of his popularity, his campaign is financed by wealthy friends in the party who expect him to “vote the right way” on particular issues; if he doesn’t do this, he is replaced by someone who will.
He takes his seat and votes to kill all legislation which would invade the “sacred rights” of the propertied class, and guards like a watch-dog the “vested rights” of those who enjoy special privileges. This is “practical politics.” The poor vote as they work, as their necessities dictate. If the workingmen organize their own party, they are counted out; besides, those who own the workshop control, as a general thing, the votes in it. It is all a question of poverty; the man without property has practically no vote. “Practical politics” means the control of the propertied class.15
Related to one of the points that Parsons makes here—regarding the workplaces where a majority of us spend our working lives (and so much of our waking lives)—it is worth taking time to reflect on the fact that, even if we don’t let our employers intimidate us into voting one way or another, as soon as we walk through the doors of the workplace, we have entered a realm of economic dictatorship—sometimes a relatively benevolent dictatorship, sometimes a totalitarian nightmare, often something somewhere in-between. But there is no democracy—no majority rule, limited freedom of expression, often—especially if there’s no union—no bill of rights. A wealthy minority rules over us in the workplaces and in the entire economy on which all of us are dependent.
There are additional realities that flow from this, and you don’t have to be a genius like Albert Einstein to figure out what they are. The fact remains, however, that Einstein did discuss the question in 1949 and expressed himself rather well, so let’s see what he had to say:
Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.16
More recently, Sheldon Wolin, Professor Emeritus of Political Theory at Princeton University, updated some of Einstein’s points. To understand what he says, you need to understand Greek—so I will now give you a Greek language lesson. We got the word “democracy” from the ancient Greeks—demokratia, derived from demos (the people) and kratia (rule). Sheldon Wolin says: “It is obvious that today—in the age of communication conglomerates, media pundits, television, public opinion surveys, and political consultants—the exercise of popular will, the expression of its voice, and the framing of its needs have been emptied of all promise of autonomy.” No kidding! Noting that “American politicians and publicists claim that theirs is the world’s greatest democracy,” Wolin tells us, instead (and remember, “demos” means “the people”): “The reality is a democracy without the demos as actor. The voice is that of a ventriloquist democracy.”17 That is, “we the people” seem to be expressing ourselves politically, but really what is being expressed comes from the wealthy elites and their minions who control the economy, the larger culture, the sources of information, the shaping of opinion, and the political process as a whole.
Many anarchists, quite understandably, denounce the very concept of democracy as a swindle that should be rejected by all honest revolutionaries. Marxists argue, however, that the swindle must be rejected—but democracy should be fought for. It does seem, however, that given the many ways in which the electoral process in the United States is stacked in favor of capitalism and capitalists, a case can be made, at least in the present time, for our efforts to be concentrated outside the electoral arena. Just as politics involves much, much more than elections and electoral parties, so the struggle for democracy—as the comments of Howard Zinn suggest—can often be pursued far more effectively in workplaces, in communities, in schools, in the streets, in the larger culture through non-electoral struggles, and creative work of various kinds. The key for us is to draw more and more people into pathways of thinking and pathways of action that go in the direction of questioning established authority and giving people a meaningful say about the realities and decisions affecting their lives. That is the opposite of how so-called democracy—focused on elections—actually works in our country. This comes through brilliantly in the description of the wonderful anarchist educator Paul Goodman regarding the U.S. political system in the early 1960s:
Concretely, our system of government at present comprises the military-industrial complex, the secret paramilitary agencies, the scientific war corporations, the blimps, the horses’ asses, the police, the administrative bureaucracy, the career diplomats, the lobbies, the corporations that contribute Party funds, the underwriters and real-estate promoters that batten on urban renewal, the official press and the official opposition press, the sounding-off and jockeying for the next election, the National Unity, etc., etc. All this machine is grinding along by the momentum of the power and profit motives and style long since built into it; it cannot make decisions of a kind radically different than it does. Even if an excellent man happens to be elected to office, he will find that it is no longer a possible instrument for social change on any major issues of war and peace and the way of life of the Americans.18
Elections can sometimes be used effectively by revolutionaries to reach out to masses of people with ideas, ?information, analyses, and proposals that challenge the established order. If elected, they may also find that—aside from proposing and voting for positive, if relatively modest, social reforms—they will also be able to use elected office to help inform, mobilize, and support their constituents in non-electoral mass struggles. But the insertion of revolutionaries into the existing capitalist state will not be sufficient to bring about the “true democracy” that Marx spoke of, because they would find themselves within political structures designed to maintain the existing power relations. They would not have the power to end capitalist oppression or to transform the capitalist state into a structure permitting actual “rule by the people.” Marx and Engels themselves came to the conclusion that it would not be possible for the working class simply to use the existing state—designed by our exploiters and oppressors—to create a new society. The workers would need to smash the oppressive apparatus in order to allow for a genuinely democratic rule, through their own movements and organizations, and through new and more democratic governmental structures.
It is possible that some revolutionaries might be elected before such revolutionary change restructures the state. But they can be effective in what they actually want to do only by working in tandem with broader social movements and with non-electoral struggles. These movements and struggles must be working to empower masses of people in our economy and society, and to put increasing pressure on all politicians and government figures, and also on capitalist owners and managers, to respond to the needs and the will of the workers, of the oppressed, and of the majority of the people. Remember C. L. R. James’s comment: “To the degree that the [working class] mobilizes itself and the great masses of the people, the socialist revolution is advanced. The [working class] mobilizes itself as a self-acting force through its own committees, unions, parties, and other organizations.” These are, potentially, the seeds of the workers’ democracy—germinating in the present—that will take root and grow, challenging and displacing the undemocratic and corrupted structures associated with the so-called bourgeois democracies.
Democracy and “communism”
Before we conclude, we need to look more closely, even if briefly, at a contradiction that seems to have arisen between the notion of democracy and the realities of what came to be known as Communism. Within the tradition of twentieth-century Communism, many (in sharp contrast to Marx) came to counterpose revolution and communism to democracy as such. This can’t be justified, but it needs to be explained. Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolsheviks led a super-democratic upsurge of the laboring masses, resulting in the initial triumph of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Immediately afterward, Russia was overwhelmed by foreign military invasions, economic blockades, and a very bloody civil war nurtured by hostile foreign capitalist powers. In that horrific situation, a brutal one-party dictatorship was established to hold things together. The Bolsheviks (even comrades Lenin and Trotsky) came up with highly dubious theoretical justifications for the dictatorship, which caused Rosa Luxemburg—correctly—to sharply criticize them, even as she supported the Russian Revolution. The justifications they put forward were soon used as an ideological cover for the crystallization of a vicious bureaucratic tyranny propagated, in the name of “Communism,” by Joseph Stalin and others, ultimately miseducating millions of people throughout the world.19
Both Lenin and Trotsky, and also many others who were true to the revolutionary-democratic essence of the Bolshevik tradition, sought to push back this horrendous corruption of the Communist cause. But it was too late, and after the late 1920s such words as Communism, Marxism, and socialism became wrongly identified throughout the world with that horrendous, totalitarian, murderous corruption represented by the Stalin regime. The ideology and practices of Stalinism are close to being the opposite of classical Marxism.
And it was the classical Marxist outlook that animated Lenin for most of his life—an outlook insisting that genuine socialism and genuine democracy are inseparable. In fact, this was at the heart of the strategic orientation that led to the victory of the 1917 Revolution. It is an orientation that still makes sense for us today. Let’s see how Lenin maps that out in a 1915 polemic:
The proletariat cannot be victorious except through democracy, i.e., by giving full effect to democracy and by linking with each step of its struggle democratic demands formulated in the most resolute terms. . . . We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with a revolutionary program and tactics on all democratic demands: a republic, a militia, the popular election of officials, equal rights for women, the self-determination of nations, etc. While capitalism exists, these demands—all of them—can only be accomplished as an exception, and even then in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms. Some of these reforms will be started before the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, others in the course of that overthrow, and still others after it. The social revolution is not a single battle, but a period covering a series of battles over all sorts of problems of economic and democratic reform, which are consummated only by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It is for the sake of this final aim that we must formulate every one of our democratic demands in a consistently revolutionary way. It is quite conceivable that the workers of some particular country will overthrow the bourgeoisie before even a single fundamental democratic reform has been fully achieved. It is, however, quite inconceivable that the proletariat, as a historical class, will be able to defeat the bourgeoisie, unless it is prepared for that by being educated in the spirit of the most consistent and resolutely revolutionary democracy.20
This uncompromising struggle for the most thoroughgoing and genuine democracy is one of the glories of the genuine Leninist tradition. It is something that can resonate with the needs, the aspirations, and the present-day consciousness of millions of people—and at the same time it leads in a revolutionary socialist direction.
In a similar manner, Leon Trotsky pushed hard against ultraleft sectarianism in the early 1930s when he insisted on the struggle both to defend “bourgeois democracy” and to push beyond it to workers’ democracy in the face of the rising tide of Hitler’s Nazism. In this he stressed the need to defend the revolutionary-democratic subculture of the workers’ movement. “Within the framework of bourgeois democracy and parallel to the incessant struggle against it,” Trotsky recounted, “the elements of proletarian democracy have formed themselves in the course of many decades: political parties, labor press, trade unions, factory committees, clubs, cooperatives, sports societies, etc. The mission of fascism is not so much to complete the destruction of bourgeois democracy as to crush the first outlines of proletarian democracy.” In opposing the fascist onslaught on democracy, the goal of revolutionaries is to defend “those elements of proletarian democracy, already created,” which will eventually be “at the foundation of the soviet system of the workers’ state.” Eventually, it will be necessary—Trotsky says—“to break the husk of bourgeois democracy and free from it the kernel of workers’ democracy.” In the face of the immediate fascist threat, “so long as we do not yet have the strength to establish the soviet system, we place ourselves on the terrain of bourgeois democracy. But at the same time we do not entertain any illusions.”21
The situation we face today is as different from that which Lenin faced in 1915 and Trotsky faced in 1933 as their situations were different from what Marx and Engels faced in 1848 and 1871. But they are not totally different. Their insights and approaches may be helpful to us in our own situation as we struggle for rule by the people, genuine democracy, as the basis for a future society of the free and the equal.
This article is based on a presentation given at Socialism 2010, held in Chicago on June 18–20, 2010. Paul Le Blanc is professor of history at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, and is author of numerous books, including Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (Humanities Press, 1993) and the editor of Lenin:revolution, democracy, socialism (Pluto Press, 2008).

Notes:
1 See Anthony Arnove, Chris Moore, and Howard Zinn, directors, The People Speak, 2009, and Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).
2 C. L. R. James (with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee Boggs), “The Invading Socialist Society,” in Noel Ignatiev, ed., A New Notion: Two Works by C. L. R. James (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2010), 28. Also see David Forgacs, ed., An Antonio Gramsci Reader (New York: Schocken Books, 1988), Gregor Benton, ed., Chen Duxiu’s Last Articles and Letters, 1937–1942 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998), and Michael Pearlman, ed., The Heroic and Creative Meaning of Socialism: Selected Essays of José Carlos Mariátegui (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1996).
3 James P. Cannon, “Socialism and Democracy,” in Speeches for Socialism (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971), 356, 361. Also see Jean Tussey, ed., Eugene V. Debs Speaks (New York: Pathfinder Press, 197) and Paul Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci: A Reader in Revolutionary Marxist Politics (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1996).
4 The controversial conception of “bourgeois revolution” is discussed and defended intelligently in Colin Mooers, The Making of Bourgeois Europe (London: Verso, 1991) and Henry Heller, The Bourgeois Revolution in France, 1789–1815 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006).
5 See Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).
6 I had to check on some of Morris’s words. Vernal means springtime, and casting off one’s winter slough is what snakes and other reptiles do—shedding their dead skin. For the quotes, see Gary B. Nash, The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), 100, 203, 206, 278–79, 367; Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005), 32.
7 Knox quoted in Diego Rivera and Bertram D. Wolfe, Portrait of America (New York: Covici Friede, 1934), 104; Wilentz, 27–28. Also see Edward Countryman, The American Revolution, revised edition (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003).
8 M. I. Finley, Democracy Ancient and Modern, revised edition (Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985), 13; Ellen Meiksins Wood, “Demos Versus ‘We the People’: Freedom and Democracy Ancient and Modern,” in Josiah Ober and Charles Hedrick, eds., Demokratia: A Conversation on Democracies, Ancient and Modern (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 132, 122–23; Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, The Federalist Papers, edited by Clinton Rossiter (New York: New American Library, 1961), 214–15.
9 Federalist Papers, 79, 81, 322–25.
10 Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Huber Stephens, and John D. Stephens, Capitalist Development and Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 40, 44, 122–32.
11 Ibid., 141, 140. Also see Göran Thernborn, “The Rule of Capital and the Rise of Democracy,” New Left Review 103 (May–June 1977): 3–41, and Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy, The History of the Left in Europe, 1850–2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
12 August H. Nimtz, Jr., Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), vii; also see my review, “Marx and Engels: Democratic Revolutionaries,” International Viewpoint, September 2002, http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article381.
13 Phil Gasper, ed., The Communist Manifesto: A Road Map to History’s Most Important Document (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 4243, 53, 56, 59, 69. On “true democracy” being the same as communism, see Richard N. Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, Vol. I, (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974), 74–75, and Michael Löwy, The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 41–43.
14 Karl Marx, “The Civil War in France,” in David Fernbach, ed., The First International and After: Political Writings, Vol. 3, (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1974), 210; S. Ryzanskaya, ed., Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence revised edition, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), 452.
15 “Practical Politics,” The Alarm, October 11, 1884, 1 (microfilm).
16 Albert Einstein, “Why Socialism?” Monthly Review, May 1949, http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einstein.php.
17 Sheldon Wolin, “Transgression, Equality, and Voice,” in Ober and Hedrick, eds., Dmokratia, 87.
18 Paul Goodman, “Getting Into Power,” in Paul Goodman, ed., Seeds of Liberation (New York: George Braziller, 1964), 433.
19 On the profoundly democratic nature of the 1917 Revolution, and on the horrors of its aftermath see: Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution 1917 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), and William Henry Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, 1917–1921 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987). On the faulty theoretical justifications, see Hal Draper, The “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” from Marx to Lenin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987). On the Stalinist dictatorship, see Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1937), and Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).
20 V. I. Lenin, “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” in Paul Le Blanc, ed., Revolution, Democracy, Socialism, Selected Writings (London: Pluto Press, 2006), 233–34.
21 Leon Trotsky, “The United Front for Defense: Letter to a Social Democratic Worker,” in George Breitman and Merry Meisel, eds., The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971), 367–68.



Greece Build to the left, quickly!

Greece

 

Build to the left, quickly!

Tassos AnastassiadisAndreas Sartzekis

Not so long ago the defeat of the right wing candidates in the municipal elections in the two major cities in Greece, Athens and Thessaloniki, would have been followed by scenes of popular enthusiasm in the streets throughout the night. There was nothing like that this time, when the right was defeated in cities where it had ruled for decades!

 

There are at least two reasons for this: the depth of the crisis and its impact on the lives of the majority of the population do not encourage enthusiasm for such “victories” and, linked to this, the fact that in the two cities, the two candidates were elected by approximately one sixth of the voters. The most visible lesson of the municipal and regional elections of November 7 and 14, notwithstanding comments from foreign newspapers on the alleged support of the population for the dominant party, was that they represented a scathing disavowal of PASOK and the right, although, despite encouraging results for the radical anti-capitalist left, a political alternative to the current governments has not yet emerged.

The crisis, ever harder

As expected, the draconian measures required by the IMF, the European Union and Bank – a sinister trio known as the “troika” here - have had only one effect: to accentuate the crisis, which sees every day more misery (the services of the Church, which in this country provide a good part of social assistance, indicate that request for help are increasing sharply). In addition, the 2009 deficit, already significant, has been revised upward, from 13.6% of GDP to 15.4%, which will result in new demands from the troika, which has long stressed anyway that the state does not bring enough money into its coffers and spends too much. A delegation from the troika which arrived in Athens on November 15 – to be welcomed by a rally and a demonstration called by the KKE (Greek Communist Party) and the radical and anti-capitalist left – made its priorities known: strengthening the attacks on the population by attacking the public sector and adopting new work contracts with less pay than that laid down in collective agreements. Already in March, they had said: “Besides the wages you must cut, you must dismiss 200,000 workers in this sector!” On November 17, European officials indicated that the state should save 4.9 billion euros next year: Obviously nobody believes Papandreou when he assures them that there will be no dismissals. The government also refers to necessary reductions in the health sector. Recent weeks have seen very violent attacks in some areas, including in commerce where, apart from the closure of many small shops, big chains are also closing down: this is the case with FNAC, which only recently triumphantly arrived in Greece, while on November 17, the ALDI supermarket chain announced its closure, with 700 employees thrown out of work.

Another sector openly in crisis is the politically influential one of the press: the major group Lambrakis, with a tradition of established cultural patronage (the opera in Athens, the “Mégaro Moussikis” was funded by them), has just closed an old publishing house, Ellinika Grammata, throwing around a hundred employees out of work, while redundancies are raining down in the newspapers, of which the best-known are “To Vima” and “Ta Nea”. We are also seeing public wealth stripping operations. Thus, a good part of the port of Piraeus has been sold to a Chinese group while an agreement is planned to sell off part of the seafront close to Athens to install casinos and luxury accommodation. So, whether or not the “Socialist” government discusses a new debt repayment schedule, what is certain is that new measures of economic strangulation of the population will not be delayed, possibly connected with the negotiation of a new memorandum.

Faced with all this, the workers try to resist, there are solidarity mobilizations, but these reactions remain very much smaller than the growing mobilization of spring. Working to connect all these struggles and prepare an overall offensive against the policies of Papandreou and the troika are matters of urgency. Since early November, it is now possible in support of this task to point to the results of the municipal and regional elections which saw, albeit in a fragmented manner, political tendencies to the left of the PASOK gaining 1.2 million votes out of approximately 6 million voters.

The issues at the elections for PASOK

Aware of its discredit, PASOK had planned to focus the campaign solely on local issues, wanting to highlight its modernism represented by its Kallikratis programme of “bringing the institutions closer to the citizen”. However, this programme, for which PASOK has spared no advertising expenses, translates notably into the merger of the 1,004 existing communes into 370 super-communes, while administrative regions have been merged into 13 “super-regions. The logic of this model plan of liberal technocracy fits in with the anti-worker measures: indeed, the management of these super-communes involves public disengagement to offload onto private companies such tasks such as cleaning, green spaces, etc. The consequences for employment are mentioned above: in general, public companies are in the firing line (with the threat of removal of 60,000 contract workers) and the principle is to not replace 4 civil servants out of 5 leaving. And it is precisely by making the link between the local and national scales that the radical and anti-capitalist left has campaigned since the spring against the Kallikratis programme which in reality concerns many more people than this current alone.

But after having attempted, unsuccessfully, to lull everybody to sleep with the refrain of strictly local elections, PASOK abruptly changed its tune: two weeks before the elections, the issues had without explanation become so national that Papandreou was simply threatening to hold parliamentary elections as soon as December if his policy was not approved, without moreover defining the requisite approval threshold percentages!

Why this blackmail? In fact, PASOK never risked coming second: they were ten points ahead of the right wing New Democracy in the parliamentary elections of 2009, so there was no suspense! The real issue was that of PASOK voter disaffection and therefore of the necessary credit to continue this policy of smashing all social gains. Late August polls gave 28.6% for PASOK (43.9% in the elections of October 2009), 21.1% for the ND (33.5%), 9% for the KKE (7.5%), and 17% for small parties or spoiled votes with 10% being don’t knows. During the campaign the disillusionment of PASOK voters was evident at meetings: thus in the PASOK stronghold of Patras (among the five biggest cities in the country) Papandreou could not start his meeting due to the low attendance! This note is also verified by the victory of a “diverse left” candidate’ (supported by Synaspismos) above the PASOK candidate in Patras.

Overnight, Papandreou therefore turned to blackmail of the “me or chaos” type, with abject populist arguments challenging the workers’ mobilization: "If the interest groups that we have affected with our reforms are saying “that’s enough!”, then I will have no other alternative than to address myself to the Greek people.” Later, he said: “I admit that some changes, imposed out of necessity, have hurt workers, who are not responsible for the crisis. Yet maturity is required also in the trade unions: the crisis must transform all of us.” (November 6, 2010 “Eleftherotypia”). A dramatisation which suddenly forgot the local issues but justified all those who had insisted for weeks on the importance of this election for beating not only PASOK and the right, but also the anti-worker policies.

PASOK and the right disowned

Because the main parties were present in all 13 regions, the regional elections constituted a good reference in relation to last year’s parliamentary elections. We should however be careful: the fare right LAOS only ran in six regions as such, SYRIZA was challenged by a right wing split, Aristeri Dimokratiki (Democratic left), and lists supported by Antarsya were present in 11 regions.

In any case what leaps out is the incredibly high abstention rates: running at 2.88 million votes in October 2009, it was for the first round of the regional elections 3.81 million out of a total of 9.81 million registered voters, with additionally 9.10% spoiled ballots. In the second round, which in the regional elections involved PASOK and the right alone, the abstention rate went from 39% to 53%, with an additional 11.6% of spoiled ballots! Nothing in these figures justifies the view of some European newspapers which saw these results as a successful gamble for Papandreou or as the Prime Minister escaping lightly!

In fact, the scale of the setback is even clearer in that PASOK, despite the blackmail of its leader, paid a heavy price: in the first round of the regional elections. PASOK lost approximately 1,150,000 votes, with the region of Attica, comprising one third of the voters and the most industrialised area, accounting for a loss of 446,000 votes (-7%). It counted on certain victory in the first round in three regions: it won two, including the fiefdom of Crete, where it won 50.3%, losing 71,000 votes, or 8.4%! In the third “safe” area, it lost 90,000 votes, or 9%, winning a total of 43%. In the Peloponnese, the PASOK candidate was a former right wing minister, supported also by LAOS and in Attica, if the candidate for PASOK was finally elected in the 2nd round, it was with an abstention rate of 58%, a total of 16% spoiled ballots and, here also, the support of LAOS. In the municipal elections, the two major defeats for the right did not mean a victory for PASOK alone: in Athens, the candidate Kaminis was in the second round also supported by the Greens, by Aristeri Dimokratia and by some right wing sectors, the same being true of Boutaris in Thessaloniki. In both cases against a background of gigantic abstention rates, about 65%. In addition, PASOK lost significant towns like the suburb of Aghia Paraskevi, the big city of Patras, in a duel to its left, as in the suburb of Elliniko, where the outgoing mayor, an activist who had led radical mobilizations, was supported by the Greens, SYRIZA, ANTARSYA and other left forces. In other popular suburbs, PASOK was beaten by left lists: Kaisariani, Keratsini, Elefsina and so on. With such results, it is clear that this is a major disavowal of PASOK.

The right is now headed by the former leader of a dissident nationalist group within the ND, who has the difficult task of restoring the fortunes of a party reeling from its heavy defeat last year as well as a series of scandals for which trials are currently underway. As with Papandreou for PASOK, Antonis Samaras sees a victory for the right in these elections. Observe: in the regional elections, the right, which could only advance after October 2009, lost 563,000 votes, 256,000 of them in Attica! Proclaiming that it wanted to win between 6 and 8 of the 13 regions, it obtained only five and, if it won Piraeus, it was more due to the internal crisis in PASOK than its own dynamic. It can only be welcomed: it is obviously paying for its share of responsibility in the crisis, and its demagoguery against the memorandum fooled nobody, since at the same time it supports the austerity measures. The crisis of the right is certainly a durable one and its luck is that in this period, the LAOS grouping, whose profile is equivalent to that of the Front National in France, is one of the biggest supporters of PASOK’s policies. This positioning of LAOS has two consequences: an electoral weakening, where it ran, as in Attica where, with 6.57%, it lost 1% and 53,500 votes, but also the freeing up of space for openly fascist currents.

One notes then a very important fact: for the first time since the beginning of the 1980s, the bipartisanship which infected Greek political life has been dramatically weakened. The results of the elections, as well as discussions in workplaces, prove that a deep political crisis has opened, not witnessed since the junta of the colonels in the years 1967-74. It has become clear that a positive outcome to this situation depends exclusively on the responses and credibility offered by the radical anti-capitalist left. And on this terrain, things may begin to evolve.

The results to the left of PASOK

The KKE was presented as the main winner of these elections and this is largely correct. It must be said that it began its campaign a long time ago since it is in fact almost permanent. Indeed, the KKE favours mobilisations as the sole solution, not hesitating to accuse workers who do not vote for it of bolstering the "plutocracy”. In this systematic electoral campaign, it utilises a discourse which is in part anti-capitalist. But in part only, since arguments about “real”" patriotism have lately been employed, and the party continues to sow division, refusing any unity of action of workers: for it, the sole unitary framework is its PAME current, framed by itself, and on the “political scene”, the KKE presents itself as alone against everyone, it being understood that the radical left defends according to this party the capitalist system!

Nevertheless, once again its campaign found an echo and the KKE was able to attract young people. Its score in the regional elections was approximately 580,000 votes, or almost 11%, with a gain of 62,600 votes and 3.5% on 2009. Yet this increase should be put into perspective. First because it was not in the most industrialised regions that the KKE advanced most: the southern Aegean Islands (+ 6,000), central Greece (+ 12,000). It even lost votes in the north Aegean (-500) and above all, its progress in Attica was very modest: certainly, it scored 14.4% but it only won 6,000 extra votes, which is very little given PASOK’s losses and the gains made in the same area by Antarsya, namely + 23,000 votes. Similarly, the KKE won only a single municipality, the popular suburb of Petroupolis. Even though it is by far the main force to the left of PASOK, we must be aware of these weaknesses, which once the official period of satisfaction is over, may facilitate internal questioning, until now fairly discreet.

One of the most urgent balance sheets to be drawn is that of Syriza: this radical reformist coalition has for several months experienced existential problems, quite simply of political identity, which hark back to the confusion related to its formation. Bringing together revolutionary or radical groups around Synaspismos, without these groups having had any common project of developing an anti-capitalist wing, Syriza has been buffeted over three years by the rhythm of the polls and actual results, which hardly exceeded those of Synaspismos alone, if we put aside the good result of Alexis Tsipras in the Athens mayoral elections four years ago (more than 10%). In recent months Syriza has divided into at least three currents: the first is that of the “renovators” of Synaspismos, who eventually left the latter and Syriza also in spring to form Dimokratiki Aristera (Democratic Left). Their electoral baptism of fire electoral was satisfactory to them: presenting alliances of variable geometry (with the Greens, with Syriza, with PASOK and so on), they got quite a number of elected representatives and their regional candidate in Attica, Grigorios Psarianos, a former MP for Syriza, won 52,500 votes, or. 3.8%. This also raises their political profile as a party of elected representatives with a discourse oscillating between radicalism and the flattest reformism.

The core of Syriza, around Synaspismos, got nearly 240,000 votes (4.5%), as against 315,000 and 4.6% in October 2009. If the decline in percentage is not huge, it is more so in votes, and even if the leadership of Synaspismos expressed satisfaction at this score, it is clear that not to advance in such a context is a setback. Moreover, before the vote two Syriza MPs and the representatives of a few currents (Kokkino, AKOA, Xekinima and so on) in the secretariat highlighted in an appeal the deep crisis of the coalition, undermined by conflicts between different projects but also by centralism and bureaucracy, and affirmed its failure to promote that which had justified its creation, namely left unity and common action of the broad forces of the radical left. Their conclusion is that after the elections, Syriza can no longer continue under the same conditions. During this time, the leadership around Alexis Tsipras imposed for the municipal elections the line of turning towards PASOK cadres in disagreement with the Papandreou line, and thus in Attica the Syriza leadership hoped that the head of the regional list would record a two digit score, attracting disappointed PASOK voters: the result was a total of 89,000 votes, representing 6.2%, down by 42,000 votes from 2009. This suggests that the youth who had voted for Syriza did not identify with such combinations, while the disappointed PASOK voters did not find it credible either.

A word on the third current in Syriza, grouped around a list represented in Attica by the former leader of Synaspismos, Alekos Alavanos. Alavanos, very much on the right when he was an MEP, now uses a very leftist language, as seen in his central leaflet for the campaign whose conclusion is: “To combat youth unemployment, we are ready to go to jail.” Alavanos’s list, in which he had high hopes, ultimately obtained 30,000 votes, 2.2% and a single elected representative. But the most serious aspect in this case is that the disagreements between the former and current leaderships of Synaspismos will tear apart the radical and revolutionary groups which are members of Syriza, with all the resentments that might leave. This relates to the absence of a joint project for these groups at the launch of Syriza.

An anti-capitalist breakthrough

This is the good news of the elections, although modest in terms of numbers, but for many observers a new element: clearly anti-capitalist lists supported by the coalition ANTARSYA (Cooperation of the anti-capitalist left for the overthrow of the system), present in 11 of the 13 regions, scored about 2% and had seven representatives elected. Its percentages varied from 1.5% to 2.6%, much better than the usual very low vote for the Greek revolutionary left! The vote increases were spectacular and was the vote that increased the most: if the KKE got 62,500 more votes, ANTARSYA got nearly 71,000 more, reaching a total of nearly 95,500 in 11 regions. In Attica, it got 31,500 votes and elected Angelos Hagios, also leader of the NAR. And ANTARSYA supported several lists in the municipal elections, as in Athens where it got 5,500 votes (2.9%) and one elected representative, Petros Konstantinou, leader of the SEK. In various suburbs, lists supported by ANTARSYA and sometimes other forces got good scores: in Piraeus, 2%, 3% and one representative elected in Peristeri, the largest of the suburbs and a working-class neighbourhood, 2.8% and one representative elected in Petroupoli, 6.5% and one representative elected in Nea Smyrni, 5% and one representative elected in Zografou, 6.3% and one representative elected in Ymittou, 10.7% and two representatives elected in Halandri, 13.8% and two representatives elected in Vrilissia. And other good scores outside Attica in Iannina with 4.1% and one representative elected or Pyrgos with 4% and one representative elected.

This significant breakthrough has at least two explanations. The first is the dynamism of the ANTARSYA grouping in which the two strongest Greek revolutionary left organizations, the NAR and SEK are involved, as well as different groups such as OKDE-SPARTAKOS, the Greek section of the Fourth International, and individual members. We saw it throughout the mobilizations of spring, when ANTARSYA helped structure rank and file unions against the line of the GSEE confederation leadership. Big contingents on demonstrations, and an activist profile helped affirm ANTARSYA’s place, with its posters and slogans present in many regions. The second reason is a vote of radicalization in favour of the only list clearly stating the need for an anti-capitalist alternative to defeat the PASOK and troika policies. In the massive vote to the left of PASOK, the vote for ANTARSYA is a bearer of hope also because sectarianism has broken down: given that outside of SYRIZA and ANTARSYA, other far-left groups called for abstention, it is clear that the Antarsya lists benefited both from the votes of voters rejecting the evolution of Syriza and those young people closer to radical proposals.

Organizing the counter-offensive

The stakes emerging from this new situation are clear: ANTARSYA is now invested with new responsibilities, huge in relation to the urgency of the situation, but also if we take into account its small size and the fact that its process of constitution, work and co-operative debates remain recent. It is first and foremost about helping, despite the obstacles, the construction of a unitary and massive response to the policies of the bourgeoisie, making all the necessary proposals along the lines of a break with capitalism. Rejecting the payment of the debt, a ban on layoffs, defence and improvement of public services, these are some urgent axes, which involve extending cooperation well beyond ANTARSYA!

But another sector is of greatest urgency: on the basis of the achievements of the anti-racist battles, to organize the broadest unitary mobilization against racism and fascism, without delay. In Athens, a neo-Nazi group, Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) has for month organized violent campaigns against immigrants in some districts and at the municipal elections they got 10,000 votes (5.3%) with one representative elected. If electorally they have had no other successes, these practitioners of the fascist salute, enjoying a disturbing indulgence from the police, are attempting to implement their racist practices in several areas, and only an anti-racist mass mobilization can neutralise them.

Two indices of the possibilities of rapid development since the second round of the elections – the meeting hastily organised by Antarsya on November 16 with more than 1,000 highly motivated participants, and the next day, the commemoration of the massacre of students at the Athens Polytechnic by the military junta in 1973 – a 50,000 strong demonstration, with a lot of youth, and several tens of thousands in Thessalonika. Reviving the hope of being able to win by actually constructing together against the policies of poverty as the only way forward, that is the crucial issue for the weeks and months to come.

.-Tassos Anastassiadis is a member of the leadership of OKDE-Spartakos, Greek section of the Fourth International, which is part of the coalition of the anti-capitalist Left, Antarsya.

-Andreas Sartzekis is a member of the leadership of OKDE-Spartakos, Greek section of the Fourth International, which is part of the coalition of the anti-capitalist Left, Antarsya. 

Subcategories