- Category: Theory
- Created on Monday, 27 June 2011 06:24
- Written by tellnolies
In another discussion Zerohour commented:
The discussion of the difference between East and West was one of Gramsci’s important contributions. Apart from the differences in economic structures and in the levels of industrial, technological and cultural development, the point can be developed to make clear the differences between dictatorial and bourgeois democratic regimes—and this has important implications for the different mass struggles as they confront a dominant bourgeois class.
In democracies, the weight of the ideological apparatus, of the mass media, of common sense, of the illusions of the masses and the capacity of the ruling class to achieve hegemony, are fundamental. Dictatorial states, on the other hand, rest more on the use of force, on coercion and domination, yet even they need some level of consent and shared illusion, one expression of which is fear.
In bourgeois democracies there are many institutions, and so the capacity to convince, hegemony, has a greater weight. But this does not change the nature of the state—it is still bourgeois. And when consensus is not achieved, it strips the bourgeois state of the ability to be what it also is, a dictatorship of capital, so that the repression of the masses is then lived out equally in both regimes, albeit in different forms and with different intensity— although in bourgeois democratic regimes violence is widely and systematically used when the mechanisms of consensus and hegemony fail to function.
In confronting these situations there must be a response from trade unions and mass organisations. That much is obvious. But the question is what the purpose of that activity is. The issue is not whether or not we fight for spaces of struggle against hegemony, but rather that interests we intervene to support, and over which classes we wish and are able to establish hegemony, whether we seek class conciliation or ‘the rising of the widest layers of workers against the oligarchy of the exploiters’.
In dictatorships the struggle for the machinery of civil society is much more difficult, and these apparatuses are often less important in defining the correlation of class forces. This is because it is rigidly controlled by the regime, or because it is simply absent—in dictatorships even the institutions of parliament often do not exist. Yet there are always spaces, mechanisms which can be contested. In regimes of this kind the process of defeating them develops through a slow, clandestine accumulation of forces until they erupt in influential sectors, be it the student movement, in emerging organisations (as was the case of UNE, the Brazilian student union), in trade union or popular movements. It is not important which sector initiates the movement. In general, it takes on the character of a mass mobilisation after a long period of underground preparation driven by democratic demands—‘Down with the dictatorship’, ‘Down with the government’—which eventually alter the correlation of forces, finally undermining the dictatorial regime.
At first sight this appears to be a war of movement but, as always, it takes a combination to bring about an explosion—the rise of great struggles, the deepening of social contradictions. The social and political subjects of change win spaces, recover institutions and rebuild them, accumulate forces and thus stimulate in one way or another offensive actions. Although the possibilities are fewer, it is also a matter of occupying spaces to demonstrate, with examples, propaganda and actions, the incompatibility between the interests of the working classes, the poor and the repressive regime.
These mass mobilisations in dictatorial regimes are usually multiclass in character, and even include sectors of the bourgeoisie. Yet the bourgeoisie as a class is inconsistent even in the struggle for democratic demands—it does not want any kind of revolution at any price for fear that the masses might go on to demand more than merely changes in the forms of domination. Despite this fear, sections of the bourgeoisie do participate at points during the struggle for democracy, generally when those struggles are approaching their high point, and in order to keep them within the framework of the capitalist mode of production. In the democratic revolutions, therefore, the bourgeoisie can use its economic and social power to manoeuvre and divert the revolution, freezing it in its democratic stage. This understanding was one of the Trotskyist leader Nahuel Moreno’s important contributions to the strategic analysis.
To unleash a revolutionary offensive of this sort—that is, a democratic revolution—it does not matter whether or not a revolutionary party has an influence among the masses, let alone leads it, although history suggests that in practice that influence has always been key to the achievement of democratic demands. Nor is it necessary that there should exist at that stage organs of workers’ power like workers’ and peasants’ councils, centralised or not.
And that is the qualitative difference in comparison with revolution in bourgeois democratic countries, where going beyond bourgeois democracy implies a completely different movement. Here the construction of organs of workers’ power is definitive, even when the bourgeois regime is exhausted and its hegemony in crisis. Marx always argued that the revolution would begin in France, England or Germany, yet it began in Russia, and no successful socialist revolution has occurred thereafter in any bourgeois democracy. This should not make us sceptical of the project. There have been rehearsals—May 1968 in France, the Portuguese Revolution of 1974—and today we are witnessing deepening contradictions at the heart of the system.
The fact that insurrections in bourgeois democratic regimes have not succeeded, however, should lead us to reflect on the preconditions for their success. It is particularly worthwhile to look at the Latin American experience of bourgeois democratic regimes from the 1980s onwards, and to clarify the differences between them and the experience of Russia. This raises an important issue regarding the institutions—because only in the Russian Revolution of 1917 was an insurrection able to overcome a recently established bourgeois democracy. The first revolution which brought down Tsarism had at its disposal a revolutionary party and organs of mass mobilisation and self-determination, workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils.
What was peculiar about Russia was that a workers’ party was contesting the leadership of the revolutionary democratic struggle against Tsarism. Later, after February, it was able to assume the leadership of the whole process and drive forward a second revolution in the space of a single year. It was unique because the soviets already existed (having been created in 1905) and re-emerged at this time, and because there existed a revolutionary party with influence among the masses. So the victory of the democratic revolution, against a Tsarist regime which rested on the army and repression, could not be diverted by the liberal bourgeoisie in a direction that enabled them to build their own castles to replace the old ones. The soviets were already the main institutions, and the evolution of the internal struggle was decisive in shaping the new type of state.
The Russian experience was not repeated in the course of the collapse of the Latin American military regimes. In Brazil in 1984, for example, revolutionary pressure from below was combined with a self-reform from above which produced a negotiated transition and guarantees of civilian bourgeois domination. The repressive machinery of the previous regime was not even dismantled, though its role was much attenuated by the new constitution of 1988 which established a new legal order incorporating the popular democratic demands of the time. There were no mass organisations of any weight in the society, and the working class did not have an independent role, dissolving into the more general democratic movement. The bourgeoisie was able to set up its ‘new democracy’ and create an electoral process that was able to persuade the people that it was they who were determining the economic and political direction of the country.
A revolution began in Argentina in 1982. The military were literally driven out of power, which also explains why the military were unable to intervene in the crisis of December 2001. The fall of the military was not accompanied by the rise of soviet-type organisations, that is, organs of dual power. Nor did there exist any party with mass influence, although Argentinian Trotskyism was very influential among the vanguard. So the Argentinian democratic revolution of 1982, the Argentinian February we might call it, did not become the Argentinian October, when the workers eliminated the bourgeois state. The sector of the bourgeoisie that took power was then able to create its own machinery of control and its own means of deluding the masses.
The Argentinian example is in no sense unique. The whole of Latin America experienced similar processes—the fall of the dictatorships in the absence of alternative organs of power, and a ruling class that was ready to use the institutions of bourgeois democracy to divert the mass movement and freeze the revolutionary process at its democratic stage.
The exception, many years earlier, had been the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and, to a lesser degree, the Nicaraguan Revolution 20 years later. In neither case did there exist any organs of mass self-determination, yet in both cases there did exist a situation of dual power in which a guerrilla army confronted a dictatorship. In both cases there was a democratic revolution with the participation of the mass movement and, albeit reluctantly, some bourgeois sectors too. The bourgeois regimes were dismantled, and so too was the army and with it the bourgeois state, leaving room for the creation of a new type of state. This is what happened in Cuba. The US would not accept even minimal capitalist development, which drove the Castro regime to expropriate the bourgeoisie. In this way a new state was created, although one without mass democratic organisations. The deformations of Castro’s Cuba arise from this limitation as well as the criminal US economic blockade and the no less criminal Soviet foreign policy, which gave aid to Cuba in exchange for its moderation on the Latin American and world scene. In Nicaragua, of course, it was a different story. The Sandinistas did not expropriate the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeois state was rebuilt, albeit in a state of continuing crisis in which it remains today.
These were the experiences of struggle that began with democratic demands and revolutions against dictatorial regimes. In general there were no organisms of dual power and, when there were, they were not mass democratic organisations but guerrilla armies. Yet there were mass mobilisations against dictatorships and they were victorious because the mass democratic movement proved superior to a state based on a regime of fear and repression.
In bourgeois democratic regimes, however, the barricades and fortresses, to use Gramsci’s phrase, are much more powerful—bourgeois hegemony and domination are surrounded by a network of defences. To overcome electoralism and the illusion among the masses that parliament is the only means through which to express their political will, even when bourgeois democratic institutions themselves are falling apart, the decisive thing is to build alternative organs of power in the mass movement. Without them it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to overcome bourgeois domination even against the background of a hegemonic crisis of the bourgeois state. This largely explains the long period of bourgeois democracy that we have had in Latin America, although many of these regimes are now entering a period of crisis.
The process is a slow one. The bases of a different type of state are to be found in workers’ self-organisation, the factory committees, the organisations of the peasant movement like Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), the popular mass organisations like the MNLM in Brazil, which fights for the right to housing and against homelessness, in sum in the structures and superstructures of the movements of those at the bottom of the social scale. In Ecuador we have recently seen clear embryos of dual power with the emergence of the People’s Parliament, and similar developments in Bolivia, with the Cochabamba Coordinadora de Agua (Coordinating Committee against Water Privatisation), and in Argentina in the local popular assemblies.
The fact that the traditional leaders of the mass movement are often unhappy with these developments and often work to dismantle them is certainly one obstacle to the radical transformation of society, which is why the urgent task is to build a revolutionary party that does share those strategies. There is no need to fetishise any one form; they might be soviets or councils, cordones industrials like those which arose in Chile in 1972-73, Ecuadorean-style People’s Parliaments or Popular Assemblies like those that emerged in Peru, or indeed any of the new forms that the revolution itself will throw up.
What is decisive is that revolutionaries work within the workers’ movement, among the youth, in the popular and peasant organisations, on the basis of this permanent strategy—to organise from below, to work for unity among them all, and to patiently explain the need to build a new kind of order based on the continuing mobilisation of the masses and on their self-organisation.
NOTES 1: See A Gramsci and P Togliatti, ‘The Italian Situation and the Tasks of the PCI’ (Lyons Theses), in A Gramsci, Selections from the Political Writings, 1921-26 (London, 1979), pp464-513. 2: The translation differs slightly from that in A Gramsci and P Togliatti, as above, p605. 3: Available on www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1895/03/06.htm 4: Again the translation varies slightly from that available on www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/7thcong/01.htm 5: Available in a slightly different translation on amadlandawonye.wikispaces.com/ 1917,+Lenin,+Marxism+and+Insurrection 6: As above. 7: A Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings, 1910-20 (London, 1977), p188. 07gramsci 14/12/2005 1:24 pm Page 126