In his latest book, FT columnist and Keynesian guru Martin Wolf, starts from the premise that capitalism and democracy go together like a hand in a glove. But he is worried. “We are living in an age when economic failings have shaken faith in global capitalism. Some now argue that capitalism is better without democracy; others that democracy is better without capitalism.”
Nevertheless, in his book, Wolf claims that while “the marriage between capitalism and democracy has become fraught”, any “divorce would be an almost unimaginable calamity.” Despite the faltering steps of capitalism in the 21st century: slowing growth, increasing inequality, widespread popular disillusion, “democratic capitalism” as he calls it, “though inherently fragile, remains the best system we know for human flourishing.”
Wolf defines ‘democracy’ as “universal suffrage, representative democracy, free and fair elections; active participation of people, as citizens, in civic life; protection of the civil and human rights of all citizens equally; and a rule of law that binds all citizens equally.” By capitalism, “I mean an economy in which markets, competition, private economic initiative, and private property play central roles.”
Wolf reckons that “capitalism and democracy are complementary opposites: they need each other if either is to thrive.” And maybe he is right that a fascist autocracy to sustain capitalism and the owners of capital – a real possibility in the next decade or so – would be the last throw of the dice for capitalism, as it would be finally exposed as not as a ‘complement’ to democracy, not the mother of democracy, but its opposite and its destroyer.
No wonder he is worried, as in his previous books, he lauded the success of capitalist progress across the world. Now he says, “subsequent events have shown that this confidence was built on fragile foundations. Liberalized finance proved unstable. I realized this during the Asian financial crisis, as I explained in my book Why Globalization Works. But the concern became even more compelling after the global financial crisis and Great Recession of 2007–09, which were the focus of a subsequent book, The Shifts and the Shocks. Moreover, the world economy was generating destabilizing macroeconomic imbalances.”
Something has to be done, because for Wolf, there is a countdown to the end of ‘democratic capitalism’: “when we look closely at what is happening in our economies and our polities, we must recognize the need for substantial change if core Western values of freedom, democracy, and the Enlightenment are to survive.” But it seems that people don’t want his democratic capitalism. “Karl Polanyi argued that human beings would not long tolerate living under a truly free market system. Experience of the past four decades has vindicated this point of view.”
What concerns him most is the possibility of revolution. In the same way that the reactionary Edmund Burke of the 19th century condemned the French revolution, the aim now must be to avoid revolution because that leads to “destruction and despotism. Only unbridled power can deliver a revolutionary overthrow of the existing order. But unbridled power is by its nature destructive: it shatters the security on which productive human relations can be based and decent lives lived.”
Wolf is a believer in the benevolent development of democratic capitalism, when enlightened leaders transformed economies from serfdom to capitalism and from autocracy to democracy. But democracy was never the kind gift of capitalists. What democracy we have now had to be fought for against bitter opposition from the powers-that-be over centuries, fought by the many over the few. People had to fight to end slavery and the slave trade; they had to fight for the vote (the Chartists, the right of assembly; and to organize trade unions (Tolpuddle martyrs); and for the rule of law (against monarchies and dictators). Capitalism did not grant these things – they had to be wrested from the hands of capital. It was class struggle (“all previous history is the history of class struggle”) that achieved even these limited forms of democracy that some of us in the world now ‘enjoy’. Democracy and capitalism do not go together. Indeed when capitalism became imperialism in the late 19th century, there was no democracy for the billions in the colonial world (only vicious repression – Ireland, India, Vietnam etc).
Wolf does not want revolutions, but it was only through revolutions that people gained rights from the dead hand of capital. The American War of Independence freed the colonists from the autocratic control of the British state. The French revolution may have been bloody and eventually descended into dictatorship (Napoleon), but it also ended absolute monarchy, feudal rights and established some form of national assembly and the rule of law. Would that have happened through some process of gradual change by benevolent merchants and capitalists?
The same counterfactuals can be applied to the Russian and Chinese revolutions. If it had not taken place, would there eventually have been democracy in Russia or instead the continuation of absolutist Tsarism or some corrupt oligarchical autocracy (that Russia has now)? Without revolution, would China have peacefully moved out of Japanese occupation, foreign imperialist control and ‘warlordism’ towards a democratic government based on capitalism that would lead the Chinese out of poverty? Or did it require a Chinese state that abolished capitalism and planned the economy do that?
American capitalism is supposed to be the epitomy of democratic capitalism; certainly Wolf would argue that for the 20th century. And yet, American capital has fought against civil rights, trade unions and the taxation of the rich, equality before the law – and all this in the golden age of ‘democratic capitalism’. Wolf is now worried about the rise of Trumpism and populism threatening democracy. But he has nothing to say about ‘Bushism’ before that. Did American capitalism achieve democracy in its invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan? And when there was a democratically elected socialist government in Chile in the 1970s, did capitalism quietly accept democracy there or did it organize and support a brutal military coup that abolished all Wolf’s democratic criteria? Did global capital support the decades-long struggle against the apartheid regime of South Africa; or instead go along with the jailing and executions of black leaders fighting for democracy? Does democratic capitalism condemn the nightmare absolutist Saudi regime of unelected sheikhs who are waging a horrific war in Yemen; or does it support this media-murdering regime with weapons?
According to Wolf, the expansion of capitalism and the market economy globally has gone hand in hand with the rise of democracies globally.
And here he quotes Marx and Engels from the Communist Manifesto as predicting the success of capitalism back in the mid-19th century. “Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels understood this. In the Communist Manifesto, one of the most important documents of the nineteenth century, they described the emerging capitalist economy brilliantly.” I think this is why, at the launch of his book at the LSE, Wolf apparently said that: “You can’t be an intelligent social scientist unless you’re a Marxist”.
Of course, he was deliberately ignoring the other side of the capitalist coin that the Manifesto explained. With capitalist accumulation and growth came the intense exploitation of human labour. Capitalism emerged from previous modes of production, not through some benign expansion of democracy, but through the destruction of common land and enclosures forcing people into wage labour for capital; and by the suppression of indigenous peoples driving them into slavery and subjugation. Capitalism did not arise as a ‘complementary opposite’ with democracy but was built on capital accumulation facilitated by slavery: “the veiled slavery of the wage workers in Europe needed, for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world. . . capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. (Marx, Capital).
Wolf’s position is either naïve or just plain hypocrisy. He ignores the contradictions in his ‘complementary opposites’ of liberal democratic capitalism. Instead, he highlights that real enemy of democracy is not just Trumpism but “the rise of autocracy worldwide and, above all, by the apparent success of China’s despotic capitalism.”
And here comes Wolf’s almost desperate plea. Whereas in the 1990s, he was convinced overwhelmingly of the future as one of liberal democratic capitalism and backed the (in)famous statement of Francis Fukuyama that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was the ‘end of history’ “that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” But now it has all gone ‘pear-shaped’.
Why has it all gone wrong? It’s the economy, stupid! It seems that the capitalist economy is not such a success after all: “economic disappointment is one of the chief explanations for the rise of left- and right-wing populism in high-income democracies”. Now “many people in high-income countries condemn the global capitalism of the past three of four decades for these disappointing outcomes. Instead of delivering prosperity and steady progress, it has generated soaring inequality, dead-end jobs, and macroeconomic instability.”
Why is capitalism failing? Wolf first admits that the Golden Age period of the so-called Keynesian ‘mixed economy’, where the market could be ‘managed’ by wise governmental policies to avoid economic crises and market excesses, did not last. It was discredited by “the combination of high inflation with high unemployment” and government interference only made things worse by reducing the profitability of companies and slowing productivity.
Then in the neo-liberal period from the 1980s, inequality of incomes and wealth rose sharply and the financial sector began to take over, leading to a fall in productive investment and thus productivity growth and the rise of what Wolf calls ‘rentier capitalism’. So it’s all the fault of the switch from progressive productive industrial capital to fragile, unproductive financial capital: “the macroeconomic fragility plaguing high-income countries was largely due to the reliance on the financial system for generating demand.”
This rentier capitalism has many aspects: “financialization, corporate (mal-)governance, winner-take-all markets, rents from agglomeration, weaknesses of competition, tax avoidance and evasion, rent seeking, and the erosion of ethical standards.” Wolf gives us chapter and verse with a range of revealing graphs on rising inequality, falling productivity growth, the rise of the financial sector, the end of expanding global trade etc – what the IMF calls Slowbalization.
This malaise was especially exposed following the Great Recession of 2008-9 and the ten years afterwards before the pandemic slump – the period that I call the Long Depression. “The economies of the Western world are poorer than they imagined ten years ago. They must look forward to a long period of retrenchment.” Oh dear.
But these are symptoms not an explanation. Why did the ‘golden age’ capitalism of the 1960s give way first to ‘stagflation’ in the 1970s and then to falling productivity growth and a rentier economy in the last two decades of the 20th century? Wolf hints only that this “malaise is partly the outcome of profound and inescapable forces, especially the slowdown of productivity growth, unbalanced impact of new technologies, demographic changes and rise of emerging countries, especially China.” Wolf offers no proper explanation: the profitability of productive capital is not considered.
Capitalism is failing. So what to do? Well, we must save capitalism with a range of reforms. After all, as Branko Milanovic, formerly at the World Bank argues, capitalism is “alone”: it has won. “No other credible system for organizing production and exchange in a complex modern economy now exists.”
The alternative of democratic socialism with a planned economy run by workers organisations is both a nonsense, not possible and downright dangerous. “Almost nobody still argues in favor of a centrally planned economy without at least some reliance on market forces and private ownership of productive assets.” Democratic socialism is no alternative: it’s either ‘democratic liberal capitalism’ of the West or ‘autocratic political capitalism’ of the East. That is the only choice on the menu for humanity.
Those who “aspire to nothing less than anticapitalist revolution” have no chance of gaining power. And thank God. Because such a transformation “could only be implemented by a dictatorship, and a global dictatorship at that. No such regime is (happily) in prospect. This is at best unrealistic utopianism. At worst, it is yet another in a long succession of “progressive” calls for tyranny.” For Wolf, the idea of a socialist democracy is “a chimera, a will-o’-the-wisp”. Such a combination of economic and political power will end up, sooner or later, like the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro or the Soviet state. Even in China, “arbitrary state power makes all private property insecure and so threatens the market economy”. You see, “full socialism is inherently antidemocratic and anticompetitive. This is because, at bottom, it is yet another system in which political power and control over valuable resources are fused” – unlike capitalism, of course.
Having ruled out revolution and socialism as the answer to the failure of liberal democratic capitalism, Wolf unsurprisingly reverts to a Keynesian-style New Deal. In this ‘new’ New Deal, “what we need are societies that serve everybody, by offering opportunity, security, and prosperity. This is not what many high-income democracies now have.” Indeed! “But the key requirement is to be prepared to be quite radical (! MR), while thinking systematically, rigorously, and realistically. This is piecemeal social engineering in practice.” There we have it: radical.. but realistic ..piecemeal… social engineering.
What does this involve? “We need to make our democracies stronger, by reinforcing civic patriotism, improving governance, decentralizing government, and diminishing the role of money in politics. We must make government more accountable. We must have a media that supports democracy rather than destroying it. Only with such reforms is there any hope of restoring vigorous life to that delicate flower, democratic capitalism.” All this seems to me just as utopian as Wolf claims that democratic socialism is; and clearly inadequate in raising productivity growth, reducing inequality and raising incomes for the world’s people.
Although liberal democracy is threatened by a range of autocratic states (apparently, it’s not the other way round: namely the ‘democratic capitalism’ of the US and its allies threatening resistant ‘autocratic states’), we should avoid war with the likes of China and Russia (sorry about that last one). “The relationship with China must be one of cooperation, competition, coexistence, and confrontation, but not, we must hope, of open conflict, let alone of armed conflict. That would be a catastrophe.” Tell that to the strategists of democratic capitalism in America and Europe.
Wolf ends his long essay with a deal of pessimism on the prospects of his New Deal happening. “Alas, as I write these last paragraphs in the winter of 2022, I find myself doubting whether the US will still be a functioning democracy by the end of the decade. If US democracy collapses, what future can there be for the grand idea of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”?” That grand idea has long gone in the US already. And it has no future under capitalism in the 21st century.
46 thoughts on “The crisis of democratic capitalism”
Wolf’s argument is not worthy of serious examination. What is interesting about his case, which I think is worthy of exposition here, is the difference between the conceptions of “intellectual” in Marxism and the extant rest of the present day.
There is, in the 21st Century, two antagonist conceptions of intellectual: the Marxist one and the Neoliberal one. Of the two, the Neoliberal one is by far the most dominant, and is the one used in our present-day, and inhabits the common sense of the average person in the world. As such, it is also the definition that is borrowed by other adjacent ideologies (far-right, center-left etc.), either for or against it. The Marxist conception of intellectual only survives nowadays in the Marxist-Leninist nations, i.e. mainly China and a bunch of other minor countries, the reason for that being very simple: it was essentially formalized by Lenin. The Neoliberal concept of intellectual was formalized by an obscure and fringe academician called Friedrich August von Hayek (from hereon, Hayek), who was retconned and canonized at the end of his life after Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1978.
In an article published in 1949 (I’m here using the version of the Mises Institute, so that no far-rightist can accuse me of using an adulterated version of the article) titled “Intellecuals and Socialism”, Hayek tries to explain why most of what he calls intellectuals of his time were socialists and not liberals. His explanation is that intellectual is not the most enlightened and intelligent persons, but a specific faction of the middle class made of second-rate intellects whose main role in society is to brainwash the masses with an impossible ideal which he called “utopia”.
In this class of intellectuals, Hayek didn’t only include professors, but also teachers and other respectable white collar professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, among others. He separates the intellectuals from the truly intelligent people, which he called something like the original thinkers, true scientists and, most importantly, the “practical men”, that is, some capitalists and all of the businessmen, among other liberal politicians. His main line of defense was that the liberals made the minority of the intellectuals because most of them were “practical men”, people who actively worked to make the world function, instead of the snake oil (utopia) salesmen that made the intellectual (i.e. socialist) class.
All of this could be interpreted as some random rant by a disgruntled and lonely liberal intellectual from the 1940s. But, at the end of the article, Hayek has an epiphany: he doesn’t preach for the elimination of the intellectual class; instead, he calls for liberalism to develop an utopian version of itself, so that it can compete with socialism in the universities, the doctor’s office, the cafeteria etc. In other words, he calls for the creation of a liberal intellectual class, i.e. a liberal utopia.
The postulation of a liberal utopia is very informative to us mainly for two reasons:
1) Hayek is clearly defending class society in general in opposition to classless society in general (i.e. socialism and communism): for him, knowledge and critical thinking should be a privilege and not a right. It should be carefully kept to the upper classes, and trickle down selectively to an inferior class (the intellectuals), who will serve as de facto sophisticated propagandists to the base of the social pyramid (the working classes). That is, knowledge should never be universal;
2) Unconsciously, he discovered a force that is stronger than hope: false hope. He (again, unconsciously) realized that the important thing about any social system is not its capacity to give prosperity for all (because, according to point #1, it is a given it is impossible), but its capacity to make the masses believe it can do so, even if in an indefinite future, and that every other alternative is worse. This is the true meaning of Utopia.
For those who don’t know, the Marxist (“Leninist”) concept of “intellectual” is the polar opposite: according to Lenin, the vanguard is merely a temporary device to trigger the communist revolution and install the dictatorship of the proletariat. After socialism is firmly established, the vanguard should gradually disappear, alongside the State (Leviathan). At this stage, knowledge and critical thinking should be universal, to the point where “every cook must learn to govern the state”.
“But, at the end of the article, Hayek has an epiphany: he doesn’t preach for the elimination of the intellectual class; instead, he calls for liberalism to develop an utopian version of itself, so that it can compete with socialism in the universities, the doctor’s office, the cafeteria etc. In other words, he calls for the creation of a liberal intellectual class, i.e. a liberal utopia.”
Amusingly, Marx himself thought capitalism was shoving blindly towards its own brand of utopia.
“…Then it turns out that, assuming the rate of surplus value, i.e. the exploitation of labour, as equal, the production of value and therefore the production of surplus value and therefore the rate of profit are different in different branches of production. But from these varying rates of profit a mean or general rate of profit is formed by competition. This rate of profit, expressed absolutely, can be nothing but the surplus value produced (annually) by the capitalist class in relation to the total of social capital advanced. E.g., if the social capital = 400c+100v, and the surplus value annually produced by it = 100m, the composition of the social capital = 80c+20v, and that of the product (in percentages) = 80c+20v | +20m = 20% rate of profit. This is the general rate of profit.
**What the competition among the various masses of capital — invested in different spheres of production and differently composed — is striving for is capitalist communism, namely that the mass of capital employed in each sphere of production should get a fractional part of the total surplus value proportionate to the part of the total social capital that it forms.**”
You know… I’ll admit to being a Utopian.
I fully agree with Wolf that democratic socialism (sortition, cybernetic planning guided by broad goals popularly decided, the replacement of money by labour tokens or some similar arrangement etc.) is not gonna happen. Not in China, not anywhere, because I think environmental collapse will come first, with war and widespread suffering in tow.
I am also acutely aware that Wolf has a point when he says that revolution requires unbridled power, and then Lord Acton and his “corrupts absolutely” still have the last word. Because revolution requires the active, directed dismantling of the underlying structures that prop up the state, they’re violent affairs in general, and they require a vanguard (historically a party). However, that vanguard would have to be enlightened to an extent that they would plant the seeds of their own replacement by people’s power as soon as the transition was over, and that would have to be quick: I agree with the gist of it when Paul Cockshott says that any leadership serious about socialism must have a deadline of no more than ten years. I’ve never seen a vanguard so willing to relinquish their power. I don’t believe it has to do with “human nature”, which I think is far more malleable than some people say it is; but it would require an extremely strong-willed vanguard, willing to learn from the mistakes of previous attempts, and who would build in a mechanism for gradual, quick replacement of centralised power from below. Something like “in five years, we’ll start sortition to select representatives for local government; in ten, for provincial government; in 15, for the national congress; by then all money will have been replaced and we’ll stick to this roadmap come hell or high water”. That would have to be decided on quickly and trumpeted from the top of buildings so as to create a popular expectation that it would happen, and make it a fait accompli before the vanguard could change their own mind. Otherwise, an intelligentsia with separate class interests from the productive sector workers’ will eventually rise, as it did in the SU and looks well in the way of rising in China.
(I think it was Engels who remarked that revolution is a messy affair and requires armed power, decades before Mao would say it’s born out of the barrel of a gun.)
So why am I here? Because I’m a trained scientist and I believe even in social science we need to bow to the facts. Marxism is scientific – I see none of the intellectual barrenness in it that I see in special pleading hypocrites like Wolf. So I feel compelled to accept its truth. But that doesn’t mean I think it will ultimately prevail. And just like trying to ignore relativity and rely on Newtonian mechanics for establishing a GPS network would lead to disastrous results, ignoring the contradictions of capitalism and the need for socialism WILL (not “would”) lead to disaster.
The LTV follows from observation, to the point it was first proposed by a scholar in the Islamic Golden Age. (I learned this here.)
The LTRPF is just the economic formulation of the Law of Diminishing Returns, which is pretty much self-evident in complexity theory.
The idea that man is a universal tool on average – that is, skill variation is small enough that any society has at its disposal enough human potential to ensure its reproduction and development – is one of the most maliciously misrepresented truths of Marxism. It simply states that if Botswana has fewer precision machinery engineers than Switzerland, that has nothing to do with the intelligence of Botswanans or the Swiss, but to purely economic contingencies. Should it apply itself to it, the Botswanan state could train all the engineers it needed. Therefore, Marxism doesn’t deny inter-individual skill variation: it merely states that it can be diluted across the population by training. It doesn’t state we’re all equal, but that all members of a society have a role to play in ensuring its progress.
The pillars of Marxism have the power of compelling consistency. The problem is that contrarily to the transitions from feudalism to capitalism, and before from slave economies to feudalism, there’s no clear path between capitalism and socialism. We see scenarios like that in hard science, like protein folding solutions in Biophysics: sometimes a protein gets stuck in a suboptimal folding state and cannot overcome the energetic barrier to reach the optimal state. In the case of societies, I think the previous transitions were possible because they all relied on the replacement of an elite by another, so top-down power structures were preserved. But socialism has a very high barrier to overcome: it needs to use a vanguard to replace the previous elite, without its becoming an elite itself. We don’t have a historical precedent to use as roadmap, and the situation itself is in a way a reversal to tribal communism, but in a complex society. That’s one tough nut to crack, and critics of Marxism point to it as if it were a weakness of the theory, but it’s not. Theories normally have very little to say about transitions that is certain, because these are inherently chaotic. It doesn’t follow that, because Marxism has been unable to chart a transition to socialism or communism, its description of the problems with capitalism is wrong, or that we should stop trying. Even Marxists who concern themselves with how a socialist society would look like (Cockshott, Hahnel etc.), and test all sorts of solutions to implement aspects of it, don’t say much about how to get there from here. But there’s nothing wrong with that. The SU, Cuba, North Korea and China are as instructive about what works and what doesn’t in socialism as Haiti, the US, Japan and Brazil are about capitalism.
So yes, Wolf got it right that capitalism has won. And that is a tragedy. Reading this blog and other Marxist sources helps me cope with what is coming. And that has to count for something.
Once upon a time, there was an English economist called William Stanley Jevons (from hereon, Jevons).
Jevons developed a theory of capitalist crises in order to oppose Marx’s theory. Not gonna bother you with the details and the drama, but, long story short, he came up with a cyclical theory of crisis that was associated with the solar cycles. That’s an excellent theory if one is a liberal or pro-capitalist, because who is crazy enough to declare war against the Sun?
Moral of the story is: it is easy to postulate the end of something or the impossibility of something ever happening on the tautology that everything dies. If you really want to come up with a scientific theory of something, you have to give it prediction capacity based on a given set of explanations of causes and effects. Just telling people capitalism is gonna die because the human species itself is gonna die because of some inevitable ecological disasters does not cut it.
Nobody said that the human species is gonna die, that’s a straw man. The evidence from climatology and ancillary sciences is that the tipping points will have been crossed long before socialism gains traction (because some have already, according to the latest assessments), and thus our civilisation will have its technical progress severely halted by war, mass human migrations, famine and war.
Like Sabine Hossenfelder said in a recent video, the climate crisis is self-correcting: the very wars and infrastructure destruction that will ensue will result in a dramatic drop in emissions, so over 200, 300 years greenhouse gases will fall again. After that, maybe socialism will have a chance, even more so because it’s a homeostatic system, contrarily to capitalism, and thus the best one to cope with instability. In fact, sometimes I wonder whether socialist parties shouldn’t start being bluntly honest about how gruelling the next decades will be, and to advertise themselves as the parties of resilience, the only ones who won’t let the market and profiteering get in the way of ensuring their respective nations will literally weather the coming storms. Maybe that would cut it with the electorate, but seeing the levels of climate crisis scepticism in key countries like the US, I reserve the right to have my doubts.
Marx idea that “all members of a society have a role to play in ensuring its progress” still presupposes a measure of equality that is unattainable without very strict selection, even eugenics of humans. Even then, there is the problem how to organize production over 8G human beings without some kind of authority higher up and the flexibility of the market. Who likes to discuss this further can mail victor[dot]onrust [-a-t-] 2fd[dot]nl
It is likely that a long war in Ukraine, followed immediately by a similar proxy war against China, will rekindle economic activity under state auspices in the West. This activity will focus on the production of armaments and munitions, to be shipped to Ukraine and Taiwan. If these conflicts can be managed to last long, and if the affected peoples of Europe and Taiwan/Japan respectively are prepared to sacrifice themselves willingly, then we have a recipe for prolonging capitalism for a few more decades.
Indeed, a war mentality is ideally suited to terrify large populations and distract people from what should concern them, i.e. the complete vacuity of their lives and their descent into a pure survival mode.
Capitalism cannot rule society without its mass base. If its mass base is the petty bourgeoisie, it is democratic capitalism. If its mass base is the industrial working class, it is monopolistic capitalism. In fact, today, the entire main production of society is in the hands of the working class. The petty bourgeoisie has almost lost its role as a main player in the economy, they gradually become redundant people, standing on the sidelines of production. Therefore, the erosion of democratic capitalism is inevitable. The reason capitalism is still rulling is because the consciousness of the working class is still being led by the bourgeoisie. Both the working class and the bourgeoisie agree on one point, that the goal of production is for individual consumption (social consumption or public investment is still individual consumption). The welfare state model is the manifestation of this social consciousness. Only when the working class realizes that the goal of production is for the sake of production itself, that production today is so that it can continue to produce tomorrow, can there be real socialism.
Wolf’s work should be clearly seen and understood as propaganda for the ruling-class and its defense. How else to explain his hand-wringing over what to do in the coming years?
Any social scientist with a clear view of history’s long-arc understands that Fascism was created/used by capitalism to concentrate its power and suppress the ascent of the working-class.
It’s no coincidence that Fascism’s rise occurred following the Bolshevik revolution and the creation of the first workers State: the USSR.
W.R Hearst employed Benito Mussolini as a columnist for his newsprint empire; Ford was admired by the Nazi regime and bestowed their Grand Cross; IBM (under its subsidiary Dehomag) aided in the round-up and systematic massacre of Jews during WWII.
Anyone defending this system in its various forms is on the wrong side of history…
Keynesian capitalism would be the best version of capitalism, but it would require a government inclined to and capable of regulating and taxing private economic actors.
But ‘free market competition’ consists of big fish constantly eating little fish, resulting in a relative handful of whales and sharks whose economic power allows them to capture and control the political and regulatory process.
I am not sure whether by design, or because you are merely responding to the books, articles and outbursts of the bourgeoisie, but what ever the reason keep going, because a theme is emerging – the growing ideological crisis within the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia. This crisis has one uncertainty and one certainty. The uncertainty is how to heal capitalism which they sense is fundamentally challenged. The certainty is that any alternative to capitalism would be undemocratic based on the prevailing view of the USSR and China. I endorse your claim that the extension of bourgeois democracy to the whole of society was the result of the struggle by workers, but the question is posed why capitalism contained the democratic kernel of democracy in the first place. This can be answered by reference to the nature of commodity production. Thus the right to assemble corresponds to the right to set up markets in which to freely sell commodities. The right of movement to the right to trade. The freedom of speech and its regulation to the non-fraudulent promotion and marketing of goods. Political equality, that neither the buyer nor the seller may have the advantage in the exchange. And finally by extension, the right of the owners of that special commodity, labour power, to freely sell and withdraw their labouring and exact a fair price. The reason for this materialist approach to bourgeois democracy is that we must apply the same approach to workers’ democracy to show that it flows out of collective property and communal production, in short the new production relations.
This was my intention when I wrote the Draft 21st Century Programme which adopts a pedagogical approach to the Critique of the Gotha Programme and overlays it with the lessons drawn from the failure and tragedy of the USSR. By setting out these rights, and by describing the political content, rather than the structure of the workers’ state, it shows that communism from a materialist perspective, represents the fullest realisation of democracy due to it being all embracing and empowering. http://theplanningmotive.com/latest-version-21st-century-draft-programme/
On a more mundane note. Your second graph which I presume is based on NIPA Table 6.16D should exclude Federal Reserve Banks included in the financial sector which gives it a boost. I am of the opinion that despite being a private company, the FED is actually part of the state, whose role particularly post 2009 has grown with Quantitative Easing. Once excluded the share of financial profits is about 20%. In addition the rise and fall in the share of financial profits has more to do with the rise and fall of non-financial profits rather than the growth in financial profits per se, as in absolute terms the size of non-financial profits is 4 times larger.
May I conclude on this note. The ideological struggle is the overture to revolution. Who wins prevails. We need to make out propaganda more attractive, more objective, in order to provide a living alternative to this capitalist swamp. So Michael set up a forum please. I have been on a number of sites which are uniformly boring, disconnected to the class struggle and introspective.
Re “The crisis of democratic capitalism”
The title is already an oxymoron. And it continues from there on forward with the whitewash of reality.
Any alleged expert who talks about “democracies” AS IF a real democracy ACTUALLY EXISTS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD (or has existed at any time) is evidently living mindlessly and blindly in the propaganda world fed to them since a kid and/or is part of the (unconscious, ignorant, naive, willful) crowd who disseminates this total lie because any “democracy” has always been a covert structure of the rule of a few over the many operating behind the pretense name and facade of a “democracy”— see “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” … https://www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html
“All experts serve the state and the media and only in that way do they achieve their status. Every expert follows his master, for all former possibilities for independence have been gradually reduced to nil by present society’s mode of organization. The most useful expert, of course, is the one who can lie. With their different motives, those who need experts are falsifiers and fools. Whenever individuals lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert is there to offer an absolute reassurance.” —Guy Debord
“As if real democracy exists…or has existed at any time….”Pat L …your skepticism may be a bit too pat.
Pre-civilization matrilineal social orders were naturally democratic. Both William Morris and Frederic Engels (and ,no doubt, Marx) recognized that socialist revolutions must not only overthrow capitalism, but hierarchal “civilization” itself: social orders ruled patriarchal hierarchies….whose overthrow would free women to restablish their natural, critical, role in the production and reproduction of social orders.
I agree that ‘democratic capitalism’ is an oxymoron.
You say however that ‘real’ democracy has never existed, a claim that implies that you know what it is.
In that case you need to describe it to justify your ‘intellectual’ sneering at the ‘crowd’ who you deem ‘‘unconscious, ignorant, naive, willful’. I look forward with interest to your elucidation.
“Democratic capitalism” is an oxymoron.
Capitalism is the product of ever evolving primal accumulation of privatized, profitable expropriated land and uprooted enslaved or super-exploited workers, first in the hybrid aristocratic/bourgeois nation states of Europe, and then, taking the genocidal, conquistador form in Spanish and Portugese America. Even the pious pilgrim leaders in New England behaved much like the pious conquistadors in Brasil…as did pious US capitalists and their mercenaries in Vietnam and Iraq….and Ukraine.
We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both. — Louis D. Brandeis Quotes<https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/louis-d-brandeis-quotes#:~:text=If%20we%20desire%20respect%20for,first%20make%20the%20law%20respectable.&text=We%20can%20have%20democracy%20in,we%20can't%20have%20both.&text=Most%20of%20the%20things%20worth,impossible%20before%20they%20were%20done.> ________________________________
Not for the first time I point out on this blog that there is no such entity as ‘bourgeois, representative democracy’! The fact of being permitted by the state every few years to cast a ballot does not constitute the exercise of power. Madison,in the Federalist Papers No X, clearly explained that the US was not going to be a democracy but a ‘representative’ Republic where citizens would be permitted to elect their ‘representatives’! But as Aristotle pointed out a very long time ago elections are the mark of an oligarchy, for the rich will normally always win thanks to their superior wealth.
As for the UK, we are taught in school that democracy wa introduced in the 19th century. Note the use of the passive voice that allows the elision of the agent of such introduction, in whom real power resides; for those who introduce it can also abolish it.
In any case, democracy originally meant the rule of those without resources i.e. the poor, those who had to work. Why anyone would designate oligarchic despotisms like the US or UK as any kind of democracy defies belief!
The deme was not an arbitrary clot of propertyless people. The deme was a geographical district that ignored family/tribal affiliations. The deme was an assertion that people who lived in the same area were part of the same community and in everyday life that was just as or maybe more important than common descent (especially if the tribal founder was largely mythical.) The deme like the democracy it gave its name too never counted everyone as part of it, just as Wolf doesn’t count everyone as a citizen.
The relationship between the franchise and property in ancient democracy was always strong, but the relationship between the franchise and military service has always been stronger, though. The overlap lies in the role of property in purchasing weapons. That’s why those who could afford horses ranked higher than those who could only afford armor…and those who couldn’t afford armor had even less claim to a franchise. One secret of Athenian democracy is that the higher skills required for naval power, as well as the value of unarmored sailors (rowers too,) was perceived to justify the franchise for them. The Senatorial class in the Roman Republic should perhaps be seen as those rich enough to outfit not just themselves but others as well.
And the connection between democracy and military service is that it is a kind of class collaboration aimed at defending property, not just against the propertyless within the state, but against other states. Which means of course, conquest of the property in those enemy states. Democracy and empire are not enemies, they are means and ends. That’s why the revolutionary US was both a democracy and the conqueror of indigenous lands, why the French Republic was also the French Empire. Cromwell conquered in Ireland too and the republican Dutch Sea Beggars conquered what is now Indonesia.
And that is also why mere political reforms like sortition are not magic. The redistribution of property cannot be effected by consensus. Adding the requirement that it be formally legal, which effectively means non-violent, is a way to rule it out any such depraved revolution. Further, the effective rule by the majority of production is not clearly addressed by such political gimmicks. There are innumerable excuses made for this or that feature of the status quo on grounds of necessity, but at some point there really are objective requirements for consistency. Recall of officials can’t mean the state stops building roads and bridges according to the latest polls. Plans that aren’t commitments are meaningless paper, but a state that can’t carry out the will of the majority is only a democracy in the bourgeois sense.
This is like a first class passenger of the titanic, sitting in a lifeboat while the ship goes down and people drown all around him, saying, “they need to build another ship, exactly like this one, only it doesn’t sink.”
Ok, it may not be a perfect metaphor, but you get the idea…
This will not do. We defend bourgeois democracy as a tactic. The right to assemble, jury trial, the freedom to disseminate ideas, etc all binds the hand of the capitalist. None of you have lived under a state of emergency where the rule of law is suspended unfettering the hand of the capitalist. I have and I can tell you there is a brutal difference.
“We defend bourgeois democracy as a tactic. The right to assemble, jury trial, the freedom to disseminate ideas, etc all binds the hand of the capitalist. None of you have lived under a state of emergency where the rule of law is suspended unfettering the hand of the capitalist. I have and I can tell you there is a brutal difference.”
That’s not the tactic revolutionists employed. We defend a revolution, the working class, against assaults. Bourgeois democracy proves itself not only unable to contain such assaults but actually generates the conditions that give birth to assaults.
This isn’t the 19th century and even back then, when faced with the slaveholder’s rebellion, “bourgeois democracy” was relieved of its duties.
We didn’t defend bourgeois democracy in Chile against Pinochet, just as we did not support the UP government of Allende that 1) sought to disempower the cordones when the cordones alone had exerted the force able to break the bourgeoisie’s general strike 2)actually promoted Pinochet to command of the army 3) refused to suppress the Christian Democrats and the legislature which was openly calling for a military coup.
Some supported the UP government from1970-73 which believed firmly and fatally in bourgeois democracy, to the degree that they sacrificed the workers revolution to that totem.
Defending bourgeois democracy didn’t work in Spain 1936-1939; not in France under the popular front government; not in Chile 1973; nor in Argentina after the death of Peron. Doesn’t work period. The Bolsheviks, whom so many seem to admire, knew that, at least they practiced that when Kornilov threatened Petrograd under the rule of Kerensky. There and then no orders of the Kerensky govt were to be acted upon without approval of the soviet, and the soviets organized the defense of the city under the banner of all power to the soviets; not “defend bourgeois democracy.”
Thought you would misrepresent what I was saying. I did not say we defend bourgeois democracy as an end in itself. The word tactic is short term, an interem step. The capitalists recognise that rule by consent requires democratic trappings, which is why they accept restraints on their powers. When they recognise that rule by consent (the most effective form of class rule) is no longer possible because of the level of class struggle they will abandon or suppress democracy. So Anti at that point will you be agnostic, or through defending democratic gains will you help develop the revolution as the Bolsheviks did in the face of the Kornilov attempted coup, making possible the October revolution. In the face of a coup a united front will be needed to defend whatever democracy remains, the course of which will be determined by reformist leaders arguing for a return to the old ways or revolutionaries arguing for a new way, a society free of an oppresive class. In the meantime we use the democratic means open to us to spread our ideas and organise without losing sight of the fact that in time such activities may have to be conducted in secret..
Tactic is supposed to be part of strategy which itself is based on a social program. I distorted nothing. You defend “bourgeois democracy” tactically? What does that mean in practice? How do you defend bourgeois democracy tactically when your strategy and program is the overthrow of bourgeois democracy? When bourgeois democracy becomes obsolete even for its own class. Do you call for Pinochet to “submit” to civilian authority and respect the constitution of Chile? Or do you seek to mobilize the working class independent of the INSTITUTIONS of bourgeois democracy and through their own organizations like the cordones or soviets? And if the latter, what’s your program? Protect freedom of assembly? Nonsense.
I knew you would distort the actual meaning of the events surrounding the mobilization against Kornilov. What was the strategy and program of the Bolsheviks? Since April, it had been “ALL POWER to the SOVIETS.” That’s the tactic they deployed against Kornilov. Nothing was to be acted upon without authorization of the soviets. The struggle was not one to protect bourgeois democracy. Neither was the tactic.
To amplify a bit more on ucbp’s tactical defense of bourgeois democracy:
He says: ” In the meantime we use the democratic means open to us to spread our ideas and organise without losing sight of the fact that in time such activities may have to be conducted in secret..”
Of course we utilize the channels that bourgeois society offers us. We utilize all means, but bourgeois democracy is just a means and there is no reason to a) counterpose those means to “secret”means b)nor confuse our struggle for a new mode of production and a new ruling class with the ideology an institutions of bourgeois democracy.
UCBP: “The capitalists recognise that rule by consent requires democratic trappings, which is why they accept restraints on their powers. When they recognise that rule by consent (the most effective form of class rule) is no longer possible because of the level of class struggle they will abandon or suppress democracy”
Restraints on their power? “They” the ruling class use the trappings of democracy for the same reasons they use anything else. It secures their rule. It allows for expansion of markets. It is perfectly compatible with the use of force when it becomes necessary to suppress the threats to their property. The notions and “ideals” of bourgeois democracy don’t exist separate and apart from the institutions that secure that property. You don’t get bourgeois democracy without a bourgeois democratic police force; a bourgeois democratic military; a bourgeois-democratic penal code. You think you can advocate for one without the other? Not really. Such an effort merely disorients the class seeking its way to power. As a defensive maneuver, it’s worse than worthless.
The bourgeoisie abandon and suppress “democracy” daily, hourly. When the elements of that suppression , official and unofficial “blowback” on the bourgeoisie themselves, that’s the cost to that CLASS of running their businesses. They write it off in a second, like they write off their former club members who get caught in the waves of reaction.
If UCBP serious about a tactic of defending bourgeois democracy, he would propose a constitutional convention to decide matters. We know that can’t work. It takes class organs, articulating a class program to protect a class facing assault
What you call ‘bourgeois democracy is moderate oligarchy, which channels class struggle into pacific waters. Instead, we should be raising the banner of down with oligarchy; long live democracy e.g. all major laws to be put to referenda; abolition of judges, increase in size of juries.
”We defend bourgeois democracy as a tactic. The right to assemble, jury trial, the freedom to disseminate ideas, etc all binds the hand of the capitalist” Frankly, this is propagating bourgeois ideology. In capitalist society one has no rights; only what concessions the state decides to grant depending upon the current situation of class struggle. As for binding the hands of the capitalist, when and where were such hands ever bound?? let us consider the matter historically. Between 1815 and 1845 violent class struggle raged in Britain. Thereafter it moderated. Why? Some argue because of rising standards of living. But these were very limited. I suggest rather that following Aristotle’s prescriptions the ruling oligarchy introduced moderate reforms: extending the franchise and legalising trade unions. This channelled class struggle into pacific waters, for it was argued that socialism could be attained by building up the trade union movement and electing left-wing MP’s. So here we are 180 years later! As G.B. Shaw quipped, ”soon somebody will be advocating votes for dogs!” At the Glasgow Climate Change Conference of 2021 the Police kettled the communist and anarchist marchers. New legislation allows the police to prohibit a demonstration on the grounds of being too noisy! Time to advocate real democracy. Citizens are beginning to recognise that politicians are only too unrepresentative. in the UK most of the leading ones went to Oxbridge. Representative, did you say?
What is your point. a) we merely observe, b) we use it propagandistically to prove bourgeois democracy is a charade or c) do we join the fight to defend these rights which acts as the incubator for class struggle.
“Wolf defines ‘democracy’ as “universal suffrage, representative democracy, free and fair elections; active participation of people, as citizens, in civic life … “
Participation in civic life should be expressed by regular and frequent voting, not just to elect representatives, but also to decide policy.
For example, voters could determine the central bank prime rate via periodic polling. It’s a simple function – up, down, or unchanged. The public knows that there’s no free lunch, and they’d quickly see the effects of their choices. No need to leave it to supposedly disinterested experts.
“Liberal democracy” is code for tyranny at work (as well as in the prisons where the rulers dump their surplus population), democracy in the voting booth, surveillance and ideological propagandization everywhere else. And of course the capitalist class and their state hegemon hold the ultimate “trump card’s” just in case “democracy” happens to work in favor of the working people in the form of capital strikes, not to mention more violent alternatives reserved for rebellious Third World neo-colonies.
“… capitalism, as it would be finally exposed as not as a ‘complement’ to democracy, not the mother of democracy, but its opposite and its destroyer.” Democracy is notorious for having long predated capitalism, being traced back to Athens and the Roman Republic. Not so notorious is the role of expropriation of Church property in the transition to capitalism, but that most assuredly was not democratic in the modern sense. But Wolf clearly sees democracy and autocracy as opposites. This is the traditional view. The notion democracy, a political form adaptable to different forms of class society, is therefore the required form for the abolition of classes does not clearly follow.
“Karl Polanyi argued that human beings would not long tolerate living under a truly free market system. Experience of the past four decades has vindicated this point of view.” In a truly free market society, everything would be for sale. Wolf may be happy to install a credit card reader by his wife’s bed, but this way of life seems dystopian and Wolf’s regret that people aren’t up to snuff is inexplicable.
“Indeed when capitalism became imperialism in the late 19th century, there was no democracy for the billions in the colonial world (only vicious repression – Ireland, India, Vietnam etc).” Imperialism as a phase of monopoly capitalism, the Leninist definition, yes. But imperialism as the conquest of foreign countries long predates capitalism. And imperialism as a phase of primitive accumulation goes back to the origins of capitalism in the late fifteenth/early sixteenth century.
Counterfactual questions: “Would that have happened through some process of gradual change by benevolent merchants and capitalists?….would there eventually have been democracy in Russia or instead the continuation of absolutist Tsarism or some corrupt oligarchical autocracy (that Russia has now)? Without revolution, would China have peacefully moved out of Japanese occupation, foreign imperialist control and ‘warlordism’ towards a democratic government based on capitalism that would lead the Chinese out of poverty? Or did it require a Chinese state that abolished capitalism and planned the economy do that?”
And the counterfactual answers: Yes, the survival of the King and Mirabeau and Lafayette’s triumph and the very early deaths of Marat and Robespierre would have produced a sound democracy, like the Glorious Revolution in England. And the continued existence of the Provisional Government and the promulgation of the Constituent Assembly would have produced a Russian Republic that would have escaped Stalin’s mass murders, so much worse than Hitler’s. And mainland China would have had the same glorious success as the Guomindang blessed Taiwan and England blessed Hong Kong with. And no, China was much worse off than every other colonial country in the world because of Mao’s atrocities, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution…and thank God for Deng saving China with capitalism. I think these counterfactual answers are ideological but these are presumptions held by most people, including Wolf.
“the rise of autocracy worldwide and, above all, by the apparent success of China’s despotic capitalism.”
The weasel wording of “apparent” success is sophistry unworthy of a serious thinker, which Wolf isn’t The belief that capitalism can be successful depends largely on misreading the PRC as capitalist, but if you think it is, then how can anyone dismiss Wolf’s categorial presumption in favor of capitalism? The lack of coherence in Wolf’s notion of despotism is tactically necessary but leaves all arguments vacuous, by the way.
” ‘Almost nobody still argues in favor of a centrally planned economy without at least some reliance on market forces and private ownership of productive assets.’ Democratic socialism is no alternative: it’s either ‘democratic liberal capitalism’ of the West or ‘autocratic political capitalism’ of the East…” This is a species of piety. No one argues for atheism, therefore the choice is between a Protestant church or the Pope, so to speak.
“Even in China, ‘arbitrary state power makes all private property insecure and so threatens the market economy’. You see, ‘full socialism is inherently antidemocratic and anticompetitive. This is because, at bottom, it is yet another system in which political power and control over valuable resources are fused’ – unlike capitalism, of course.” In capitalism of course the political power defends the private property in the means of production held by the ruling class, even if Wolf wants to think the laws of nature are the foundation of capitalism. But Wolf inadvertently here explains precisely why the PRC is not yet a capitalist state. Wolf is quite sensible in not fearing the threat of bourgeois democracy to property. The whole point of democracy is to make sure that property is safe.
“We need to make our democracies stronger, by reinforcing civic patriotism, improving governance, decentralizing government, and diminishing the role of money in politics. We must make government more accountable. We must have a media that supports democracy rather than destroying it. Only with such reforms is there any hope of restoring vigorous life to that delicate flower, democratic capitalism.”
Civic patriotism means the willingness of the lower orders to accept sacrifice; improving governance means lower taxes; decentralizing government means lower taxes *and* not doing foolhardy things like trying to save the world biosphere for humanity; diminishing the role of money in politics means giving the little rich and the middle classes their share of power; media that support democracy means a self-censored media that promotes capitalism.
The opposition to “autocracy” undermines all arguments for democracy that Wolf pretends to make, for war is also incompatible with democracy. Not even postwar democracy is practical: Attlee and the GI Bill will not come again. The funny thing is, the war has already begun, it just doesn’t look like the previous wars. No doubt this is very confusing to a superficial and impressionable publicist like Wolf. Wolf may think he’s floating a trial balloon for democracy but real balloons being shot down are showing his irrelevance.
“In capitalism of course the political power defends the private property in the means of production held by the ruling class, even if Wolf wants to think the laws of nature are the foundation of capitalism. ”
A lot of people mistakenly understand that capitalism is protecting private property. In fact, it is destroying private property. When this process of destruction is complete, the capitalists will be completely dependent on the proletariat. If the proletariat understands that economic power is completely in its hands, then it will soon be political power.
The material process of production is more and more social, collective rather than private, individual. And this is true to the point that even ownership is more than a single person’s deed or certificate. Even the money commodity is at the point where debt in a highly complex banking system plays by far the largest role in daily life. The system has become so social, non-private, that the daily functions of the market are vitally dependent on the power of the state.
But this process has been underway for a very long time. Even though this socialization does constitute a material basis for socializing the means of production, the relations of production, which include the state form, must be broken apart and re-articulated. This is not an automatic process and cannot be accomplished at a stroke, regardless of the final paragraphs of the Manifesto. (This sounds vaguely like a caricature of Luxemburg’s mass strike?)
….Not only Wolf’s irrelevance, but the irrelevance of eurocentric Western marxists–who fail to see the dialectical unity of the evolution of capitalist democracy and capitalism’s global hegemony. As a consequence they are also blind to the dialectical unity of democratic capitalism’s current fascistic, war mongering tendencies and the weakening of that global hegemony.
So some support democratic imperialism rather than Russian or Chinese imperialism or wander about playing blind-man’s-bluff , even regarding the “funny thing” you mention: democratic capitalism’s serial aggressions and its flirtation with nuclear war against “authoritarianism”.
This seems to be criticizing my comment but I thought saying democracy : empire :: means : ends is another way of referring to the dialectical unity of democracy and imperialism. Also, I’m not sure who eurocentric Western marxists are, except those whose lineage traces back to opponents of Bolshevism (or can be imagined to be, like prisoner Gramsci.) Not sure but it seems to me that everyone sees my views as Stalinist (though I disagree) not antiCommunist.
Don’t believe PRC is imperialist but if you do, you should not favor any concessions to anti-hegemony.
And if you don’t believe in defending the progressive content of bourgeois democratic revolutions, then you shouldn’t favor national self-determination. (Which favors Russia in this war, by the way.) And it’s not clear why all propaganda shouldn’t be limited to the broadest anti-war/pacifist grounds possible.
The adjective “funny” is sincerely meant in the blackest gallows’ humor way possible.
Stevenjohnson, I must be as bad a writter as you consider yourself. My comment was meant to agree with yours.
Brilliant piece! Captures the despair of Martin Wolffs of the world, and their pathetic attempt to prop up capitalism!
“You can’t be an intelligent social scientist unless you’re a Marxist”.
Yes, and you can’t be an intelligent Marxist unless you’re a revolutionary socialist.
Perhaps, Wolff will discover that after yet another decade of capitalist poison.
Anti, when debating you I am reminded of the baker who keeps trying to make a cake using only one ingredient and cannot understand why he or she always end up with bread. You always end up over-simplifying. True, unlike Allende, Kerensky did not prevent the Petrograd Soviet being armed. True Kornilov’s avowed aim was the crushing of the Petrograd Soviet. I am convinced that had we both been alive at the time we would have been shouting together “all power to the Soviets”. Nothing I said in my earlier remark disowned this, I explicitly said that we would be arguing against a return to the old ways. However, this slogan on its own was not decisive. The provisional government’s pursuit of the war exemplified by the July offensive which ended in a fiasco and the introduction of firing squads against desertion together with the government’s paralysis over the land question sealed its fate. All of which was captured by the Bolshevik slogan “peace, land and bread”.
Today you and I live in overripe capitalist countries where reformism has been entrenched for over a century allowing capitalism to survive two slumps, the second world war and innumerable recessions. Our political tasks are therefore much more complicated and stubborn than those which faced the Bolsheviks a century ago. I will leave it at that. My previous comment was provoked not by you but by others who were dismissing bourgeois democracy as a mere fraud on the working class, substituting their own consciousness for the mass of the class, and we both know where that ends – badly.
My previous comment was provoked not by you but by others who were dismissing bourgeois democracy as a mere fraud on the working class, substituting their own consciousness for the mass of the class, and we both know where that ends – badly.” If this was aimed at me among others, I do not state bourgeois ‘democracy’ is a fraud. I stay it does not exist. To support my thesis I address the historical roots of its origins e.g. Aristotle dismisses the intellectual inadequacy of those who argue that democracy is the rule of the majority, oligarchy the rule of the few; rather democracy is the rule of the unpropertied being many; oligarchy the rule of the rich, being few.
This is called analysis, which you do not offer. Is it not true that in the US those elected as ‘representatives’ can be closely predicted by the amount spent by them on electioneering? Since Churchill, the following have been British Prime Ministers: Atlee, Eden, MacMillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson,Heath, Thatcher, Blair, Cameron, May, Johnstone, Truss, Sunak and the next, Starmer. Can you spot the odd one out? May: she went to Cambridge, the others Oxford. Some democracy! Several in fact went to the same school, Eton! So the empirical evidence confirms the theoretical analysis: elections are the mark of an oligarchy, as the rich will normally win thanks to their wealth. The mark of a democracy is selection of the Government by lot, which an elementary analysis confirms will give the unpropertied an overwhelming preponderance.. Those who still dream that the Leninist road will lead to socialism…..well it will end badly! Why? Because a political party has leaders and they soon constitute themselves as an oligarchy.. And of course in the modern world wealth is best consolidated by the bourgeois mode of production and its best political form, ‘bourgeois ‘democracy ,’ defended by you, Bernstein and Kautsky.. Really, all this nonsense about ‘stalinist’ betrayals: explains everything by explaining nothing!
Sorry to be pedantic, but May went to St Hugh’s, Oxford.
On your wider and pertinent point about the persistence of oligarchy, you remind me of a well known quote by Ronald Syme in his classic ‘The Roman Revolution’ (1939):
“In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade; and Roman history, be it Republican or Imperial, is the history of the governing class.” (at 7).
That’s OK with me. Every baker can govern.
The problem with Wolf is that he is the Walter Lippmann of contemporary economic analysis: https://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2023/01/martin-wolf-crisis-democratic-capitalism-business-intellectual, and is a retailer of the prevailing consensus amongst Very Serious People.
However, in this book he is calling out issues which were being articulated by the likes of Susan Strange on the centre-right several decades’ ago, as in ‘Casino Capitalism’ (1986), ‘States and Markets’ (1988) and ‘Mad Money’ (1998). I suppose it’s not perhaps that Wolf is ‘slow’ as that the consensus amongst the VSPs (which Strange was too individualistic to represent) has shifted, and his game is to keep a step or two ahead of the consensus. In the 1980s the critics of the nascent neoliberal system were smothered by the democratisation of rent-seeking via capital gains, especially in the housing market, which camouflaged grand larceny by money managers and C-suite kleptocrats. Now those capital gains are having to be financed via proportionate reductions in the living standards of the working age population, and this has left elite peculation more exposed. Like the followers of Philippe Egalité the elite, of whom Wolf is a tribune, want to make cosmetic adjustments to the system (sanctioning the pursuit of identity politics) in order to secure their economic entitlements. The question is whether, like Louis-Philippe in 1793, they too wind up on the scaffold.
“That’s not the tactic the revolutionaries used.”
Yes it has been. The main example is that of the Bolsheviks. And the example was not Allende. Allende was only a reformer, a strong reformer but never a revolutionary. The solution to the problem of reform and revolution (also called the problem of the minimum program and maximum program or the problem of reformist tactics and revolutionary strategy) is that both actions (reform and revolution) fit and are possible as long as the minimum program -reformist tactic is carried out WITHIN a maximum program-revolutionary strategy. Inside means that the reformist says publicly (although sometimes he will be forced by the State to say it only in secret, as B. Green recalls) and knows that the reform is not enough but also knows that the objective and material conditions for the revolution they do not yet exist in your society. For example today they do not occur: extreme degree of misery (the worst misery and the worst place), consciousness and revolutionary knowledge in the working class and the presence of a revolutionary party. If those conditions do not exist (and they only historically do from time to time. The next socialist revolution will not occur before 2040, according to my studies) the revolutionary, in my opinion, should support any reform that is a real step forward for a worker (political and economic rights). ALL of the current parliamentary left (Labour, Syriza, Podemos, etc..) only want to carry out minimal programs-reforms but they do not want, do not prepare or explain the maximum program-revolution. Allende did not either. You yourself (and I, and many revolutionaries) have been in favor of State Health for Covid-19. So you have been in favor of a minimum program within a maximum program. That is irrefutable. If you apply to yourself the recipe for reformist tactics and the minimum program, you should allow other workers to do the same, right? For example: the same voters of Syriza and Podemos and the beneficiaries of reformist state pensions such as you and me. Especially if you know, but you may not know but I am explaining it to you now (revolutionary cycle theory) that these workers can do little else right now and they must attend to save their necks now (reform) in order to reach socialism (revolutionary strategy). I repeat that you and I do that combination of tactics (reform-minimal program) and revolutionary strategy every day,
That said, his analysis (and of course, his ”One big wage” program) still strikes me as the most advanced socialism being practiced on the planet today. If one day you get your ”one big wage” (difficult to get just because the working classes have little knowledge of economics-economics is not a dismal science, it is the main social science, the one that explains society the most. Good luck for us that Marx, Engels, Michael Roberts, etc. have used it and use it for our benefit- it is possible that the ”One big Capital” program will be achieved, using its excellent commercial language, and also called Cooperative Socialism using I a more scientific term.
Honest Gov, and Anti, I am no reformist. In fact I programmed the GPS on my smartphone never to go down the parliamentary road to Socialism. Power to the workers of this world.
Never thought you were a reformist
Your best ever, full agreement