A Capitalism Pure and Simple / Counter-Revolution Against a Counter-Revolution (Tamás, 2004/2007)

by cominsitu

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by Gáspár Miklós Tamás (interview / words from budapest / truth about class)

A Capitalism Pure and Simple  (2004) PDF

The symbolic and historic importance of Eastern Europe for the left is beyond dispute. It was, after all, in Eastern Europe where the socialist experiment has been allegedly attempted. The fall of the East Bloc régimes in 1989 has meant for most people that there is nothing over the horizon of global capitalism. Although it is by no means certain that what failed was socialism, institutions, organizations, currents of the Western left collapsed, as if what they represented would have been identical with the dismal heap of ruins which was the empire of Stalin’s diadochoi. However inglorious, drab, scary and tedious that empire was,  today’s  inmates believe that  it was  far superior in all respects to the new dispensation. Socialists appear to be disavowed by the general belief that capitalism is all there is, and democrats seem to be told that, compared to this new liberal democracy, dictatorship was a picnic.

Unlike the absolute majority of ‘East Europeans’ from Vladivostok to Prague, from the Aral Sea to East Berlin and unlike disgruntled Western communists I cannot and do not mourn the unheroic passing of the post-Stalinist tragicomedy, although the former have a few interesting reasons for their view; and unlike most liberals, I do not think that it was socialism that collapsed, and that the novus ordo seclorum  is either

inevitable or successful. Or, for that matter, especially novus. But I can understand, naturally, that these opinions entail various stakes and strategies of legitimacy like they always did, and this should be legitimation through history and theory of history. In order to explain why Eastern Europe is a particularly interesting and exceedingly nasty version  of late capitalist society, we must get rid of the idea that this has anything to do with ‘totalitarian’ mental habits or ‘backward’ customs rooted in authoritarianism and servility, notions of cold war ‘naturalization’ of a surprisingly modern, but neither liberal, nor pro-Western adversary’s ideological self-image.

The main question is, of course, the vexed one concerning the true nature of the system inaugurated in 1917 which passed away ingloriously in 1989.  Miles of library shelves have been dedicated to the solution of this problem, the source of so much heartbreak and suffering and  a central element in the self-understan-

ding of the main radical movements in the twentieth century.  For if the régime was socialist, then reformist social democracy was treason and the anti-Leninist  ultra-left was sheer madness, and if  the régime was not socialist, then the heroic sacrifice of all, especially Western communist militants was in vain. If  the régime was  truly socialist and  the Gulag, the genocide and the show trials all took place within a truly socialist régime, then the socialist ideal is indeed criminal, but if if it wasn’t truly socialist, then the Gulag does not refute the moral and political solution viability of the socialist ideal. If  Soviet-type régimes were no better, indeed, on the whole worse than the common run of capitalist ones, then the blame ought to be apportioned according to what we think about its main characteristic. The answer to these old questions should be both historical and philosophical.

There can be no doubt about the persistence of  classic capitalist features in the Soviet bloc régimes: wage labour, the commodity economy, division of labour, imposition of work, subsumption to capital, money, rent, Roman law concerning property, hierarchy on the shop-floor, sharp distinction between manual and ‘intellectual’ labour, horrendous inequality, repression of proletarian resistance, the suppression of working-class autonomy, repressive patriarchal family, unpaid female house-work, political and ideological oppression, rampant statist nationalism, ethnic and racial discrimination, censorship against emancipatory art and social science and, of course,  savage exploitation. Against this dismal list the doubting believers, most famously Trotsky, could oppose only one single fact: the abolition of private property. Socialization and planning were cited as proofs that, in spite of everything, should have convinced us that even under the Stalinian ‘Thermidor’ in the Soviet Union, the Chinese People’s Republic and their satellites capitalism was not and could not be restored. Awful, but somehow socialist. The proletariat was supposed to have been somehow ‘the owner’ of all major economic assets although it could not dispose of it and did not and could not control and manage it, although it had no say in how production was run and what the aims of economic development should be. All the same, it is quite incontrovertible that there were no private capitalists in the East Bloc régimes and no ‘real’ market. This is interesting because it forces us to ask: is it a fact that capitalism is chiefly charcterised by the prevalence of markets and the presence of private owners of the means of production? Is this even an orthodox Marxist view? I for one doubt it very much. Let us briefly examine the meaning of the word ‘private’ which at least since Rousseau denotes the essence of bourgeois society. 

‘Private’ means particularly a privileged, separated, protected area over which one exercises control and which excludes other contenders for such control. This ‘one’ might be a physical or juridical person, for example an institution like the Crown or a monastic or chivalric order. Are Crown lands not private property in this sense? Had not been the vast Church estates in Easter Europe before 1945 exclusive of rival would-be owners? In what sense is ‘the state’, metaphysically perhaps, a non-exclusive, non-controlling, non-usufructuary owner? Crown property, too, was used for the common good of the polity, e. g., for putting together, arm and pay mercenary troops, but did this particular use to which it was put made it into non-property? Could the King’s subjects use it for their own advantage as they saw fit? Would be the fact that it  was juridical rather than physical persons ‘who’ owned property to the exclusion of people who did not own any means of production, negate the fact of property. It seems that the essence of ownership in class societies such as capitalism and  Soviet-style régimes is the separatedness of property from those handling but not owning the means of production in exchange for a salary, and not necessarily the political and juridical character of the owners. Apologists for these Soviet-type régimes said and perhaps believed that the alleged political power of the proletariat changed the character of this mysterious entity, ‘the state’ into not simply the political and administrative representation of this new ruling class but into a new kind of owner which did not appropriate surplus value for a ‘non-proletarian’ or ‘non-socialist’ purpose which of course meant in practice that most of it was re-invested like always. Now the proletariat naturally did not possess and did not exercise any kind of political power as the Workers’ Opposition has pointed out in Russia already in 1919, but it appears rather obvious that the political direction and the ideology of the government does not change in any conceivable way the exclusion of the propertyless workers from the enjoyment, management or, God forbid, the sale of ‘their’ mystical property. Now it is perfectly true that the functions of  the owner were exercised by civil servants or apparatchiki according to instructions from on high and they did not own the economic assets of society and they could not directly use them for their own benefit, nor could they dispose of it at will, in other words, it was not the ‘apparat’ or the ‘nomenklatura’ that was, as it were, the collective owner of the means of production. But this is not at all

A precondition for an ownership which is separate from the propertyless in the original, historical sense of the word and concept ‘private’. It is by no means necessary that the individual members of the ‘nomenklatura’ should partake of the plus-value created by the proletariat like stockholders or shareholders in a joint-stock company, their right of disposal and control, albeit limited, but belonging to no social rivals or competitors, is sufficient for them to be designated a ruling class, especially as social redistribution was tilted in their favour and they enjoyed considerable material privileges but which were, as it is well known, not particularly secure.  What is specific here is the synthesis of government functions and the belonging to the ruling class. This has historical antecedents in Eastern Europe and in Asia and a great deal was made of this by imaginative people like Karl Wittfogel, but I do not believe that it is particularly significant since this state of affairs was newly created by the Bolshevik revolution conspicuously unmindful of historical precedent.

In other words, then, the so-called ‘socialist state property’ is conceptually not different from ‘capitalist private property’ as far as the workers are concerned (and this is the important aspect) albeit it means a different method of social organization and social domination, and it is this what might explain the puzzle of the absent market.

If  the market is an anonymous mechanism designed to match supply to demand and to allocate the resources accordingly, then ‘socialist’ planning is a non-anonymous, deliberate and hierarchical (‘top-down’) mechanism devised to do  the same, by general consent, less efficiently. The contrast between these two mechanisms is much mitigated, on the one hand, by what János Kornai has called market-simulating ‘plan bargaining’ in East Bloc economies and, on the other hand, by what appears to be the massive government interference and setting of economic goals by political and ideological forces in the creation of early capitalism. One cannot seriously say that the British and Dutch East India Companies and their cognates have been pure ‘market’ institutions. Physical coercion by military and paramilitary forces shaped market capitalism as much as the stock exchange. Reinvestment and redistribution in scarcity economies have always been implemented by state or government fiat  even in societies qualified officially as bourgeois such as wartime Germany and 1940s-1950s Britain. Let us not forget that the neo-conservative model of market economy also was the result of political action driven by ideology and that it was no different with Corn Laws and free trade in the nineteenth century. The difference seems to be that in bourgeois societies politicalaction by  the ruling class is customarily checked by elections and ‘free’ party struggles,  while in one-party ‘socialist’ dictatorships such checks are not available. They are indeed unavailable, but this does not mean that the ruling class in these dictatorships did not and does not engage in internecine squabbles and that it would be unable to change course: compare the policies of the so-called Chinese Communist Party under Mao to those of the present leadership, a change which occurred without the slightest change in the political ‘suprastructure’, without the slightest ‘pluralization’ or ‘liberalization’ of the régime. In other words, ‘totalitarian’ governance by Stalin’s true heirs is perfectly reconcilable with the most savage version of free-market capitalism.

So if someone would like to attempt to find the crucial difference between the ways of  government guiding of the modern economy in the difference between ‘socialist’ and capitalist planning influenced by the difference between competing models of political authority  (liberal or tyrannical, say) she may be on the wrong track. There are overlapping models here as well as enormous dissimilarities. The question is not whether ‘market socialism’ is feasible or desirable or did it ever happen, but rather that how should we describe non-market capitalism which appears to have been the case in the Soviet-style East Bloc régimes in Europe and Asia.

This description should begin in the time-honoured fashion with the analysis of the October revolution and its various emulations after the second world war in parts of Eastern Europe, South East Asia  and elsewhere. Let us start with the abstract formulation that the alleged ‘socialist’ revolutions did not change class societies into classless societies, but caste societies into class societies.

Unbeknownst to themselves, the Bolsheviks – as it was almost immediately recognized by such disparate figures as Hermann Gorter, Antonio Gramsci (in his celebrated article on the ‘revolution against Capital’: the book) and, later, Karl Korsch – half-agreed with the hated ‘legal Marxists’ and Kautskyans in making a bourgeois revolution with proletarian revolutionaries. Old Eastern Europe under the four empires (Hohenzollern, Habsburg, Romanov and Ottoman) in spite of all the half-hearted or simply bogus reforms after 1848 remained,  with the exception of the Western fringe and a few other pockets of modernity, an agrarian caste society where the overwhelming majority of the population lived in personal servitude, humility, deference, illiteracy, corvée and scurvy., not to speak of an ecclesiastical reign and brutal terror by the gendarmerie and feudal flunkeys.  The propertyless peasants, not any longer called serfs but half-slaves in all but name, apart from the occasional blind jacquerie or pogrom (more often than not incited by the Court in order to frighten the gentry and the restive burghers and proles  in the feeble towns) were not able to do anything to improve their living conditions. Socialist revolutionaries had to address  the problem of ‘backward’ caste society first where most of the ‘bourgeoisie’ were mediaeval-type petty merchants, mostly quite poor and ignorant, and the ‘proletariat’ were mostly journeymen artisans, living in the interstices of a still largely feudal society where, apart from the landowning aristocracy and the Soldateska, the military caste, political disenfranchisement was pretty general. In the relatively wealthy and modern Hungary, less than seven percent of the population had the vote, and electoral fraud, ballot-stuffing and police intimidation had been a matter of course even in those extra safe circumstances. Opposition MPs were thrown out from the Chamber by armed police upon an order by the Speaker – and this was the Austro-Hungarian belle époque, not the darkest Siberia.

Socialists of various tendencies in the East wished to use the new revolutionary state to effect modernization, a task incumbent upon a bourgeois revolution, at least this was the task ascribed to such revolutions by the prevalent progressive doctrine of the time. In the absence of an autochthonous, home-grown bourgeoisie this decisive step away from agrarian caste society was to be taken by a strategic alliance between the proletariat and the intelligentsia. But these social groups themselves were rather peculiar in Eastern Europe, possessing a pre-modern, caste character also. The industrial proletariat in the East was mostly immigrant, allogenous workforce. In Bohemia and Hungary even, labour union members did not speak Czech or Hungarian, but German (in the first socialist trial in Hungary in 1871 the royal tribunal had to use interpreters to take the depositions of the defendants neither of them –leaders of the Hungarian workers’ movement – being able to understand Magyar), not to speak of the well-known Swiss (and Gentile) radical, Rudolf Rocker,who was forced to learn Yiddish when he wanted to address working-class anarchists in the East End of London (today he should learn Bengali). To be a proletarian socialist in Eastern Europe meant to be separated ethnically (in a mostly German-speaking cosmopolian or ‘internationalist’community)and denominationally or confessionally (in a community of non-believers or non-practising, lapsed Christians or agnostics) very remote fromthe rest of the people. The revolutionary intelligentsia – however unfashionable it is to mention this – was mostly Jewish. So it is hardly surprising that, according to a survey by the respected Russian historian  Aleksandr Ushakov, out of 12 members of the Bolshevik central committee, 9 were Jewish, all the 11 members of the Menshevik central committee were Jewish, out of 15 members of the right-wing Social Revolutionaries (SR) 13 were Jewish, of the 12 members of the left SR 10, the Moscow committee of the anarchists had 5 members, 4 being Jewish. If by no means so extreme,the same was true in the labour movements in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Balkans and the Arab Middle East then nominally still ruled by the Sublime Porte.

Max Weber has spoken of   ‘pariah capitalism’ (elaborated by the Belgian revolutionary Marxist, Abram Léon during the second world war)  and this was up to a point ‘pariah socialism’, the bold project of the isolated urban proletariat and the impoverished, uprooted intellectuals whose largely imaginary world was rounded off by the myth of the advanced West of which more later.  Many memoirs on the Eastern left report that the parliamentary socialists in the distant Reichstag in Berlin or in Vienna had been the object of an adulation quite unsuspected in those imperial capitals: Bebel, Liebknecht, Adler, Renner, Bauer were regarded as latter-day saints, people who have got the respect and dignity denied to their less fortunate Oriental brethren, rather like the Rastafarians in the Caribbean admired Haile Selassie, a black man who was emperor and  the Lion of Judah. Proletarians and déclassé intellectuals in the East, surrounded by a sea of incomprehensible archaic peasantry (and don’t  forget, while the city spoke Polish, the countryside spoke Ukrainian, another city spoke Hungarian, but the village sang in Rumanian, the civil servants corresponded in French and German, but their subjects stammered in some Slavonic patois,  and even the official and highly artificial Hochdeutsch was not understood by many, not even by most ethnic Germans), the ‘red’ cities and districts (Presnya, Floridsdorf, Csepel, Grivitza) were strangers in more ways than one. When in the courses of  adult education run by the social democrats in Vienna, Pest, Cracow, Czernowitz people talked about the same topics as people in the Fabian Society or at the Cooper Union, the upper classes did not read anything or if at all, the Mme de Sévigné, and the poor,  illiterate and pious peasants believed in witches, charms and – until after 1945 – could not  read a clockface and might not have heard yet that the earth was round. Documentary writers in the 1930s tell us that most peasants do not use the coin of the realm in years and they do not realy believe that Franz Joseph is not any longer on the throne and they themselves are now the citizens of some new-fangled ‘successor state’.  Trade union seminars were on a higher level than the Royal Academies of Science. Radical magazines discussed Nietzsche and Baudelaire in St Petersburg and Pest earlier than in London. Mr Pulitzer exported the mass-readership popular press from Hungary to New York and not vice versa. At the same time, feudal caste society was more alive and more terrible thanin early eighteenth-century France. But at least the philosophes of the French Enlightenment were French – who would have dreamed  of calling Voltaire or Diderot unFrench?  However, East European socialists from Lenin and Martov to Otto Bauer and Lukács to Luxemburg and Eisner to Dobrogeanu-Gherea and Marchlewski-Karski  had been citizens only of a future republic and regarded as such. The great Russian radical writer, Korolenko, declared that his country  was not Russia but the Russian literature. I cannot say that I have never experienced such a feeling.

No French dissident of the eighteenth century was ever a franchouillard  chauvinist. But ‘internationalist’ does not mean someone deracinated and a non-citizen without loyalty. Internationalism is a view, not a condition. But East European radicals had been and, partly, are really rootless: by choice and by destiny. Of course,they were no citizens of the world, but inhabitans of the modernist islets within that ocean of silent and terrifying peasantry. However malign, the name Hungarian ‘national conservatives’ are  calling people like me – ‘foreign-hearted’ –  I find rather delicious.  It is unfair, I am too Hungarian for my own good, nevertheless it describes Eastern radicals very well, not because they were or, for that matter, are le parti de l’étreanger,  the party of ‘Abroad’, but their utopia was and remained the West, the world of ‘contract’ as opposed to their own local world of ‘status’. Class society was a certain advance compared to caste society, inequality preferable to hierarchical coercion and systemic humiliation. The goal and the slogan of a classless society opposed to a powerless and scared bourgeoisie – with the conspicuous exception of the equally ‘foreign-hearted’ haute finance à  la Rothschild  allied to the Court, the catholic church and the bluest-blooded aristocracy – was a wee bit bogus, since the nominal enemy was feeble and the real adversary, the feudal nobility and the military caste had been in principle the adversary of the bourgeois West, too. George Eliot, Samuel Butler and Anatole France (and behind them, Feuerbach, Nietzsche and Herbert Spencer) appeared to be brothers-(and-sisters)-in-arms because of their hostility to Christianity, the official (and most intimately, innigst disbelieved) doctrine of peers and magnates.

But the goal of smashing the aristocratic order and of rural misery was authentic, and the political passion fierce. But why was Marxism, a complicated theory aimed at the natural antagonist of the Western  workers’ movement the ideology of an anti-feudal egalitarian revolution in the East? For I do not agree with Alain Besançon that we should disregard the Marxian legacy in Russia and replace it as the main source of Leninism with the Narodnaya Volya people, Bielinsky and Pisarev. Marxism was accepted here as the core thory of modernity fulfilling the same historical function as early liberalism in the nineteenth-century Western Europe. In the absence of an ancient, respected, well-entrenched, home-grown bourgeoisie and the achievement of primitive accumulation, industrial base and a network of markets founded on money and credit, the creation of capitalist modernity had to be the task of those who wanted to create a large proletariat because they were convinced that only the modern working class was able to realize abundance through advanced technology and, through abundance, a just society which was to be not only egalitarian, but devoid of exploitation and domination. In order to do this, it was necessary to tear the unfree lower caste of serfs and indentured peasants from their quasi-natural (ideologically naturalised) dependence on land and personal-tribal ties to the paternal authority of the nobility modeled on the timeless formula of the anointed, holy King, where deference and submission were not seen as oppression but the moral pinnacle of the human condition as outlined by the late Gogol and doctrinaires like Pobedonostsev (drawing on de Maistre and de Bonald). The ‘legal Marxists’ like Struve and Tugan-Baranovsky were explicit partisans of liberal capitalism. This trend is plainly visible even today in the policies of communist parties in China, West Bengal or South Africa (even in Iraq, Syria and the Maghreb): Marxist-Leninists are inveterate modernisers in all backward countries, just like their anti-Leninist hostile twins, the social democrats, had been in the advanced and affluent countries of the West.

‘Socialism’, then, for Bolsheviks was a series of radical measures aimed at the destruction of ‘natural’ ties. This was a development feared by the likes of Rousseau and Tolstoy who, at the same time, loathed the servitude,  cruelty and moral turpitude of agrarian caste society dominated by ‘the landed interest’. Lenin and Trotsky had no such fears. They wanted an industrial capitalism without its drawbacks, inequality, rampant individualism and the false consciousness of imagined liberty. They did not want to reconstruct a  natural (i. e., agrarian or pastoral) community without noble landowners because they did not believe that freedom and justice in scarcity were possible or even desirable. They wanted a peculiar capitalism in which the rôle of the bourgeoisie had to be played  by the proletarian vanguard, but only politically. The ownership was transformed – and this was really revolutionary and in keeping with age-old radical ideas vaguely formulated during the Putney disputations and among the lunatic fringe of the French revolution – into an abstract entity which referred to another abstract entity, the totality of society, thereby divorcing the functions of control, management, disposal, employment, credit, invetment and alienation (that is, Entäusserung, estrangement or, simply, sale) of assets from the subjectless, abstract ‘collective ownership. This was pure ideology, but an ideology central to the régime and its survival. This is why New Class theories were punished with heavy prison sentences and worse. But, naturally, ownership cannot be divorced from control and management, and the pretence that the toiling masses or the working class somehow ‘owned’ was always greeted by guffaws even amid the most fanatical hardliners. (A famous joke of the 1950s defined cognac as the drink of the proletariat to be consumed through its elected representatives.) Nevertheless, the ideological cleavage between ownership and control was  successful in redefining the profit motive, by separating it from acquisitiveness:  Stakhanovists (members of a working-class élite distinguished by producing more, by ‘overachieving’ the Plan) aimed at more consumption, not at the acquisition of capital goods.

If indeed the proletariat would have been the ‘collective owner’ then work must have been a title to acquire property. But this is exactly what is impossible in capitalism. The surplus value produced by the worker does not become her property: even if she is able  sometimes to buy shares from her salary, this she can do only as a private person outside the factory gates: for it is her money, not her labour which entitles her to buy shares or stocks. The same applies to so-called ‘socialist’, that is, state capitalist régimes: the surplus value produced by the worker cannot be transformed into her property. Equality can be and to a certain extent was increased, but more equality does not mean co-ownership.  The surplus value is appropriated, re-invested or consumed by the elusive entity, the state. This is still private property as defined above, since it is separated from the worker, but it is not individual property. Clearly great corporations in market capitalism are not individually owned, either, but they are not formally subordinated to central government authority which had the right in Soviet-style state capitalist systems to fix targets, allocate resources and include the firm or the company in an overall order the goals of which may be overtly extra-economical like increasing social justice, reward a remote district or change the social and ethnic composition of a region – things by no means unheard of in ‘normal’ market capitalism, but less systematic and consequent. Separatedness of ownership is a common characteristic of ‘market’ and ‘state capitalism’ (dubbed ‘socialism’) but the prevalence or paramountcy of markets do differentiate these two modern systems of private property and exploitation. Markets in liberal societies are helped and regulated by commercial law, government watchdogs and public scrutiny, all this of course slanted in favour of capital, nevertheless pressure from competitors, from the bureaucracy and from trade unions manages sometimes to counterbalance this bias. ‘Plan bargaining’ (a notion introduced by János Kornai) is trickier. In Stalinist and post-Stalinist versions of state capitalism (there are others) competition between nominally state-owned companies, economic ministries (‘socialist’ governments had Foundry Departments, Fisheries Departments, Departments of Textiles and so on) and territorial groups (centred on the regional ‘Party’ committees), army and security services branches (the latter controlled entreprises, too) was hidden, informal, without a paper trail. These groups had to negotiate with one another and the ultimate arbiter, the central committee apparat (since it was not the elected body itself that held the reins of real power) to partake of the re-investment instruments: their share (like in today’s corporate capitalism) depended as much on their political clout as on their profits (‘fulfillment of the plan’). Lowering of production targets, permission to branch out, hire help and raise wages had been negotiated by tenacious lobbying, bribery and political denunciation. The heavy industry lobby, the savings bank lobby, the secret service lobby had their tame journalists in the censored party press: we always knew who would, given the opportunity, voice concern regarding internal subversion and foreign interference – this was often a ploy to modify the budget, in a way just like today.

‘Plan bargaining’ and controlled rivalry between government/economic branches did not lead to instability and openly contested power struggles (except during crises) because proletarian resistance was efficiently checked. Strikes, sabotage, slowdown, absenteeism and the like were criminal offenses, but the ideological supremacy of the ‘collective ownership’ myth was more important. Resistance must have reasons beyond raw self-interest or sheer discomfort. Reasons were not forthcoming because in spite of a strong but inarticulate disbelief in the ownership myth, the fact of property was elusive.

People were looking for evidence proving that social differences were akin to the previously known model of hierarchy. But since that was a caste society (entrenched legal privileges by birthright and inheritance) they were looking in vain since under the nominal ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ they were faced with a modern class society with considerable social mobility and an anti-élitist, plebeian culture. Societies when disappointed in actual change, almost always engage in the rhetorical stratagem which affirms that nothing has changed. (Witness the general conviction in Rumania even among people with bullet wounds that the December 1989 revolution did not take place at all, it was a technical fraud perpetrated by Western television and  Hungarian spies. ‘Nothing has changed’, ‘the same people are in power’, you know the kind of thing.) But Soviet-style state capitalism has changed things enormously, therefore the widespread analogies with Tsardom (so popular even in respectable historiography and political science produced by the faux naïfs) are ridiculous. Bolshevik rule has accomplished many of the customary goals of bourgeois revolutions: industrialisation, urbanisation, secularisation, compulsory comprehensive education, magnanimous financing of art, science, technology, eradication of tribalism, edification of a gigantic infrastructure (railways, motorways, pipelines) and, perhaps most significantly, the relocation of the peasant population from mud huts into what is called in England ‘council estates’, in the US ‘housing projects’, in France HLMs but on an enormous scale. The ‘council estates’ of reinforced concrete in a desolate grey are still adored by the majority of East Europeans. They had been their way out of a peasant past, out of the old dispensation that by 1917 was so hated as no other known social and political system in world history. This is something which is all too frequently forgotten. The Hungarian expression for peasant, paraszt, comes from a Slavonic word meaning ‘simpleton’, the English ‘villain’, the French vilain comes from the late Latin villanus, meaning ‘a villager’,  ‘a rustic’.  Contempt for the ‘ignoble’ (originally meaning simply a commoner) in an agrarian caste society is inimaginable in our  comparatively egalitarian world. Most people’s grandparents in Eastern Europe   were routinely slapped and kicked by landowners’ agents, by the foremen and by gendarmes after which they had to kiss the hand that slapped them. The first president of the Hungarian republic in 1918, the revolutionary Count de Károlyi, one of the richest magnates in the Empire, was first seriously moved to betray his aristocratic caste when he discovered after a satisfying shoot that in the hunting lodge of his obliging noble cousin each guest found in his bed a shivering naked Rumanian village girl, like nowadays the complimentary chocolate in hotels. Caste also frequently meant race. The myths of  Normans vs. Saxons, Vikings vs. Celts, Latins vs. Thracians, Turcomans vs. Finno-Ugrians, Scandinavian Varegs like Vladimir Shining Sun the Prince of Kievan Rus vs. Slavs (a word that was transformed into slave, schiavone, esclave), Franks vs. Gauls, Hellenes vs. Pelasgoi show very well that social hierarchy was defined, as it were, ‘biopolitically’.

Certainly, the bourgeois myth about social superiority, ability and luck, la carrière ouverte aux talents, a formula by who else, Napoleon Bonaparte, has a biological component, too. (Compare the urban legends of athletic and musical Blacks, soulful Russians, thrifty and diligent Anglo-Saxons, quick-witted Jews and so on.) But this is nothing in comparison to the all-pervasive ‘natural’ permanence of caste. Even today, in allegedly cosmopolitan and sophisticated Budapest, people are prefacing their casual remarks to me, someone they know from the telly, ‘Excuse me, sir, if one of us average little people might take the liberty to address you’ which of course will not prevent them from dissing me in the next sentence. This preternatural resilience of caste was that made Dostoevsky and Lenin and Ady and Rosa Luxemburg indignant and rebellious, not so much class society, a comparatively innocuous state of affairs resisted politically and culturally by a mighty labour movement of considerable prestige, the source of an adversary culture able to bestow honours on the enemies of the establishment – in the West. Much was made of Marx’s hostility to ‘rural idiocy’  of a sippenfremd, körperfremd and naturfeindlich doctrinaire scribe by uncomprehending passéiste, past-worshipping conservatives, but this hostility was felt by the whole Enlightenment crowd. The narodniks loved the Russian bonded sharecropper, the muzhik, but they wanted him to cease being one. The Bolsheviks abolished peasantry with a genocidal fury, and at the beginning they wanted to put an end to patriarchal, monogamous marriage and every kind of religious worship also with their characteristic murderous violence. Obviously though, they could not sustain a régime of private property without the creative chaos of the market with no recourse to the family and some kind of fake state cult. Property even, or especially, of their peculiar kind cannot be protected if in other areas of social life there is anarchy. Nevertheless, the destructive rage of the Bolsheviks should not be underestimated. This they shared with other varieties of Eastern radicalism, e. g., with military-secularist nationalism from Kemal Atatürk to Nasser to Boumediène to Aflaq to whom they bear anyway a more than passing resemblance. The leap from earthbound archaic community whose main techniques have not changed much since the fourth century AD to the avant-garde of  Maiakovski, Isaak Babel and El Lissitzky is staggering. The price was unprecedented suffering and atavistic regress. To call a modernising military monarchy a  ‘socialist council republic’ is ridiculous but no more than calling an aristocratic caste society based on practices inherited from the ancient, especially Persian, Central Asia through the mediation of Byzantium, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, i. e., a Christian realm. This is the oldest cliché of them all, but it is quite true that the empire of Charlemagne had as little to do with the Sermon on the Mount – although he was busy converting heathens to Christianity through the sword and fire – as Stalin’s empire with revolutionary socialism. Everybody knows this, but the contemporary propaganda in favour of capitalism would conjure up the spectre of socialism by reference to the Soviet Union or the Khmer Rouge. This is like stating that God’s existence was definitively disproven by the Merovingians. (But of course we have not thereby proven the existence of God, either.)

Market capitalism in the West was more or less organically grown which means that elements of continuity and tradition persist. The countryside was not totally devastated, some aristocratic and Christian views and practices of honour and charity remain, there is some residual respect for institutions, a few ancestral standards of excellence have been miraculously maintained.  In many ways the West, albeit prouder and less self-conscious, is more deferential. I was taken aback when at a function in Washington DC, Bill Clinton swept in and everybody stood. This could not happen in Eastern  or in Central Europe, here there are no remnants of erstwhile royalty: politicians and bosses are garbage. At the same time, there is no plebeian dignity either. Even ideologically, market capitalism (‘liberal democracy’) with its half-hypocritical ideas of excellence delivers respect as a consolation for social conformity and thus, it is both more and less egalitarian than Leninist-Stalinist state capitalism was. The  reason for this is a truly revolutionary change that the party of Lenin and Trotsky and Mao has brought about. This is the abolition of the apparent ‘naturalness’ of caste societies. This was an empirical-experimental demonstration: forced social mobility, upward, forward and away, the extermination or exile of the anointed and the blue-blooded,  a blatant disregard of ethnic and religious pieties which also appeared previously as near-eternal and holy, ergo quasi- or preternatural, has shown instructively that social, political and sacral institutions were transient, ergo historical, not natural. This understanding is one of the most intoxicating experiences, see Kant’s, Fichte’s and Hegel’s effusions about the French revolution. The same feeling pervaded radical souls regarding the Russian October revolution and the Chinese communists’ Long March.                  

This is not only ‘history in the making’, but history being started and history installed as a principle of reality. For the common people, the lower-caste and the outcast, this meant the establishment of agency,  the transformation of subjects to/of  authority into agents of historical power, that is, a power of/to change, even if  for a fleeting illusory moment, but of enormous ideological and cultural import. Holiness and naturalness of social hierarchy and domination had been destroyed, even if hierarchy and domination had not.

This emptying out, this kenōsis of  ‘God’ and ‘nature’ makes the East devastated by the Bolsheviks an ideal terrain for mature market capitalism. Capitalism was, after all, tenaciously opposed on the right by the alliance of throne and altar and, on the left, by revolutionary socialism/anarchism. Bolsheviks have done away with both.

No pilgrimages and no strikes.

No abbots, no viscounts, no shop stewards, no union organizers. A class society without the slightest trace of caste or ‘estate’ (in the sense of Stand, état, ‘status group’), in a certain sense a society more modern than its Western counterpart. It was and to a certain extent still is animated by peasant anger. What the English call ‘quality’ (die Herrschaften, az urak, domini,  dvorianie) that commands obedience has disappeared for ever, replaced by capitalism’s voluntary servitude based on the consciousness of perennially imminent change. ‘Opportunity’ and ‘choice’ did  not play a manifest rôle during Bolchévisant state capitalism, for it was conceived as an asymptotic progression or ascent to a pre-ordained goal, but both implied a notion of an intertwined personal destiny and unavoidable change in one’s own and everybody else’s social position. Instead of the prevalent image of a caste society as a house, a building, a dwelling, an abode, class society appears to be a Heraclitean  flux, a stream, a river, a current. The Bolshevik revolution has shown, as Lukács and Bloch have immediately understood, that nature and history are not concomitant, synchronic antagonists, but subsequent phases of social development as comprehended and modified by ideology. The absolute purity of class society under (both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary) state capitalism resided in the central experience of the breakdown of natural (hierarchical and/or racial) barriers through vertiginous social mobility which resulted in the widespread impression of interchangeability of individuals, thereby fostering a sense of equality quite different from the radical Protestant idea of universal priesthood, no, this was a universal laity buffeted by violence and harsh oppression of which nevertheless no one was exempt.  Show trials against Old Bolshevik high priests and the slogan ‘fire on headquarters!’ of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China have reinforced this crucial impression. This was the Leninist-Stalinist version of Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ (a phrase in a tribute, an hommageto Bakunin) meant to pre-empt a  restoration of  caste, the greatest fear of th Bolsheviks, the only real threat they could see to the régime’s legitimacy which they described as the peril of the restoration of capitalism. But this was bunk, since was no capitalism to restore, only a capitalism to purify and perfect. Class, wich is a structural feature of modern society and of modern society only, pace The Communist Manifesto, is not an immobile-looking biocultural reality like caste: it is, among other things, a strategic location within the economy,  pushed this way or that by the class struggle. Continental conservatism still tries to re-naturalize class society (in this, like in everything, following Max Weber), this naturalization usually performed through transforming socio-economic location into cultural attitude and cultural typology, like in the myths of  Bürgerlichkeit and  embourgeoisement  as if belonging to the capitalist class were dependent on a predilection for Trollope or Fontane and a fondness for Winterreise, plus a little money used for the quirky dilettantism of the flâneur. These myths are extremely popular in Eastern Europe today since the only way we seem to know to ennoble social relations of any kind is to reduce them to some pre-capitalist, pre-class biocultural feature of habit, attitude, ethnic destiny or some such.

The fact that the modernist revolutions in the East were led by outsiders like the urban proletariat and the more or less Jewish intelligentsia makes it appear retrospectively as a revenge of the foreign-hearted to many locals. Since both the ruling and the serving class of the ancien régime disappeared altogether and autochthonous bourgeoisie never existed, Bürgerlickeit as a cultural contrivance had to be introduced, an imaginary non-communist modernity. As a result, apologists for the post-1989 market system have to downplay the backwardness of the old East. Bürgerlichkeit without Bürger, without bourgeois, a putative pre-1945 citizenry without civic rights and republicanism is in dire need of our powers of invention. For it is a question of national pride not to recognize that the only modernity the East has or ever had is of the Bolshevik kind. All  our modern institutions, habits of the heart and of the mind, high culture and the lack of it had been created during ‘communist’ rule, of course often by people who loathed the system passionately. Needless to say, the East Bloc countries were horrible police states at their best, but this is not their only aspect that needs attention, since comparable horrors, albeit over a shorter time, can be found elsewhere as well, and this was the aspect which was best resisted by us dissidents after the 1960s. This resistance was, although I say it myself, morally justified and politically significant, but unfortunately it did not offer us superior insight into the workings of the system. The system had to fail, this much was obvious, after a longish transition towards  more customary forms of capitalism and thus the essential taboo of ownership was gradually broken. The ultimate proof for the ideological belief that state capitalism was not capitalism rested on the assumption that the surplus value was appropriated by central authority for the common good of the community and re-invested for the same purpose. The fact that workers continued to be wage-labourers with no say in the running of production and that they were commodity consumers, taxpayers and clients of public services was supposed to be caused by technical problems only, like the classic ones of the so-called ‘socialist accounting’, a well-known theoretical mess. The main ideological hypothesis was that the whole yield was redistributed (although naturally not only for personal consumption) without a profit being retained for the exclusive use of the class of  owners. This ideological idea could be maintained as long as central planning could hide, up to a point, the glaring inequalities of income and, especially, control and command. When after the ‘pro-market’ reforms from the late 1960s companies and co-operatives had become autonomous and ‘redistribution’ was dependent on profits, that is, it had become a concealed version of usual taxation, and planning was less and less central, targets being fixed by the companies themselves, it was ‘group (or  “prebendary”) property’ instead of ‘collective property’ that was the general case, and one-Party governance had  to become competitive if not plural.

The transformation of company management exercising de facto prebendary ownership merging the functions of majority shareholders and of technical bosses, into de iure owners through management buy-out (the chief variant of ‘privatisation’), asset-stripping, outsourcing, inviting in of strategic partners and external financers and sponsors etc. was magically easy. At the very last moment of its existence the ‘communist’ system has betrayed its secret: it was not some kind of ‘non-ownership’ transformed into private property, but one kind of private property was transformed into another. The rôle of central state authority was shown to have been the function of an arbiter like in every self-respecting bourgeois polity, and the execution of the liquidation of the remnants of an egalitarian welfare state was so successfully accomplished because there were no anti-capitalist forces left. Doctrinaire communists who were on the brink of discovering what was going on, were marginalised, the workers’ councils’ and trade unions’ tradition was  repressed, Catholic anti-liberalism and  anti-secularism was not yet resurrected, the habit of collective action was non-existent. The supreme irony is that politically the system was defeated by the workers’ movement, Solidarność in Poland, again the dupe of the bourgeoisie, speedily transformed into several ultra-liberal or ultra-nationalist or ultra-Catholic parties, and the same happened to the old establishment adversary, the official ‘communist’, post-Stalinist party. The story is the story of Kronstadt, here and now without tragic grandeur and, blessedly, without mass murder. The hidden ruling class has come out of the hiding and the proletariat, too, but of course nowadays you must call the former ‘the economic élite’ and the latter not the working class, God forbid, but employees (die Arbeitnehmer, le salariat) or job-seekers, and if your boss is particularly nasty and does not want to pay your social security, then you become an independent contractor or small entrepreneur (with the interesting result in Hungary that entrepreneurs earn less on average than wage-workers…). Many East European ‘coerced entrepreneurs’ (this is our official statistical or census term: kényszervállalkozók) suffer of malnutrition. Many are homeless. The compulsion to lie about class has not abated even if we are not supposed any longer to edify a classless society. But ideologically our society is still classless, since class is unmentionable, it is only totalitarian communists who talk about class. What calls itself officially ‘the bourgeois Left’ (die bürgerliche Linke, polgári baloldal) speaks only of ‘poverty’. But poverty is not a collective agent, poverty does not think and act. ‘The bourgeois Left’ speaks of ‘social sensitivity’ (szociális érzékenység) which means the usual charity for the usual deserving poor. A  few years  ago these people called themselves Marxist-Leninists but it is only now that they can be open and frank about it. They know perfectly well that the social democratic welfare state in the West had to be dismantled owing to the same pressures as the post-Stalinist welfare state in the East (‘the premature welfare state’, as János Kornai calls it, he has apt names for everything): the falling profit rate, old friend, that’s why.

The ruling class took vigorous action. In view of the plummeting living standards and the resulting disquiet has made the well-known political concessions attracting some fresh blood from us democratic fools and cutting their losses in such a radical fashion that nobody in the affluent West would have dared to emulate them. The ‘structural adjustment’ between 1988 and 1995, according to our Central Bureau of Statistics, destroyed more economic assets than the second world war, real wages are still lower than in the 1970s, all social indicators are in the shape you know they’re in, a million and a half jobs vanished overnight – and I am speaking here of Hungary, the success story of the region. Russia, the most important case, is a black hole, a country that has no economy in the customary sense of the word, nor does it have a state that commands the allegiance of its nominal citizens so that they would attempt at least to pay sometimes some of the taxes and be aware of a tentative legal system in their country they are supposed to observe under the threat of punishment. These factors do not seem to play a rôle. Civic patriotism and a sense of national solidarity, a willingness to sacrifice to common national ends of some sort are not available, the focus is not national, but ethnic/racial. Xenophobia and what they call ‘communalism’ in India can survive very well in the total absence of the bourgeois version of social solidarity, nationalism. Xenophobes and racists, many of them former KGB and Securitate people, like to blame the collapse of East European societies on the foreigner – in our case, multinational corporations and international financial organizations. But these groups were invited by the ci-devant ‘communist’ nomenklatura (or what one of our wittier fascist writers calls ‘the transvestite nomenklatura-bourgeoisie’), our ruling class is undistinguishable from the transnational Rulers of the Universe and Everything: they were and remained the vanguard.  They are la Russie profonde. And many, like in all eastern vanguards, are, alas, Jewish, especially in Russia where, given the traditions, this is insane.

Finally, it is quite simple why there is no resistance to capitalism in Eastern Europe. Capitalism was created here by socialists, socialism here means capitalism and vice versa. Eastern conservatives, desirous of recreating or at least re-imagining a pre-Leninist order, holy and natural, cannot love capitalists because then they would have to love communists. The very numerous loyal believers in the wisdom and saintliness of the Leninist-Stalinist ancien régime (and their number is steadily increasing, see the incredible triumphs of the hard-line Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia) must be blind to the very nature of the system they are now fancifully transmogrifying into a folksy arrangement of justice, fairness and niceness. They cannot oppose capitalism since they are still calling it (their own version, of course) socialism.

La Nouvelle Alternative asks me what to do about the edification or reconstruction of an East European Left. The goals are pretty obvious for opponents of capitalism, and I do not wish to waste your time with generalities that are a matter of general if vague agreement. But who will be the Left here? My answer to this question  would have been a cliché a hundred years ago, but it is uncomfortably odd today.

Socialism has not failed since it had never been attempted.

Socialism is proletarian socialism, there is none else. The Left will be a working-class Left or it will not be. How so? Let me say a few words about this.

First, we must differentiate between pre-1917 (and in the rest of the so-called ‘socialist’ countries, pre-1945) old urban working class which was a modern, secular, politically committed, literate élite informed by an anti-capitalist adversary culture (Lionel Trilling’s widely accepted term certainly applies to the Second International proletariat) and between the new working class created by the Bolshevik tyranny through administrative-military action which fostered industrialization and urbanization. This new proletariat was meant ideologically to be a non-class in keeping with the Marxian promise about the abolition of the proletariat and of alienation uno eodemque actu, a non-class supposed to embody the Rousseauist/Fichtean concept of the ‘people’, the total and equal political community of non-possessors. Proletarian class consciousness woud have been a heresy and lèse-majesté in a ‘communist’, that is, classless society. The Leninist-Stalinist parties always protested wildcat strikes during crises with ‘the working class cannot fight itself’, since it was assumed that the working class was the ruling class and the collective owner while being non-possessor without being dispossessed. By the usual cunning of reason, the modern class society that resulted from the Bolshevik revolution’s violent overthrow of agrarian caste society was able to enter its own adequate consciousness only once post-Stalinist state capitalism was itself overthrown in 1989. But precisely at this moment, any ideological justification for class consciousness disappeared because, ironically, any talk of class was assimilated to the propaganda armoury of the recently  abolished ‘socialism’ which has built up class and has fractured class consciousness. The ex-‘communist’ successor parties (now calling themselves socialist or social democrat) segued seemlessly into another kind of modernist vanguard. If back then progress meant planning, centralisation, command economy, bureaucratic rule etc., now the interest of progress and modernity demands monetarism, balanced budgets, tax cuts,  the privatisation of everything, deskilling and so on. The ‘communist’ ruling class might not have been a classical bourgeoisie in the Weberian sense of Bürgerlickeit, but it was and it still is a capitalist ruling class now having co-opted new groups and having had made its peace with either liberalism or – in some places – with old-style reactionary chauvinism, and with the West.

The post-‘communist’ working class, very much the opposite of a class-in-itself-and-for-itself, is rather a ‘subaltern’ class in the sense once defined by Gramsci and now developed by Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. It is a class which is not represented either symbolically or politically. The independent Left in Eastern Europe (which does not belong to the post-post-Stalinist successor parties and their entourage), very much like its counterparts in the West, is a cultural Left worried about minorities, immigrants, asylum-seekers, gays,  the environment and peace (feminism, which would be really contentious, does not seem to take) and I for one do share these concerns. Since the groups symbolically represented by the cultural Left are represented, there might be a way out for the out of ‘subaltern’ status. But the workers are mostly white goyim, so their oppression remains unperceived except when ‘worker’ stands for exactly that – that is, white goyim – in the racist/ethnicist discourse directed against the oppressed or discriminated racial/ethnic minorities, so the notion ‘worker’ is used like the phrase ‘ordinary Americans’ in the propaganda talk of conservative populists in the United States. This usage – mainly in Poland, Rumania, Hungary – makes the working class even less visible, the only prevalent or frequent use being clearly fraudulent. ‘The proletariat will never come to embody power unless it becomes the class of consciousness’, says Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle, 1967, § 88). What Debord says of the Bolshevik revolution (‘this was the moment when an image of the working class arose in radical opposition to the working class itself’, op. cit., § 100), may prove very true again if we are not careful. Because if a new departure for the Left in the East regards the working class as ‘subaltern’ like Lenin and Trotsky regarded the humiliated peasantry, then the proletariat will never be ‘the class of consciousness’ and liberation will come to mean another power switch that will preserve domination under some new kind of ideological delusion/manipulation.

Easter Europe might turn again into the weakest link in the chain of capitalist régimes because of Eastern capitalism being so pure, cleansed and purged by Leninist-Stalinist mass murder, coercion and comprehensive servitude. There are no quasi-feudal and no socialist elements in this society. This is a microcosm that – unlike Western régimes – is purely, totally, a pristine and perfect capitalism. The only kind of resistance is purely nostalgic and  passéiste, either from the symbolic standpoint of the ‘natural world’ of agrarian-pastoral caste society, or from that of the tragedy of the emancipatory attempts which ended in state capitalism, tyranny and abject surrender. In other words, it is merely ideological. The new proletarian, the person who, according to Guy Debord, is characterised by a lack of control over his or her life, dwells in the absolute obscurity of not being a political subject, of being forgotten and being simply denied. The first step for an East European Left should be to awaken to the memory and reality of class which means a step towards the recognition of working class autonomy and subjecthood. In this, we are in a worse position than in 1848. With one signal difference: neither capitalist modernity nor the proletariat are advanced enclaves in an archaic social cosmos: now both are everything.  Now that it is a majority, the working class is politically nothing. Observe this and start from here.


Counter-Revolution Against a Counter-Revolution (2007) PDF

Unlike the revolutionary upheavals of 1953, 1956, 1968 and 1981 (respectively: East Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Gdańsk), the East European  régime change in 1989 did not proclaim a purer and better socialism, workers’ councils, self-management or even higher wages for proletarians. It was seen as a re-establishment of ‛normalcy’, historical continuity and a restoration of the treble shibboleth: parliamentary democracy, ‛the market’ and an inconditional allegiance to ‛the West’.

 As I have shown earlier[1], this idea of continuity was a mirage. No such system existed before in Eastern Europe but a backward agricultural society based on ramshackle latifundia, an authoritarian political order led mostly by the military caste drawn from the impoverished gentry, prone to coups d’état, and a public and intellectual life dominated by bitter opponents of a perceived hostile ‛West’. Elements of modernity, such as they were, had been introduced subsequently by Leninist planners and modernisers who, exacting an extremely high price of blood, suffering, scarcity, tyranny and censorship, had been able to impose mobility, urbanisation, secularisation, industrialisation, literacy, numeracy, hygiene, infrastructure, nuclear family, work discipline and the rest.

   Those were the foundations on which the new market capitalism and pluralist democracy were built, not a rediscovery of a spurious liberal past, but its introduction by decree for the first time. It was an extremely popular decree for that portion of the population (and of which I, too, was an enthusiastic and active member) which participated in the marches, rallies, meetings – not to speak of the shenanigans and skulduggery unavoidable even in utopian politics – and which seemed at the time to have been ‛the people’, but which was at best five per cent of the actual, empirical dēmos. Still, to those of us, stepping into the light from our sombre dissident conventicles of a few dozen people, a hundred thousand people appeared as ‛the masses’. This minority, since dispersed, possessed a political attitude and a world-view that was a combination of 1848 and 1968: a joyful democratic nationalism and constitutional liberalism mingled with a distaste for authority, repression (cultural and sexual), discipline and puritanism. These transient ideological phenomena which seemed so profound, interesting and solid to us at the time, reflected a state of affairs that nearly all observers had been very slow to understand and even slower to describe comprehensively.[2]

    Neither the leftish bent of most dissident criticism of ‛real socialism’, nor the the sixty-eightish, libertarian feel of some of 1989 was ever explained satisfactorily. Even the most glaringly obvious historical comparisons were not made.  What I find most curious is that the coincidence in time of the crisis of the welfare state – East and West – did not awaken any interest. Historical and political imagination was paralysed by the unthinking acceptance of the claim that Soviet bloc régimes must have been (in some elusive sense) ‛socialist’ since this is what they have declared of themselves and, in a more important sense, this was why they were relentlessly fought by the great Western powers of various hues.

   Here, a few precisions should be made.

   I don’t think there can be any doubt as to ‛real socialism’ having been state capitalism of a peculiar sort.[3] It was a system with commodity production, wage labour, social division of labour, real subsumption of labour to capital, the imperative of accumulation, class rule, exploitation, oppression, enforced conformity, hierarchy and inequality, unpaid housework and an absolute ban on workers’ protest (all strikes illegal), not to speak of a general interdiction of political expression. The only remaining problem is, of course, the lack of ‛market co-ordination’ and its replacement by government planning. The term ‛private property’ is misleading here, since if its essence is the separation of proletarians from the means of production, it also refers to state property, even if we should not try to minimise the considerable differences. If property is control (and legally it is control) then ‛state property’ is private property in this sense: nobody can pretend that in Soviet-type régimes the workers controlled production, distribution, investment and consumption.[4]

   Nor can there be any doubt that post-Stalin state capitalism in the Soviet bloc and in Yugoslavia (roughly 1956-1989) attempted to create a kind of authoritarian welfare state with problems very similar to, and immanent in, any welfare state in the West, be it of the social democratic, Christian Democrat or Gaullist or, for that matter, New Deal, variety. (I shall neglect features of welfarist state capitalism in Fascist and Nazi régimes, however apposite.[5])

   The social purpose of any welfare state – including post-Stalinist ‛real socialism’ with the Gulag closed down – was (we can safely use the past tense here) the attempt to bolster consumption through counter-cyclical demand management, to include and co-opt the rebellious working class through affordable housing, transportation, education and health care, to create a dopolavoro (a Mussolinian idea already much admired by New Dealers, but of course equally prevalent in the Stalinist Russia of the 1930s) replete with paid holidays, mass tourism, cheap popular entertainment, moderately priced sartorial fashions, and The Motor Car. The Merry Kids, a 1930s Soviet musical featuring Young Pioneers (the greatest Russian box-office hit ever), with its unbearable happiness, is undistinguishable from Hollywood or the Third Reich UFA studios’ deliriously smiley output, perhaps with less stress on sauciness and girls’ legs. At the same time, in ‛socialist’ Eastern Europe there were a few features more reminiscent of South East Asian corporate welfare methods – company holiday camps and company-owned holiday hotels, usually free for the employees, managed by the trade unions (access to them was basically a right for all citizens), free crèches and kindergartens for the workforce’s offspring – and some features inherited from European social democracy, but generalised and made mandatory, such as well-stocked lending libraries and cut-price bookshops in every entreprise, affordable good books, theatre and cinema tickets (moreover, books and tickets ordered through your trade union were to be had at half of that non-competitive price), positive discrimination in favour of working-class youngsters at higher education admissions, job security, cheap basic food, cheap alcohol, cheap tobacco, cheap and plentiful public transport, easy access to amateur and spectator sports. The absence of conspicuous wealth, let alone ostentatious luxury, of the ruling class together with ever-recurrent shortages and a very reduced consumer choice, sexual puritanism, lengthy terms of military service, the cult of hard work (‛popular mechanics’ and space flight cults for the young) and a relentless propaganda emphasising the plebeian and ‛collectivist’ characteristics of the régime where everybody was supposed to know what to do with a tool-chest, a hoe or a pitchfork, promoted an atmosphere of equality.

   An atmosphere, a mood, yes, but also a reality of incomparably greater equality than today. Nation-states in ‛real socialism’ oppressed ethnic minorities – outside Soviet Russia especially after Stalin’s fall – offering assimilation instead (training films for Hungarian social workers and local council officials in the early 1960s show forcible baths, haircuts and delousings for nomadic Roma families, operated by police and military hospital personnel, amid scenes of infernal humiliation and artificial for-camera grins) suggesting ‛unity’ and ‛harmony’ and an end to age-old cultural conflicts. The transfer of peasant populations to industrial townships, unlike in the nineteenth century, had been relatively well organised: until the 1970s when resources had begun to run out, they were moved into high-rise council estates, and immediately offered the whole set of comprehensive and egalitarian social services including health and culture – there are countries, such as Romania or the former Czechoslovakia where the majority of urban population still lives in disintegrating ‛communist’-era blocks of flats.[6]

   There is no doubt that these societies were intolerably authoritarian, oppressive and repressed, but we are beginning to see how well-integrated, cohesive, pacified, crime-free and institutionalised they were, a petty bourgeois dream, but a dream nevertheless. Also, ‛vertical’, that is, upward social mobility was fast and comprehensive and, since we speak of initially backward, peasant societies, the change from village to town, from back-breaking physical work in the fields to technological work in the factory, from hunger, filth and misery to modest cafeteria meals, hot water and indoor plumbing was breathtaking – and the cultural change dramatic. Also the route from illiteracy and the inability to read a clockface to Brecht and Bartók was astonishingly short. (By the way, it is instructive to see how institutionally embedded cultural needs can be – how half a continent stopped to read serious literature and listen to classical music in a couple of years since the social and ideological circumstances ceased to make such activities both handy and meaningful: Doch die Verhältnisse, sie sind nicht so.[7])

   When, after the régime change in 1989 (in which the present writer has played a rather public rôle and about which his feelings are quite ambivalent retrospectively), the concomitant onslaught on ‛state property’ through privatisation at world market prices, asset-stripping, outsourcing, management by-outs (companies subsequently bought up by multinationals and closed down to minimise competition and to create new captive consumer markets) caused unheard-of price rises, plummeting real wages and living standards, massive unemployment. Market liberalisation meant that the hitherto protected, cushioned, technologically backward local industries could not withstand the enormous competition in retail markets which has led to the collapse of local commerce unable to resist dumping and similar techniques. Almost half of total jobs have been lost. The very real rejoicing over pluralistic political competition and hugely increased freedom of expression was dampened by immiseration and lack of security, accompanied by the ever-increasing dominion of commercial popular culture, advertising, tabloids and trash. What has been conceived of at first as colourful proved merely gaudy and as it became more and more shopsoiled its novel charm has waned.

   All this was regarded by the unhappy East European populations as unmitigated and incomprehensible catastrophe. The political groups on the ground possessed by a little critical sense had been those which fought the former régime and continued to fight its ghost for a long time to come and pushed the post-Worl War II liberal agenda – freedom of expression, constitutionalism, abortion rights, gay rights, anti-racism, anti-clericalism, anti-nationalism, certainly causes worth fighting for, but bewildering to the popular classes, otherwise engaged – without any attention to the onset of widespread poverty, social and cultural chaos. These groups combined the ‛human rights’ discourse of the liberal left with the ‛free to choose’ rhetoric of the neo-conservative right (they still do, after 18 years) and thought of privatisation as the break-up of the almighty state which – armed with the weapon of redistribution – appeared the enemy to beat, the ‛dependency culture’ to be the ideological adversary preventing the subjects of the Sozialstaat from becoming freedom-loving, upright, autonomous citizens. I remember – I was a member of the Hungarian parliament from 1990 to 1994 – that we discussed the question of the republican coat of arms (with or without the Holy Crown; the party of ‛with’ won) for five months, but there was no significant debate on unemployment while two million jobs went up into the air in a small country of ten million.

   The task of a welfarist rearguard action went to any political force considered to be beyond the pale. In countries where there was official discrimination against functionaries of the ‛communist’ apparat and where the members of the former ruling party had to stick together for self-protection and healing wounded pride, like in East Germany and the Czech Republic, this was incumbent upon the so-called ‛post-communist left’, and for the rest, it usually went to extreme nationalist and ‛Christian’ parties. Since there was a certain continuity of personnel between the ruling ‛communist’ parties’ pro-market reformist wing (and their expert advisers in universities, research institutes and state banks) who, being at the right place at the right time, profited handsomely from privatisations, there was a superficial plausibility to the popular theory according to which ‛nothing has changed’, this was only a conspiracy to prolong the rule of a discredited ruling class. The truth of the matter is, of course, that the changes have been so gigantic that only a fraction of the nomenklatura was able to recycle itself into capitalist wheelers-dealers. The ultimate winner was nobody local, but the multinational corporations, the American-led military alliance and the EU bureaucracy.

   Nevertheless, there is a grain of truth in this popular theory, namely the suspicion that the contrast between planned state capitalism (aka ‛real socialism’) and liberal market capitalism may not be as great as solemnly trumpeted in 1989. Popular theories formulated as paranoid urban legends, however understandable, cannot (and should not) replace analysis. But they do have political significance, especially as many successor parties to former ‛communist’ organisations are now touting the neo-conservative gospel (the term ‛neo-liberal’ is something of a misnomer: today’s ultracapitalists and market fundamentalists are no liberals by any stretch of the imagination) and are dismantling the last remnants of the welfare state. Hence the strange identification in some countries of Eastern Europe of  ‛communists’ with ‛capitalists’ – after all it is frequently former ‛communists’ who are doing this to us, it is always the same people on top, the democratic transformation was a fraud, this is all a Judeo-Bolshevist cabal and so on.

   Now the identification of socialism and capitalism is well known to have been a Nazi cliché – both are ‛racially alien’ – but ‛the circumstances, they are not so’, they could not be more different. After all, communists and social democrats in the 1920s and 1930s were united and adamant in their false consciousness concerning their integral opposition to capitalism and tyranny. False consciousness does not preclude sincerity. The ex-communist parties at the beginning of the twenty-first century are opposed not only to socialism but to the most elementary working-class interests, this is nothing new and it also not limited to Eastern Europe. (When speaking of Eastern Europe, I always include the European part of the former Soviet Union, following the good example of General de Gaulle.) After all, the Italian Communist Party and its leader, Enrico Berlinguer have called for austerity measures and the proletarian duty to acquiesce in them two years before Mrs Thatcher’s accession to power.[8] (The right wing of the former PCI, the DS, is now proposing a merger with its enemy of sixty years, the Christian Democrats…) Therefore the cliché, while it has not become any truer, represents fair and just historical revenge.

   This is why and how the neo-conservative counter-revolution is countered by forms of resistance couched in the terms of the pre-war nationalist and militarist right, often intermingled with open fascist rhetoric and symbols and, in the case of the former Soviet Union, extreme eclecticism trying to synthesise Stalinism and fascism. (The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the main opposition force in Russia, is inspired by the loony ideologues of the White Guards who represented the political ‛brain trust’ of the general staff of  Admiral Kolchak and Baron Wrangel.) There is a great variety of political solutions. After the defeat of the ‛neo-liberal’ or neo-conservative régime of ex-communist President Kwaśniewski in Poland, the ultra-Catholic Kaczyński twin brothers’ act, however ridiculous it may have appeared at first, is quite successful and consolidating, combining extreme social conservatism, anti-gays, anti-women, anti-minorities, anti-Russian, anti-German, anti-semitic and, above all, anti-communist, with monetarist orthodoxy, pro-Bush military zeal, persecution of everybody on the left (they have stopped the pensions of the few surviving veterans of the International Brigades in the Spanish civil war in the 1930s), censorship and savage ethnicist propaganda. In Slovakia, the government of the left social democrat, Robert Fico, is an alliance of his own party with the nationalists of Vladimír Mečiar and the quasi-fascist National Party led by the notorious alcoholic blowhard, Ján Slota. Mr Fico had the effrontery to increase pensions, cut public transport prices, stop the dismantling of state-managed, essentially free health care and public education. It is an immensely popular government, made even more so by its sharp anti-Czech and anti-Hungarian nationalism combined with pro-Russian leanings.

   In Hungary, the socialist-liberal coalition led by the young and gifted Ferenc Gyurcsány, a billionaire businessman and a former secretary of the Communist Youth League before 1989 was returned to office in 2006 after an election campaign based on left-populist promises which, in a secret speech to his parliamentary party, Mr Gyurcsány himself announced to have been a bunch of deliberate lies. After the speech has been leaked, riots erupted in Budapest, and the headquarters of state television – the symbol of mendacity – has been torched. On October 23, 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the formerly defeated police visited retribution on the protesters, beating up rioters, passers-by, already immobilised prisoners and whoever else was in their way. (The liberal intelligentsia, to its eternal shame, took the side of police terror.) Protests continued for months, deteriorating rapidly, dominated by the symbolism of the Arrow-Cross, the Hungarian Nazis famous for their anti-Jewish terror in the encircled Budapest of 1944. The protests were adroitly mined by the parliamentary right, led by the former prime minister, Viktor Orbán. The government coalition proceeded with its radical austerity measures, immense tax increases, social and health expenditure cuts, closing down hospitals (the first deaths caused by the chaos in the health service have already occurred), schools, cultural insitutions, cutting or stopping subsidies altogether, planning to privatise the hospitals, the railways, the electricity board and municipal services, liberalising prices (e. g., those of medicaments), introducing fees for every visit to a (state) doctor, fees for university students, doubling the price of public transport, freezing wage and pension increases – all necessary to reduce public debt and trade deficit in order to meet the so-called ‛convergency criteria’ demanded by the European Union, mandatory for joining the eurozone. Credit-rating agencies such as Standard and Poor’s, have more influence on government policy than the electorate.

   All this is opposed by deafening anti-communist vociferation, xenophobic, anti-semitic, anti-Western and anti-immigrant agitation (there are practically no immigrants in Hungary, but never mind, there may be at some point in the future if the rootless cosmopolitans in office are not chased away). The polls show that the parliamentary centre-left may disappear, government supporters are openly threatened. There will be a referendum on the most unpopular measures initiated by the parliamentary right, certain to be another, unsurprising major defeat for the socialist-liberal government. Because of police abuses, the three major chiefs of the national police, the head of the secret service and the justice minister responsible had to resign in ignominy. Corruption is rife. Motorway and underground railway construction is in tatters. High-rise office blocks are unfinished or empty. Trust in public institutions is nil.

  Thousand of motorcyclists, sporting imitation Wehrmacht helmets, huge Nazi and Arrow-Cross flags on their machines, the official name of their association – Goy Bikers – proudly emblazoned on their leather jackets are filling the main streets of central Budapest with their thunderous noise and billowing exhaust fumes. The country is rife with rallies demanding an unelected, non-party upper chamber, a constitution ascribing sovereignty to the Holy Crown (instead to the people). Forty-one Polish MPs, members of the majority in the Diet, proposed a bill for the election of Jesus Christ as honorary president of Poland (some would amend this to honorary king). The speaker threw it out on a technicality, they did not dare to put it to a vote: it might have won.

   Add to this the seeming inability of the Czech Republic, Romania and Serbia to put together a working parliamentary majority, the anti-Russian madness gripping the Baltic statelets together with very real, apartheid-style discrimination against their ethnic Russian minorities, the persecution and segregation of the Roma minorities everywhere (said the president of Romania of a journalist from whom he personally wrestled and stole, well, confiscated her mobile phone: ‛I won’t talk to this stinking Gipsy c**t’), the total collapse of ethnic enclaves ‛statified’ by the august ‛international community’, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldova/Transnistria, the Stalinist intermundium of Belarus, the expulsion of ex-Yugoslav residents from Slovenia – and you have a picture of the ‛new democracies’, the brave soldiers of the ‛coalition of the willing’, Mr Rumsfeld’s and Mr Cheney’s ‛new Europe’.

   Liberal commentators speak of an insurgency against modernity. This is utter nonsense. The neo-conservative (or neo-liberal) counter-revolution has attacked the nation and especially the lower middle classes on two fronts.

   First, it has ignored the fact that social welfare institutions are the backbone of national identity, the only remaining principle of cohesion in a traditionless capitalism. It is not only the loss of livelihood, but the perceived loss of dignity, the loss of the sense of being looked after, protected, thus respected by the community represented by the state which is at stake. Upward mobility was the greatest triumph of planned welfare states, internalised as dynamic equality. The loss of class status –this latter symbolised in East Central Europe characteristically by a university degree: even a starving Herr Doktor is a gentleman – the feeling that the descendants of tradespeople, civil servants, teachers and physicians may have to do physical work, again, or flee somewhere as illegal migrants, to be déclassé, is an intolerable threat. This insurgency is the revolt of the middle classes against loss of nation and loss of caste.

   Second, identifying with the bulwarks and battlements of the welfare state created by the communists is ideologically impossible for the middle classes. It would be a tremendous loss of face, since ‛communism’ symbolises defeat and the past, and the petty bourgeoisie is nothing if not modernist and driven by the myth of achievement, self-improvement and the rest. They cannot defend openly the institutions that gave them their dignity in the first place, which has made peasants into bureaucrats and intellectuals since this would be acknowledging the shameful agrarian past and the equally shameful ‛communist’ legacy. Thus, by representing the neo-conservative (or neo-liberal) destruction as the work of communists, shame can be avoided and the defense of pre-1989 institutional arrangements acceptable. Also, former communist party or communist youth secretaries cannot say that they never belonged to that institutional order and they have nothing to be thankful for its blessings, and they have to declare that the dismantling of that order is a correction of a mistake. So they appear fallible and opportunistic, not the harbingers of a new era, liberty or some such.

   So, the new counter-revolutionaries can be fashioned as being of both the left and the right, and the impeccably anti-communist foes of the ‛communist’ privatisers, monetarists, supply-siders and globalisers. They can defend the Bolshevik-created welfare state without giving an inch to Bolsheviks who went from the International to the Transnational and the Multinational, since both can be opposed by the idea of militant ethnicity, quite different from classical nationalism built upon the legal and political equality of all citizens, regardless of creed and race.

   Since this oubreak of political lunacy in Eastern Europe is as much a defensive reaction to neo-conservative or neo-liberal globalisation and neo-imperialism as the anti-capitalist version of the new social movements in the West and in the Third World (I know, this expression exudes an unpleasant whiff but I could not find or concoct a better one), we shall have to consider briefly the quite numerous and slightly alarming parallels between the two.

   The differences between the ‛post-Fordist’ contemporary protests from past forms of resistance to capitalism in the twentieth century are considerable.

   Because of changes in technology and housing (including suburban spread, ‛home ownership’ for the working class, the motor-car, the dismantling of the mass factory), the dispersal of the workforce and, in general, because of changes in the organisation of production, not to speak of the impact of the new mass media, the main adversary class in advanced capitalism, the proletariat, is now spatially separated from the seats of power (both economic and political) which are anyway de-territorialised and de-nationalised. One cannot storm the Bastille or the Winter Palace since the structure of power has been transformed. Direct revolutionary confrontations between, say, the ‛haves’ and the ‛have-nots’ are impossible, except in some so-called backward, that is, poor, countries. Thus, contemporary struggles are largely symbolic, compare, e. g., the protests against the G8 summit meeting at Heiligendamm, taking place as I write. Let us suppose for a moment that the protesters ‛win’ and manage to chase away the assorted heads of state and other great panjandrums from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – what would happen? They would return to their respective seats of government, with a few bruises, perhaps – end of story. There are no specific demands (‛Make capitalism history’ is not one), therefore the protesters are not meeting ‛bourgeois politics’ at the level where it is designed and implemented – and the few really specific demands, in fact, requests, voiced by a moderate wing are confined to the framework of bourgeois politics and therefore not revolutionary (for example, those concerning carbon emissions, migrant labour, intellectual property rights etc.), so ultimately compatible with bourgeois (mainstream liberal) politics even if they have few chances of immediate success. Violence erupts because the protesters are opposed to the ‛system’ but the system is not invested in an arbitrary congeries of nation-state bosses who are not exercising their true, that is, legal power in this setting. What is threatened (unlike in the case of communist or socialist revolutions) is not a régime change, but chaos. Chaos cannot be met by repression (although it can be suppressed and ‛cleaned up’ by police and Bundeswehr), since only counter-power can be repressed, and protest as such is not power. Repression itself can be made, on the other hand, into chaos. Power does not encounter counter-power, unlike in the case of classical – especially European – revolutions.[9]

   In post-Fordist, twenty-first century protests the fundamental principles of the political and legal order and of statecraft are not directly challenged. The regular army is not opposed by a Red Army, police by Red Guards or Republikanischer Schutzbund (Austria 1934), national, parliamentary governments by workers’ councils, bourgeois parties by proletarian parties, nation-states by a universal republic of councils (let us not forget thatthe coat of arms of the Soviet Union was the terrestrial globe swathed in red strips inscribed with ‛Proletarians of all countries, unite!’ in languages not local – such as French, English, German, Hindi  without the slightest parochial allusion to Russia and initially its ‛national’ anthem was, simply, the Internationale), principles of private ownership, of the separation of powers, of the distinction between state and civil society are not announced in a straightforward manner to be abolished presently, cultural or ideological sub-systems (from law to art) are not dierctly denounced to be deceit. As we have seen, the demands of the protesters are not wholly inimaginable within the system as greater equality, an end to imperialistic intervention and to the pile-up of nuclear weapons, greater justice towards various groups etc., even if not the matter of practical, feasible politics of the moment, have nothing in them that could not be welcomed into a more generous, more innovative liberal politics. (I have said earlier that the anti-globalisation movements combine social democratic, reformistpolicies with revolutionary street theatre.) Why the despair then?

   I do not think that the actual policies propounded matter very much. These movements are profoundly a-political or anti-political. They are addressing ‛problems’, not attacking state-forms. They are attempting to ignore studiously the state as such which they recognise implicitly since they are more or less expecting their demands and proposals to be made into government (or global government: IMF, World Bank, WTO, OECD) policy but not trying at the same time to create a new state-form more amenable to prosecute such policies.

   In these post-Fordist protest movements there is nothing that would be inherently impossible to be also attained by change(s) of government(s) through elections by parliamentary parties or an international alliance of such parties. Why then the the reluctance to join the by now traditional varieties of political participation, e. g., elections, referenda, plebiscites, strikes or different but longer, more patient and more purposeful methods of passive resistance or civil disobedience? Or, if this proves impossible, why not prepare, and train for, revolution?

   The answer is, I think, in their a-political substance: it is the withdrawal of recognition from pluralistic politics – which presupposes the conquest and exercise of power – as such, including revolutionary politics. It is not apathy – there is a lot of passion, particularly hatred, contempt, scorn – but an objectless repudiation of a subjectless order (that of capital). But the wholesale rejection of the present order is not matched by a corresponding and responding utopia (like in 1968); this is a projectless, anti-utopian revolt, pure negation – which makes it paradoxically stronger since the wrecking debates about means and ends are implicitly void.

   It is important to establish that the new protests are, by the same token, not less subversive than they predecessors had been, since what they attack is not the political and social order per se, nor liberal political institutions as such (not even the markets: ‛fair trade’ presupposes markets), but legitimacy. Civil disobedience, when partial and particular in its aims, however radical, is a morally grounded, publicly declared and assumed law-breaking. But however much it resists law, the very resistence is couched in terms of liberal constitutionalism. Now generalised civil disobedience (generalised in its objectives, not in its prevalence), even if it is plain that it cannot trigger a collapse of the prevailing order, poses a problem for liberal democracy. Without the systemic opposition being able (or indeed, willing) to create counter-power, government by consent – which is the basis of any ‛free’ polity – becomes imposible. Consent is increasingly, albeit passively and symbolically, withdrawn, not counterbalanced by resistance (which is naturally political) but by a checking-out from institutions and by a relegation of reflection on human affairs onto an altogether different, usually ethical, plane. But since this ethics is usually some species of distributive justice, it needs an authority in which the intellectual force necessary for fair redistribution rests.

   The ever more consensual character of formerly and supposedly adversarial political processes (elections, party politics, the nations’ contest, conflict of capital and labour in the workplace) proved self-defeating. Authority is historically asserted only against something: the conflation of authority and politics is extremely dangerous. Nevertheless, all other forms of authority (religion, consensual social morality and ‛moral sense’, high culture, science, tradition as such comprising old people’s alleged wisdom and the like) have atrophied, therefore all scission within politics causes panic.The one surviving form of authority by assent is still with us since it is not maintained by the community by virtue of its excellence, but only as an expression of the serendipity of surreptitious, whimsical, capricious, impermanent will. When this will appears to be cheated, hell breaks lose. This popular will, perceived as an empty screen, onto which anything can be projected, is subservient to mood and fashion. If the dominant style of public decisions and pronouncements is not in tune with these transient perceptions of demotic preferences, this serves as a proof of the hypocritical or illusory character of political institutions which are ‛out of touch’ with these demotic preferences, hence subservient to occult élite powers, interests or cabals.

   Small wonder, then, if the desperate and déclassé middle-class youth in Eastern Europe dreams of sinister plots and feels that its sorrow and anxiety is both democratic and profound beacuse somehow it matches the style of the epoch.

   The unmediated, direct negation of legitimacy seems to contradict the lack of truly revolutionary intentions I just have imputed to the new social movements. But revolutions are quarrels. The revolutionary says to the tyrant, ‛You declaim that your order is just; no it isn’t; it is the next order we are going to inaugurate that is just; you are wrong, and we are right; God is on our side’. The new social movements would say nothing of the sort. Justice as conceivable by conventional politics is of no interest to them. They desire an end to global warming or to child poverty by means they despise, while they do not think there are any other means available – but it will not be they who would have to use those means.

   The shift of the political struggle from form to substance makes constitutional, legal, legitimising arguments superfluous. The apparent recognition that there are no contemporary alternatives to capitalism in the offing does not mean that capitalism now is considered legitimate or even bearable. On the contrary. It means the abandonment of the constitutional and social idea of legitimacy and of the philosophical ideas of justice and liberty seen in the context of conscious human action. This is in marked contrast to Marx who saw that the problem with capitalism is precisely that it (together with exploitation, oppression and hierarchy) prevails among free and equal subjects.

   The Zeitgeist that makes young Western Europeans to march under red and black flags is different from young East Europeans who imitate their Palestinian scarves and bandannas, their hoods and masks, their stone-throwing and their rebel cool they have watched enviously on television but combining all this with extreme authoritarianism, racism and so on. While West European, North and Latin American anti-globalist demonstrators evince a nostalgia for the revolutionary proletariat, their East European counterparts express unambiguously their fear and loathing of proletarians.  Even if this is merely politico-cultural atavism, it (class as as orientation point) is highly significant.

   The adaptation of the props and stage management of gauchiste demonstrations by reactionary, bourgeois nuclei of future storm-troops is in part a cargo cult.[10] More importantly, though, it is the application of militant anti-politics – at its heart there is, both East and West, a culturally anti-étatiste defense of the redistributionist, protective, strong state, a living self-contradiction – to the ruins of a  secular society based on egalitarian planning, 1945-1989. R. I. P. Involuntary post-modern pastiche plays a certain rôle. A born-again (as fake Catholic and fake nationalist) burgher middle class created by ‛communists’ striving and seeking to preserve institutions and routines practiced by ‛communists’ all the while shouting ‛death to the communists’ meaning capitalists: this would have warmed the late Jean Baudrillard’s cunning heart.

   The working class is silent. There are hardly any strikes. This battle is fought between transnational capital and its native agents and the local, ethnic middle classes and the ethnicist and clericalist intelligentsia. An authentic left has not surfaced.

   Yet.[11]


1 ‛Un capitalisme pur et simple’, La Nouvelle Alternative, vol. 19, no. 60-61, March-June 2004, pp. 13-40; ‛Ein ganz normaler Kapitalismus’, Grundrisse 20, June 2007 (forthcoming).

[2] Cf. G. M. Tamás, ‛The Legacy of Dissent: Irony, Ambiguity, Duplicity’, in: Vladimir Tismaneanu, ed., The Revolutions of 1989, London and New York: Routledge, 1999, pp. 181-197 (a first version has appeared in the TLS, May 14, 1993); ‛Paradoxes of 1989’, East European Politics and Societies, vol. 13, no. 2 (spring 1999), pp. 353-358; ‛Victory Defeated’, in: Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, eds., Democracy After Communism, Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002, pp. 126-131.

[3]  An excellent survey of ‛state capitalism’ theories can be found in Mike Haynes, ‛Marxism and the Russian Question in the Wake of the Soviet Collapse’ (formally a review of books by Michael Cox [ed.], Paresh Chattopadhyay and Neil Fernandez), Historical Materialism 10.4 (2002), pp. 317-362. See also my ‛Un capitalisme pur et simple’, loc. cit., and cf. Stephen A. Resnick, Richard D. Wolff, Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR, New York and London: Routledge, 2002, compare Paresh Chattopadhyay’s review, Historical Materialism 14.1 (2006), pp. 249-270.

[4] Also, it cannot be denied that the new bureaucratic ruling class had true and deep proletarian roots. A Hungarian analysis of the ‛nomenklatura’ shows that in 1952, 70% of  communist party apparatchiki had been formerly factory workers or agricultural labourers (51.6% skilled workers) other employees 9.4%, intellectuals 3.3%, finished elementary school 62.7%, with university degrees 2.8%. In the separate ‛state’ (ministries, local government) ‛apparat’, 47% had been previously factory workers, peasants 10.3%, intellectuals 11.5%. (Tibor Huszár, Az elittől a nómenklatúráig,  Budapest: Corvina, 2007, p. 63.) Even in the main ruling bodies of the communist party, the Politburo and the Secretariat, a majority of working-class origin was maintained to the very end. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the old aristocratic and bourgeois élites had been thrown out and that a plebeian tone was to be heard throughout.

[5] See, however, David Schoenbaum, Hitler’s Social Revolution: Class and Status in Nazi Germany, Garden City NJ: Anchor Doubleday, 1967 and compare the works of Götz Aly and the debates they have triggered.

[6] Antonio Negri, in a 1967 essay which looks suspiciously like a classic, has shown how the welfare state was the result of first radical reckoning of the bourgeoisie with the power of the working class, a political inference from a profound understanding of the structural rôle of the proletarian adversary. See his ‛Keynes and the Capitalist Theory of the State’, in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Labor of Dionysus: A critique of the State-Form, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1994, pp. 22-50. There must be an understanding of how ‛real socialism’ has reverted after the second world war to the non-coercive extraction of surplus value (an end to self-colonisation through slave labour in the Gulag) and to the construction of social cohesion through stimulating consumer demand. This was the fundamentally Keynesian programme of Imre Nagy in 1953 and 1956 and of Aleksandr Dubček and Ota Šik in 1968.

[7] Bertolt Brecht, ‛Die Dreigroschenoper’,  Stücke, I, Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau-Verlag, 1975, p. 76. (‛The circumstances are never just so.’)

[8] See Ernest Mandel, From Stalinism to Eurocommunism, London: New Left Books, 1978, pp. 125-149.  The opportunist turn towards straightforward bourgeois politics in the PCI explains the early rise and large influence of the Italian far left, cf. Steve Wright, Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism, London and Sterling VA: Pluto, 2002.

[9] This conundrum is reflected in the debates about contemporary imperialism. On the one hand, Antonio Negri, once one of the most incisive theorists of class struggle, is setting aside the problem of the locus of the revolution, thinking it has dissolved. On the other hand, the great Marxist scholar (economist, historian, geographer, urban critic, philosopher of history), David Harvey, retreats from Marx to Rousseau (and sometimes, it seems, to Robin Hood) with his theory of ‛assimilation by dispossession’ very much in tune with the moral sentiment of the new social movements, see his The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003 and his A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. I agree, though, with Ellen Meiksins Wood regarding the continued importance of the nation-states as loci of power. As she points out, simply, clearly and decisively, there is no sign of a development towards world governance as a result of globalisation; a certain sheen of direct rule by capital is, I think, a mirage created by the destruction of the welfare state and the re-fashioning of government techniques sometimes harking back to old methods from classical laisser-faire times. Cf. her ‛Logics of Power: A Conversation with David Harvey’, Historical Materialism 14.4 (2006), pp. 9-34. Compare her wonderful, characteristically succinct analysis in Empire of Capital, London and New York: Verso, 2003, passim. Interesting points are raised, contra Negri, by Alex Callinicos, ‛Toni Negri in Perspective’, in: Gopal Balakrishnan, ed., Debating Empire,  London and New York: Verso, 2003, pp. 121-143. Also, there would be need to confront Harvey’s new Proudhonist doctrine (not ‛property is theft’, but ‛empire is robbery’) with Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, ‛Global Capitalism and American Empire’, Socialist Register 2004, pp. 1-42, and, idem, ‛Finance and American Empire’, Socialist Register 2005, pp. 46-81, also criticised by Alex Callinicos, ‛Imperialism and Global Political Economy’, International Socialism 108 (autumn 2005), pp.109-128.

[10] It is an open question, how much more authentic are the communist and anarchist paraphernalia of anti-globalisation protest in the West than the Arrow-Cross and Iron Guard symbolism of militant youth in Eastern Europe?

[11] This essay draws on my dozens of articles written for two centre-left dailies of national circulation, Népszabadság and Népszava as well as for two liberal weeklies, Élet és Irodalom and HVG. They deserve my thanks, since their editors were not happy either with my qualified understanding for the rioters and my unconditional condemnation of police action or with my judgment on the Hungarian government’s policies. I had to simplify some issues for the foreign reader.