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Tag: democracy

Obsessions of Berlin (Mattick, 1948)

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by Paul Mattick, Partisan Review, Vol.15 No.10, October 1948, pp.1108-1124. [PDF]

As against the terror of the bombs, the actual conquest of Berlin was of lesser significance to its inhabitants. Nevertheless, the artillery tore new holes into the ruins, shot away parts of the surviving buildings, killed many people running for food and water. The spray of machine guns is visible almost on every house, every floor, every apartment door. The tanks ground down the streets and sidewalks. The battle was fought section by section, street by street, house by house. It is said that sixty thousand Russians died in the struggle for Berlin. The estimate may be incorrect, but it reveals the ferocity of the struggle. There are no guesses on the German losses. They lost everything – particularly, however, their illusions about the Russians.

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Towards a Critique of Political Democracy (Tronti, 2009)

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by Mario Tronti – Centro per la Riforma dello Stato – Cosmos and History 5:1, 2009

A word of warning: my argument will involve a deconstruction of the theme of democracy. I will seek to clear the field of the conceptual debris that has accumulated around the idea and practice of democracy, so that our discussion can then take up—in a more constructive and also more programmatic manner—the identification of further directions of inquiry, especially in what concerns that crucial passage represented by the construction of the subject.

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Introducing Commune

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Commune Magazine

For a life worth living.

We are a year into the death, the real death, of liberalism. Or maybe two years? It was never more than our fair-weather friend, an often treacherous ally to the radicals who did the heavy lifting for social change it claimed for itself, in the labor and women’s movements, in struggles for civil rights that were for much more than rights, and struggles against the war that were against much more than war. Though liberalism’s death warrant was sealed long ago, when the capitalism for which it has long served as management team ceased to expand, we were surprised by the rapid progress of the disease. In any case, the shameful circumstances of its demise underscore how little we should mourn.  Read the rest of this entry »

A contribution to the critique of political autonomy (Dauvé, 2008)

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by Gilles Dauvé (pdf)

It’s very difficult to force into obedience whoever has no wish to command.

Rousseau

No critique beyond this point

Any critique of democracy arouses suspicion, and even more so if this critique is made by those who wish a world without capital and wage-labour, without classes, without a State.

Public opinion dislikes but understands those who despise democracy from a reactionary or elitist point of view. Someone who denies the common man’s or woman’s ability to organize and run himself or herself, logically will oppose democracy. But someone who firmly believes in this ability, and yet regards democracy as unfit for human emancipation, is doomed to the dustbins of theory. At the best, he is looked down upon as an idiot; at the worst, he gets the reputation of a warped mind who’ll end up in the poor company of the arch-enemies of democracy: the fascists.

Indeed, if “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”, it seems obvious that in order to emancipate themselves, the exploited must not only do away with the power structures that enslave them, but also create their own organs of debating and decision-making. Exercising one’s collective freedom, isn’t that what democracy is all about? That assumption has the merit of simplicity: to change the world and live the best possible human life, what better way than to base this life on institutions that will provide the largest number of people with the largest freedom on speech and decision-taking? Besides, whenever they fight, the dominated masses generally declare their will to establish the authentic democracy that’s been so far lacking.

For all these reasons, the critique of democracy is a lost or forgotten battle.

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Ellen Meiksins Wood, Theorist of Capitalism and Class Struggle, R.I.P. 2016

“Class struggle is the nucleus of Marxism. This is so in two inseparable senses: it is class struggle that for Marxism explains the dynamic of history, and it is the abolition of classes, the obverse or end-product of class struggle, that is the ultimate objective of the revolutionary process. The particular importance for Marxism of the working class in capitalist society is that this is the only class whose own class interests require, and whose own conditions make possible, the abolition of class itself. The inseparable unity of this view of history and this revolutionary objective is what above all distinguishes Marxism from other conceptions of social transformation, and without it there is no Marxism. These propositions may seem so obvious as to be trivial; yet it can be argued that the history of Marxism in the twentieth century has been marked by a gradual shift away from these principles. The perspectives of Marxism have increasingly come to be dominated by the struggle for power. Where the achievement of political power was originally conceived by Marxism as an aspect or instrument of class struggle, whose object is its own abolition, class struggle has increasingly tended to appear as a means toward the achievement of political power-and sometimes not even as a primary or essential means.  – Marxism without Class Struggle, EMW

For millennia, human beings have provided for their material needs by working the land. And probably for nearly as long as they have engaged in agriculture they have been divided into classes, between those who worked the land and those who appropriated the labor of others. That division between appropriators and producers has taken many forms in different times and places, but one general characteristic they have had in common is that the direct producers have typically been peasants. These peasant producers have remained in possession of the means of production, specifically land. As in all pre-capitalist societies, these producers have had direct access to the means of their own reproduction. This has meant that when their surplus labor has been appropriated by exploiters, it has been done by what Marx called “extra-economic” means—that is, by means of direct coercion, exercised by landlords and/or states employing superior force, privileged access to military, judicial, and political power.

Here, then, is the most basic difference between all pre-capitalist societies and capitalism. It has nothing to do with whether production is urban or rural and everything to do with the particular property relations between producers and appropriators, whether in industry or agriculture. Only in capitalism is the dominant mode of surplus appropriation based on the dispossession of the direct producers whose surplus labor is appropriated by purely “economic” means. Because direct producers in a fully developed capitalism are propertyless, and because their only access to the means of production, to the requirements of their own reproduction, even to the means of their own labor, is the sale of their labor-power in exchange for a wage, capitalists can appropriate the workers’ surplus labor without direct coercion.

This unique relation between producers and appropriators is, of course, mediated by the “market.” Markets of various kinds have existed throughout recorded history and no doubt before, as people have exchanged and sold their surpluses in many different ways and for many different purposes. But the market in capitalism has a distinctive and unprecedented function. Virtually everything in capitalist society is a commodity produced for the market. And even more fundamentally, both capital and labor are utterly dependent on the market for the most basic conditions of their own reproduction. Just as workers depend on the market to sell their labor-power as a commodity, capitalists depend on it to buy labor-power, as well as the means of production, and to realize their profits by selling the goods or services produced by the workers. This market-dependence gives the market an unprecedented role in capitalist societies, as not only a simple mechanism of exchange or distribution but as the principal determinant and regulator of social reproduction. The emergence of the market as a determinant of social reproduction presupposed its penetration into the production of life’s most basic necessity, food.

This unique system of market-dependence entails some very distinctive “laws of motion,” specific systemic requirements and compulsions shared by no other mode of production: the imperatives of competition, accumulation, and profit-maximization. And these imperatives, in turn, mean that capitalism can, and must, constantly expand in ways and degrees unlike any other social form—constantly accumulating, constantly searching out new markets, constantly imposing its imperatives on new territories and new spheres of life, on human beings and the natural environment.

Once we recognize just how distinctive these social relations and processes are, how different they are from other social forms which have dominated most of human history, it becomes clear that more is required to explain the emergence of this distinctive social form than the question-begging assumption that it has always existed in embryo, just needing to be liberated from unnatural constraints. The question of its origins, then, can be formulated this way: given that producers were exploited by appropriators in noncapitalist ways for millennia before the advent of capitalism, and given that markets have also existed “time out of mind” and almost everywhere, how did it happen that producers and appropriators, and the relations between them, came to be so market dependent?  – The Agrarian Origins of Capitalism, EMW

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