This is a useful discussion with Wolin, but the verdict is in, no? Capitalism has undermined democracy in the US, in a most elusive way (for those who have never heard of K street, it is far from elusive for everyone else) and the analysis of this is now nearly two centuries old.
The new question becomes, can communism coexist with democracy: it is a crucial question, and our views here about democratic communism are not shared by all leftists. To say the least.
Let’s consider Plan A, we have, and now Plan B: Plan A touches our discussions of the ‘end of history’ ‘dog chasing its tail’ situation: democracy fails for lack of communism, communism fails for lack of democracy. Our view here. In this situation, while the Old Guard tunes out we try to create a revolutionary transition to communism that will result in a democratic situation….Very idealistic.
Plan B is involves looking at the actual track of the communist idea in the nineteenth, but especially the twentieth century. The snafu appeared early with the idea of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (see the book by Hal Draper).
The whole concept is confused, but it won out with Lenin, as Kautsky went ballistic and wrote a book on the abuse of the term.
Marx (check Harrington’s Socialism) and Engels changed their views after 1848, some say, and worked in a democratic context and we see the result in the beautiful labor movement of the Second Internationale which flourished until the First World War and the labor movement’s capitulation to voting the war credits.
After the world war started the views of many hardened (or maybe it had happened already) the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ came to front the efforts of the Bolshevik vanguard to speak in the name of that proletariat as, well, a dictatorship..? (The original term took off in the nineteenth century because the term meant something else, like ‘dictation’ in an office situation. This is a full blown semantic tragedy and deserves its Shakespeare to put the plot in somber blank verse.)
In retrospect revolutionaries might have more carefully analyzed both Plan A and Plan B. Plan A derailed and Lenin and others took up the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the grounds that, to put it in my own words, liberal governments had failed and… read Wolin above. And this became a justification for a dictatorship in the name of the proletariat. And that failed also.
The logic of Lenin should however be examined: he saw a crucial point and didn’t want to lose the revolution to idiocy, sentimental liberalism, but attempted the effort in the Tsarist world, an unpromising context, even for a revolutionary.
To put it in my words on Plan B we confront the obvious fact that if a democracy is failing we can’t use democracy so defined to repair it. That was one of the original good/bad ideas behind the fumbled football called ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. A kind of transition is needed where we create something new, a really suspenseful period.
To put some money down on Plan B, we can toss in the towel, fainting spells in the Plan A peanut gallery, and confess that sentimental versions of Plan A are problematical, and we turn to Plan B, to let a revolutionary vanguard try its luck with a transitional reconstruction. It seems to have not worked with Bolsheviks. But look more closely, the revolutionary transition is not a total failure: it occurred with the American Revolutionary war: the transition was not a democracy because it had no government in voiding the British parliament’s claim. But it did lead to democracy after the ‘dictatorship’ of the revolutionaries and their vanguard. The point is that the Constitution came after the revolution (and seems almost to have betrayed it). Their task was easier because they compromised on all issues and let the revolution slide into a format that would soon show up the ‘bourgeois revolution’ They had an easier time of it. But now we can see we have to do the job again, and this asks the question, after our spiel on Plan B, whether we can, in the suspension of law and order in a revolutionary transition, make it back to democracy after founding communism. We can see that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is a bungled statement of a significant issue. If we wish to found a global ‘new communism’ we enter the nightmare of global guerilla warfare, questions of rights in the context of civil war, the Gandhis far back in the rear view mirror, and many questions about how to do it, confronting sundry issues like the people already involved in a spastic muddle for a related revolution of the jihadists. Let us hope for something better than that these were the forerunners to global revolt. But they are, and speak for a tradition of global jihad, basically a global revolution, claiming theirs is better than Plan B nonsense, because it has no guidance from god! Looking at the reactionary whites in the Russian Civil War, who began to pioneer ethnic cleansing of jews, many would express skepticism at the superiority of the right.
But the point is clear that we can see that if the climate crisis, capitalist domination, and economic collapse come together in strong combinations many will be volunteering for Plan B, and Alice’s expansion in size on eating the right, or wrong pill will usher in the hard-bitten and ‘realistic’ troopers at a match with the Reds of the Russian revolution. Scary, eh?
Everyone will scurry back to Plan A here, and this has been the understandable view of many in the last twenty years since the fall of Communism in Russia. But we should wonder now if Gorbachev got it right.
In any case, it is worth reading a Counterpunch article today
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/10/24/where-hucksters-rule/, which goes into the defining era of the term ‘democracy’, and the thinking of Rousseau who was crucial. The point is that this period had to decide what democracy meant. It was not true that electoral democracy was the only candidate. But it did win out.
We are in a similar position now with communism.
The neo-liberal elite won’t stop until it has full control, recreates slavery and attempts genocidal elimination in the name of ‘evolution’, social darwinism.
Until about two hundred years ago, “democracy,” rule by the demos, the people as distinct from social or economic elites, was widely regarded in much the way that “anarchy” now is.
The prevailing view was that while it could be enlightening to reflect upon democracy as a theoretical possibility, no reasonable person would actually endorse it as a political ideal.
This understanding dates back to the beginnings of Western philosophy; the reasoning behind it is already evident in Aristotle’s Politics. For most of the past two and a half millennia, Aristotle’s position – not the details, but the general idea — seldom encountered serious dissent.
For both the ancients and the moderns, the prevailing view was that, except in very small communities, democracy cannot work; that effective governance is possible only when the few rule the many. Monarchies and various forms of aristocratic governance pass the test; democracy does not.
But times change. As the modern — capitalist — era took shape, the demos, once an inchoate agglomeration of no political consequence, became a lively and potent presence on the political scene. Rulers could no longer ignore its interests, except at their own peril.
And so, they and those who think for them changed their view one hundred eighty degrees. The case against democracy was no longer that it couldn’t work, but that it would likely work too well.
The fear was that an empowered demos, without property or privileges, would put the property and privileges of social and economic elites in jeopardy. What the ruling classes feared most, for just this reason, were free and fair elections.
But, for the peoples’ interests to be taken into account, there has to be a way to ascertain what they want. This is what voting does. Elections are indispensable.
Nevertheless, the two are not the same. Elections are held in all kinds of circumstances for all kinds of reasons, not just to ascertain the peoples’ will. And, in principle, statistical polling, or some functional equivalent, can work as well or better than voting for discovering what the people want.