The legacy of marxism is like a radio suffering static: it got so many things right in the midst of a curious mechanization of thought that we can be shunted through its limitations to a dead stop in thought. The result is that its most obvious insights can elude us.
The most obvious such is the issue of the French Revolution: the ‘democratic revolution’ born in the early modern suddenly confronted an inherent dilemma (pretty well foreseen in the era leading up to Locke), one clearly outlined by the early socialists in a critique taken up by Marx. The issue of class had not been properly assessed by the proponents of revolution, and the problem was compounded by synchronous appearance of the Industrial Revolution’s capitalist ‘revolution’ which promptly turned the whole game into the forms of counterrevolution.
The solution then was to assess the failure to achieve democracy and correct the difficulty. That the method of doing this would be socialist, and finally communist, was a brilliant analysis that soon went awry in the confusions over the definition of what had to be a hybrid of democracy and socialism, not one jackknifing against the other. But the latter option is all too obvious in the outcome of the Russian revolution. The result was a muddle. The analysis ended with two options when there should have been one: kerensky versus lenin. There had grown up a whole discourse on the bourgeois stage, and some of the revolutionaries even declared they should wait for the liberal phase to play itself out. The whole analysis had evolved into a set of confused concepts. To make matters worse the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat had grown into a parallel fiction further confusing the play of propagandas. It seemed logical at the time, especially given the failure of Russia to produce a liberal politics in the case illustrative of this of the Decembrists.
Whatever we think of the earlier case the solution for us now is to see that the division of democracy and socialism/communism is a false one, although the habits of liberal history to the present will make recycling concepts difficult. But the point is that the left should have been ready in Russia from the start to do the liberal revolution as a form of communism/socialism. The ideology should have been ready at the start to create a form of socialist democracy (distinguished or not from communism) that solved the problem discovered in the French Revolution, to say nothing of Lockean/Glorious Revolution/Counterrevolution, the dna even of the American system.
Figures like Marx/Engels were right/wrong: the capitalist revolution came suddenly on the scene and seemed to upstage and then usurp the democratic revolution. The situation hardly allowed a choice: the capitalist phenomenon had to play itself out. But even Marx/Engels in 1848 weren’t too sure: they fomented a revolutionary option, with/without the ambiguity.
We are near the endgame now and need to be wary of blowing the coming chance with the faultline, artificial and false, of democracy versus socialism. The end of history debate, which is indirectly what we are talking about here, is a spurious distraction: liberal politics/economy is the envisaged ‘end state’, perhaps, but it had to be socialist to be democratic and democratic to be socialist. And if you can solve that dilemma you are on one of the two wrong sides looking for a synthesis. And that requires a blueprint/constitution/economic strategy laid out in advance. This combination should have been ready at the dawn of the Russian Revolution and the natural project of those bringing about a revolution. The idea of a bourgeois phase as inevitable was inherently idiotic, as Lenin came to know very well, but his obvious decision to simply take over the bourgeois phasings of the kerensky’s was in retrospect wrong. The Leninist coup was immediately resisted by the bourgeois democracy elements, but it didn’t have to be that. The fact of the matter is that no one on either side had really done their homework and an immense opportunity slipped away into stalinism.
Let us note that the above allows different prospects: the socialist option, ambiguously ‘social democratic’, and the communist option taken as the real end game, but only if it can achieve the democratic fundamentals. There is no inherent reason why the issue of private property should have been so dogmatically Lockean. The result has been an abortion of property rights as capital usurping the whole body politic. Clearly, it was not essential logically to socialism to abolish private property but in reality experience demonstrated the obvious: democracy was impossible under the domination of capital, the great interloper of the period of the French Revolution. The communists pointed out the obvious facts of ‘primitive accumulation’: the content of the Commons was being expropriated by the predators of capitalism. The only solution in the end is the restoration of this bourgeois ‘property’ to the Commons.
We have produced a rough sketch of the idea ‘democratic market neo-communism’ as a matrix for a resolution of the kind of contradictions that have vitiated both sides of the false dilemma. The point is to be ready with a liberal revolution that is socialist, and then communist, or else a constitutional communism achieved from start, but with an open set of options for the resulting economy. There is no reason, propaganda to the contrary apart, why a neo-communist system can’t have a hybrid system of some species of markets. And we have suggested a lower threshold or indifference level that can let things be to a great extent, to forestall the confusions of total control.
We need to be very clear about what we wish to achieve in the current confusion of activist movements. Our approach can issue the warning that the classic muddle is still the case and the result will be the colliding failure of democrats and socialists, resulting in what is too obviously already on its way, a new form of totalitarian capitalism, neither democratic nor socialist.