Are capitalist democracies actually just dictatorships?

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explainthingstome
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Sep 23 2019 09:03
Are capitalist democracies actually just dictatorships?

I've been reading a bit of An Anarchist FAQ and I have some critiques of what it says about our current capitalist representative democracies.

The FAQ says that representative democracies like Britain or Germany are in fact capitalist dictatorships. There are three reasons for why this is the case.

1) It's expensive to run for office. Getting financial support from capitalists tend to be the easiest way to collect money for running. These capitalists expect to get something in return. Also, politicans are in many cases capitalists themselves.

2) Every state has a bureacracy that does not dissappear after a change in government. They can manipulate the elected members of the state, for example by witholding important information.

3) If a government wants to do something that is not in the interest of the capitalist class, the capitalists can take their economic assets away from the country (capital flight). This means that governments can't make revolutionary changes in the economy.

Therefore, the state remains an instrument of the capitalist class. Thus the state machine remains a tool by which the few can enrich themselves at the expense of the many. This does not mean that the state is immune to popular pressure and that positive changes can't occur. The key is that such changes are not the natural function of the state.

I'm not sure if I completely agree with the FAQ on this issue. I will talk about each argument individually, one by one. Some of the things I will bring up are not arguments but just questions.

1) While this argument does make a valid point about how capitalists or people or parties supported by capitalists have an easier time campaigning for an election than others, I don't think it's a relevant argument for the thesis the FAQ tries to make. It's still possible for anti-capitalist parties or people to get money for campaigning (the FAQ even says this).

Furthermore, the argument merely says that it's easier for pro-capitalists to persuade people to vote for them. What people tend to mean with the expression "representative democracy" is a system in which the population votes on representatives to represent them. Nobody is forcing the population to vote on a conservative or a social democrat etc.

I don't think that the fact that revolutionaries have a more difficult time getting seen or heard or liked (due to indoctrination) by the population means that it's actually a dictatorship. Most people on this forum appear to come from liberal democracies where the education has been pro-capitalist, but that didn't prevent them from becoming anarchists.

2) Let's say an a revolutionary party wins in a landslide election. What can the bureacracy do to manipulate them?

3) Is there no way of preventing capital flight?

The Bolshevik regime took the economic assets of the capitalist class, didn't they? I do not mean to say that I think that the Bolsheviks created a non-capitalist society, but as far as I know they did manage to take the means of production from the capitalist class. In that sense they were anti-(private)
capitalists. Doesn't this refute the idea that governments can't take very anti-capitalist decisions?

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Sep 23 2019 17:43
explainthingstome wrote:
I've been reading a bit of An Anarchist FAQ and I have some critiques of what it says about our current capitalist representative democracies.

The FAQ says that representative democracies like Britain or Germany are in fact capitalist dictatorships. There are three reasons for why this is the case.

1) It's expensive to run for office. Getting financial support from capitalists tend to be the easiest way to collect money for running. These capitalists expect to get something in return. Also, politicans are in many cases capitalists themselves.

2) Every state has a bureacracy that does not dissappear after a change in government. They can manipulate the elected members of the state, for example by witholding important information.

3) If a government wants to do something that is not in the interest of the capitalist class, the capitalists can take their economic assets away from the country (capital flight). This means that governments can't make revolutionary changes in the economy.

I don't know if this is covered in the FAQ, but I think perhaps a more powerful argument is that most people spend much of their waking lives in the workplace, which genuinely is a capitalist dictatorship. How democratic can any country be when most of its citizens have to walk through the doors of a dictatorship most days?

Therefore, the state remains an instrument of the capitalist class. Thus the state machine remains a tool by which the few can enrich themselves at the expense of the many. This does not mean that the state is immune to popular pressure and that positive changes can't occur. The key is that such changes are not the natural function of the state.

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2) Let's say an a revolutionary party wins in a landslide election. What can the bureacracy do to manipulate them?

3) Is there no way of preventing capital flight?
The Bolshevik regime took the economic assets of the capitalist class, didn't they? I do not mean to say that I think that the Bolsheviks created a non-capitalist society, but as far as I know they did manage to take the means of production from the capitalist class. In that sense they were anti-(private) capitalists. Doesn't this refute the idea that governments can't take very anti-capitalist decisions?

To answer questions 2 and 3 together, I'd say that ideally you want to elect a Corbyn or Sanders government, and then you can watch it play out in practice... Actually, just watching Corbyn and McDonnell trying to advance the cause of socialism while running a party that's filled with very un-socialist bureaucrats and local councils implementing austerity is kind of a lesson in itself. Anyway, on the specific question of the Bolsheviks, whatever else you can say about them, they certainly aren't a party that took power peacefully by standing in elections under a democratic system, so I don't think they disprove the claim that you can't stop capital flight without breaking with the bounds of capitalist legality.
More generally, I think it's worth reviewing the record of left reformist governments that got into power - Spain (answered by military coup, civil war and then actual dictatorship), Chile (military coup and actual dictatorship), 60s-70s UK Labour (brought to its knees by capital flight and forced to accept an IMF loan, which meant letting the IMF write their economic policies, while the bureaucracy debated whether or not a military coup would be needed), Mitterrand in 1980s France (brought to his knees by capital flight and forced to implement austerity), and then Syriza (also did not end well).
For more on that, I'd really recommend reading this 2015 article from Andrew Flood on the prospects for what was then the brand-shiny-new Syriza government - I think that article has stood the test of time really well.

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Sep 24 2019 01:04
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I don't know if this is covered in the FAQ, but I think perhaps a more powerful argument is that most people spend much of their waking lives in the workplace, which genuinely is a capitalist dictatorship. How democratic can any country be when most of its citizens have to walk through the doors of a dictatorship most days?

It might also be worth noting that "democratized" workplaces, where production for exchange and profit are still the objectives, are not in any way more desirable, as people like Wolff and others who foreground the "undemocratic" aspect of capitalist workplaces tend to think. "Democratized" workplaces, worker coops etc., face the same pressures as any other top-down business and are forced to make similar decisions.

As Luxemburg noted:

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Co-operatives – especially co-operatives in the field of production constitute a hybrid form in the midst of capitalism. They can be described as small units of socialised production within capitalist exchange. But in capitalist economy exchanges dominate production. As a result of competition, the complete domination of the process of production by the interests of capital – that is, pitiless exploitation – becomes a condition for the survival of each enterprise. The domination of capital over the process of production expresses itself in the following ways. Labour is intensified. The work day is lengthened or shortened, according to the situation of the market. And, depending on the requirements of the market, labour is either employed or thrown back into the street. In other words, use is made of all methods that enable an enterprise to stand up against its competitors in the market. The workers forming a co-operative in the field of production are thus faced with the contradictory necessity of governing themselves with the utmost absolutism. They are obliged to take toward themselves the role of capitalist entrepreneur – a contradiction that accounts for the usual failure of production co-operatives which either become pure capitalist enterprises or, if the workers’ interests continue to predominate, end by dissolving.

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Sep 28 2019 09:02

To answer the question ‘Are capitalist democracies just dictatorships?’ - I’d suggest the best way to find an answer is to examine in what ways do democracies and dictatorships differ.

The most obvious difference I think is that dictatorships are more authoritarian and have little pretence to a rule based system (unless we can count gangsters as having ‘rules’). Capitalism flourishes in a rule based system as the competitive nature of capitalism needs rules to establish trust and protection of property/contracts etc. To accomplish this it needs a state and a legal system to arbitrate disputes. All dictatorships find it harder to attract internal investment as it cannot be protected long term. One of the reasons China is having trade problems is its disregard of international and internal rules - such as copy right law, etc. This is obviously not lost on the people of Hong Kong.

Trump’s hypocrisy regarding international agreements marks an important division in the American ruling class as the Democrats support his line on China and deplore his withdrawal from the Iranian treaty, etc.

I’m in general agreement with zugzwang #3 post.

None of this stuff is simple. Working for Amazon may be a hell-hole, though the wage slave may prefer this to being a no-wage slave. The recently made ex-employees of Thomas Cook did not appear to be overjoyed by being freed from the yoke of ‘dictatorship’.

EDIT: for a typo

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Sep 24 2019 15:33

Thanks for the reply R Totale.

"I don't know if this is covered in the FAQ, but I think perhaps a more powerful argument is that most people spend much of their waking lives in the workplace, which genuinely is a capitalist dictatorship. How democratic can any country be when most of its citizens have to walk through the doors of a dictatorship most days?"

I think it's worth talking about the undemocratic nature of the workplace under capitalism, but I don't know if it's a good argument for the idea that all capitalist countries are dictatorships. Most voters of our democracies have voted for political parties that make no secret of keeping the workplace like it is, atleast that's my impression.

"Actually, just watching Corbyn and McDonnell trying to advance the cause of socialism while running a party that's filled with very un-socialist bureaucrats and local councils implementing austerity is kind of a lesson in itself."

I could be wrong about Corbyn or Sanders but I view them as social democrats. When anarchists talk about socialism, they're talking about creating a non-capitalist system. When Corbyn and Sanders talk about socialism, aren't they just talking about creating a "softer" capitalist society with better access to healthcare, higher wages etc? Isn't the problem that they try to make capitalism better than it could actually be, rather than that they're prevented by bureaucrats or local councils?

"I don't think they disprove the claim that you can't stop capital flight without breaking with the bounds of capitalist legality."

Isn't it possible for a parliamentarian majority to just change the laws and make socialist seizure of private property and other stuff legal?

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Sep 25 2019 04:15
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Isn't it possible for a parliamentarian majority to just change the laws and make socialist seizure of private property and other stuff legal?

"socialist" seizure, like recently on a larger scale in venezuela, is with compensation and it exists in every capitalist state too, no laws need to be changed. Usually the state needs it for large infrastructure projects to override local private interests.

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Sep 25 2019 07:12

'"socialist" seizure, like recently on a larger scale in venezuela, is with compensation and it exists in every capitalist state too'

Is non-compensatory seizure legal? Also, when I wrote "socialist seizure of private property" I didn't mean to suggest that all that happens is that the state becomes the new owner, what I meant was that private property becomes public property in the anarchist sense of the word.

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Sep 25 2019 18:54
zugzwang wrote:
Quote:
I don't know if this is covered in the FAQ, but I think perhaps a more powerful argument is that most people spend much of their waking lives in the workplace, which genuinely is a capitalist dictatorship. How democratic can any country be when most of its citizens have to walk through the doors of a dictatorship most days?

It might also be worth noting that "democratized" workplaces, where production for exchange and profit are still the objectives, are not in any way more desirable, as people like Wolff and others who foreground the "undemocratic" aspect of capitalist workplaces tend to think...

Broadly agreed, although to be precise I'd say more "are not fundamentally different" - if given the choice I reckon I'd probably prefer a democratized workplace, in much the same way as a workplace where you get flexitime is more desirable than one with really strict shift times, a workplace where you get £10 an hour is more desirable than one where you get £9, and so on. I was just saying that if wanted to make the argument mentioned in the OP, looking at that aspect seems like a much stronger line of argument.

Auld-bod wrote:
To answer the question ‘Are capitalist democracies just dictatorships?’ - I’d suggest the best way to find an answer is to examine in what ways do democracies and dictatorships differ...
None of this stuff is simple.

Yeah, I suppose the accurate way to describe it would be something like "capitalist democracies and dictatorships are similar in some ways, different in others, and both of them are bad", but that doesn't make for too much of a snappy slogan.

explainthingstome wrote:

"Actually, just watching Corbyn and McDonnell trying to advance the cause of socialism while running a party that's filled with very un-socialist bureaucrats and local councils implementing austerity is kind of a lesson in itself."

I could be wrong about Corbyn or Sanders but I view them as social democrats. When anarchists talk about socialism, they're talking about creating a non-capitalist system. When Corbyn and Sanders talk about socialism, aren't they just talking about creating a "softer" capitalist society with better access to healthcare, higher wages etc? Isn't the problem that they try to make capitalism better than it could actually be, rather than that they're prevented by bureaucrats or local councils?

Yeah, kind of, but there's a few replies to that: one is that, if electoral politics isn't suited to achieving a relatively simple and limited goal (higher wages, better social security, etc), then it seems a stretch to think it can be used for something far more ambitious like the creation of a non-capitalist system. A second would be to take a detailed look at the history of the Second International, and ask why it is that electoralism has been so good at taking parties that started off as being in some sense genuinely Marxist and anticapitalist (I think Labour was always a moderate outlier in this respect) and turning them into bodies that can offer moderate social democracy at best.
And also: if you or I were in Corbyn's shoes, what would you do differently? Would you push for full communism, knowing that doing so would cause a massive split in the Parliamentary Labour Party, drive most of your existing MPs out, and so end up ensuring that you're in no position to become Prime Minister and legislate for communism? Or would you prioritise getting into power, which means holding the party together, which means making whatever compromises it takes to keep right-wing Labour MPs on board?
I don't know how much you follow UK electoral politics, but I do also think that the story of Chuka Umunna and pals, while funny, is also a very good illustration of the limitations of representative democracy: at the last election, the majority of voters in Streatham voted for the Labour Party. Since then, they've had a Labour MP, a The Independent Group MP, a Change UK MP, and now they have a Liberal Democrat one. That, to me, suggests some real limitations to how far "the people" are represented by their representatives.

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Isn't it possible for a parliamentarian majority to just change the laws and make socialist seizure of private property and other stuff legal?

Hah, I think you might have just independently invented the SPGB there. tongue Theoretically, yes, in practice I'll believe it when I see it. Although I am aware of the difficulty of arguing from historical experience too much, because a reformist could just as well reply with "well, I'll believe in an anarchist revolution that doesn't end with you all getting shot when I see it." But anyway, if a party with such a manifesto got into power, and actually tried living up to its manifesto commitments, I think we'd pretty quickly start seeing military chiefs holding emergency meetings about how best to protect democracy from the extremists who've seized power, UN sanctions and resolutions against the regime that was refusing to respect property rights, US troops arriving to liberate us, and so on.

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Sep 26 2019 16:18
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R Totale:[I]f electoral politics isn't suited to achieving a relatively simple and limited goal (higher wages, better social security, etc), then it seems a stretch to think it can be used for something far more ambitious like the creation of a non-capitalist system."

Well I mean stuff like higher wages and better social security isn't necessarily simple, especially during bad economic times. My impression is that it's economically impossible to do certain "good reforms" under certain times or all times. Reformism is trying to make capitalism good, whereas what I'm talking about is replacing capitalism with something else. I don't see how one can deduce that the latter is impossible just because the former is impossible.

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"Hah, I think you might have just independently invented the SPGB there."

Actually I've read a lot from them, so they've influenced me to a good degree.

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"A second would be to take a detailed look at the history of the Second International, and ask why it is that electoralism has been so good at taking parties that started off as being in some sense genuinely Marxist and anticapitalist [...] and turning them into bodies that can offer moderate social democracy at best."

Well, I remember reading an SPGB article that suggested that the reason for the "degeneration" of the social-democratic movement was that they wanted to attract a lot of people from the working class. And since the working class thought of higher wages and better living conditions etc, the socialist parties put a lot of their time on talking about such reforms. That "lured" non-communists into their ranks, which created a bunch of mainly non-communist parties. Thus, it wasn'telectoralism that "softened" the anti-capitalist parties but rather their tactic of attracting workers through reformist bait. I personally think that sounds pretty likely. Can you find any holes in the reasoning?

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"And also: if you or I were in Corbyn's shoes, what would you do differently?"

The reason for a massive split after I, Jeremy Corbyn, would push for full communism is that most people who voted for the party and most people within the party would be non-communists. The voters aren't expecting a revolution, they're expecting some good reforms within a capitalist framework. Trying to establish communism somewhere were most people don't want it seems like an impossible task.

---

I agree that floor crossers (can't think of a better term) are a problem in representative democracies, but at the same time most people in, say, the British parliament haven't switched alliances.

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The scenario that you paint up in the last section of your reply doesn't seem to be limited to a situation in which communists take control of the state through a democratic election. To me, it seems as though you would have to apply it to any situation where communism is being established or has been established. What is your idea of the establishment of communism, and why would it not collapse due to military coups, capitalist invasion etc? How are these threats eliminated?

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Sep 29 2019 08:38

I had been meaning to write a proper reply to this when I get time, but I've not had time for a few days now, so in case I still don't get a chance soon, then my very short answer, without meaning to be too cryptic, would be that I think there's a question about what does it mean for people to want communism, and most importantly what kind of experiences make people want communism. I think electoral politics as a form is pretty bad for making people want communism compared to other forms of activity.
Also, I'm sure that there's a Malatesta quote somewhere where he gives a better answer to why genuinely anticapitalist politicians become reformist, can't for the life of me think where it's from though - can anyone else remember what I'm thinking of? If not, I can try to explain my thinking when I get a chance, Malatesta would've phrased it better than I could though.

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Sep 29 2019 18:44

'explainthingstome' if you have some time to spare you might find this older discussion between the spgb and some anarchist and left/council communists of use in clarifying your thoughts. See here:
https://libcom.org/forums/announcements/midlands-discussion-forum-worker...

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Sep 29 2019 18:46
explainthingstome wrote:
Well I mean stuff like higher wages and better social security isn't necessarily simple, especially during bad economic times. My impression is that it's economically impossible to do certain "good reforms" under certain times or all times. Reformism is trying to make capitalism good, whereas what I'm talking about is replacing capitalism with something else. I don't see how one can deduce that the latter is impossible just because the former is impossible.

OK, I don't fully 100% know where I stand on that - I don't think we'll be able to reform capitalism to be nice or whatever, but it does seem to be an impressively flexible and adaptable social system in some ways, so I'm not totally convinced by claims that x or y reform is impossible. But anyway, as I understand it, you sort of seem to be saying "the examples of Syriza/Mitterand/Labour aren't that relevant because a hypothetical communist government would want to do different things", and I think that the tools used to stop Syriza/Mitterand/Labour from doing what they want would still be relevant.

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Well, I remember reading an SPGB article that suggested that the reason for the "degeneration" of the social-democratic movement was that they wanted to attract a lot of people from the working class. And since the working class thought of higher wages and better living conditions etc, the socialist parties put a lot of their time on talking about such reforms. That "lured" non-communists into their ranks, which created a bunch of mainly non-communist parties. Thus, it wasn't electoralism that "softened" the anti-capitalist parties but rather their tactic of attracting workers through reformist bait. I personally think that sounds pretty likely. Can you find any holes in the reasoning?

I mean, bearing in mind what I was saying earlier about the limits of arguing from history, I don't think the history of non-reformist electoral parties is great either. I suppose my critique of that line of argument would be that it doesn't distinguish between ordinary party members and politicians - if the voters in a certain constituency elected the SPGB, or the Full Communism Now Party or whatever, the lives of most members of that party wouldn't change that much, but the day-to-day life of the one person who became an elected representative would be very dramatically altered, they would by definition stop doing what they were doing before and start spending all their time around politicians instead. I think that presents a pretty powerful incentive for that person to change their ideas, and I don't think "we'd elect better representatives with better ideas" gets around that. But again, I'm sure Malatesta said this better than me.

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The reason for a massive split after I, Jeremy Corbyn, would push for full communism is that most people who voted for the party and most people within the party would be non-communists. The voters aren't expecting a revolution, they're expecting some good reforms within a capitalist framework. Trying to establish communism somewhere were most people don't want it seems like an impossible task.

Again, this is somewhere where there's no real record of SPGB-style parties actually doing anything, so I have to look at the record of really existing left electoral parties instead. In Labour over the last few years, most people within the party are supporters of Corbyn's vision of doing social democracy differently, and most of the elected representatives have been bitterly opposed to that. If we leave aside all the caveats that these people aren't communists, I think that still shows up something about how bad representative electoral democracy is as a tool. That, plus the slightly cryptic stuff I said above about what does it mean for people to want communism and what makes people want it - I still don't really have the energy to expand on that right now, but I think it's worth considering.

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I agree that floor crossers (can't think of a better term) are a problem in representative democracies, but at the same time most people in, say, the British parliament haven't switched alliances.

Not formally, but as I mention above, the likes of Chuka Umuna are only a particularly stark example of a much broader problem, the total lack of control that either voters or local parties have over representatives once elected. Not everyone goes so far as to formally change parties, but lots and lots of them do things that would horrify the local activists who campaigned for them, or the local voters who elected them.

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The scenario that you paint up in the last section of your reply doesn't seem to be limited to a situation in which communists take control of the state through a democratic election. To me, it seems as though you would have to apply it to any situation where communism is being established or has been established. What is your idea of the establishment of communism, and why would it not collapse due to military coups, capitalist invasion etc? How are these threats eliminated?

Uh, mostly a combination of organising on an international scale - ultimately you really can't have socialism in one country - and trying to subvert and break down discipline in the armed forces as much as possible. Perhaps an "impossibilist" campaign would be doing that, once again there's no real examples to cite, but certainly most examples of incoming left reformist governments don't. It's not something to fetishise, but I think it's pretty much inarguable that any complete break with this social system will involve some moments of violent confrontation, and I think anti-state traditions have been much better at preparing for this than electoral ones - think of how well prepared the CNT were to fight against a fascist coup in 36 compared to how unprepared the official Republic itself was, or again the example of Allende.

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Sep 30 2019 00:30

Perhaps this old Socialist Party of Canada article on a elected member of the Alberta Province Parliament might be of interest.

https://www.worldsocialism.org/canada/proletarian.in.politics.htm

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“I have no confidence in either of you, and it does not matter to me which of you win. It is a fight between political representatives of different corporations over surplus values that have been and are to be stolen from my class. When I voted on the last division I did so because I saw an opportunity to benefit a few of my class, the laborers in the construction camp. There is no opportunity to get anything for the workers on this vote, and I shall not vote. On every vote where there is no opportunity to get something for my class, I shall not vote. On every vote where there is no opportunity to get anything for my class, I shall leave the House and refrain from voting."

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Sep 30 2019 04:03

I guess it's arguable that dictatorship is too strong a word, but still, it's clear that in a so-called "representative democracy," the capitalist class has the overwhelming power. Even if that power is not absolute, it's enough power that any attempt to use the government to smash capitalism is bound to fail.

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Sep 30 2019 15:39

@ explainthingstome

Based on your summary (in post #1) of the arguments provided by An Anarchist FAQ into why capitalist democracies are 'in fact capitalist dictatorships', we can see that the author(s) of that publication are not offering their readers an anarchist communist analysis of the state. Rather, those views of the state are shared by leftists in general, and by even many liberals. I mean, who would disagree that capitalists exercise a disproportionate influence on the making of state policies? That is not what communists mean when they employ the term 'capitalist state'. If you haven't already, you should read libcom's introduction to the state.

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Sep 30 2019 16:08
Quote:
R Totale: But anyway, as I understand it, you sort of seem to be saying "the examples of Syriza/Mitterand/Labour aren't that relevant because a hypothetical communist government would want to do different things", and I think that the tools used to stop Syriza/Mitterand/Labour from doing what they want would still be relevant.

Okay, but I don't think I agree with you that their inability to do what they want is mostly a product of bureaucratic conspiracy.

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I don't think the history of non-reformist electoral parties is great either.

But did the non-reformist electoral parties suffer from the same issue?

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[The day-to-day life of the socialist] elected representative would be very dramatically altered, they would by definition stop doing what they were doing before and start spending all their time around politicians instead. I think that presents a pretty powerful incentive for that person to change their ideas

I don't think that being surrounded by people who are not like you is necessarily going to turn you into them to any great degree. After all, the Nazi party wasn't less radical after the general election of 1930 despite being mostly surrounded by leftists and more traditional rightwingers.

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If we leave aside all the caveats that these people aren't communists, I think that [the current Labour situation] still shows up something about how bad representative electoral democracy is as a tool.

My perception of the current Labour situation is that the membership (who elects the party leader) doesn't have the same political makeup as the Labour voters (who elects the MPs). Is this perception wrong? If so, why are people voting on anti-Corbyn candidates, don't they have a pro-Corbyn Labour alternative?

I guess this has a connection to the other thing that you say about how representatives often do things that their voters don't like. If the person I'm supporting isn't doing what I like, why can't I just vote on someone else?

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Uh, mostly a combination of organising on an international scale - ultimately you really can't have socialism in one country...

I agree, but why is working on an international scale a hindrance to engaging in electoral politics? There have been talks about certain political ideologies gaining ground in several countries at roughly the same time, for example in 1968, or the rise of far-right populist parties in modern Europe.

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and trying to subvert and break down discipline in the armed forces as much as possible.

What are the potential things one could do to subvert and break down discipline in the armed forces?

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Agent of the International: Rather, those views of the state are shared by leftists in general, and by even many liberals.

Most leftists (if we're talking social democrats) and liberals do not consider Britain and France to be dictatorships.

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Sep 30 2019 17:02
explainthingstome wrote:
Agent of the International wrote:
Rather, those views of the state are shared by leftists in general, and by even many liberals.

Most leftists (if we're talking social democrats) and liberals do not consider Britain and France to be dictatorships.

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my post above, but I meant to say that leftists and many liberals espouse those same arguments, and others similar to those, without necessarily concluding that so called representative democracies such as the USA, Britain and France are dictatorships. You can definitely find many liberals every now and then putting up those arguments to prove that the representative democracy they live under isn't democratic enough, and then proceed to propose remedies that will 'fix' the system to closely match their preferred ideal.

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Oct 1 2019 01:20

By the way, sorry if my post was repetitive of what some others had already said; I wrote my post before I got around to reading the thread.

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Oct 1 2019 18:16
Agent of the International wrote:
I meant to say that leftists and many liberals espouse those same arguments, and others similar to those, without necessarily concluding that so called representative democracies such as the USA, Britain and France are dictatorships.

Oh yes absolutely I agree, a lot of people talk about the three things that the FAQ uses as arguments. I'm not arguing that our representative democracies don't suffer from issues, I'm saying that I'm not convinced that 1) all of the three issues that the FAQ lists are always significant or undefeatable under a system of representative democracy and 2) these issues mean that we're living in a dictatorship.

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Oct 1 2019 20:25
explainthingstome wrote:
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R Totale:[I]f electoral politics isn't suited to achieving a relatively simple and limited goal (higher wages, better social security, etc), then it seems a stretch to think it can be used for something far more ambitious like the creation of a non-capitalist system."

Well I mean stuff like higher wages and better social security isn't necessarily simple, especially during bad economic times. My impression is that it's economically impossible to do certain "good reforms" under certain times or all times. Reformism is trying to make capitalism good, whereas what I'm talking about is replacing capitalism with something else. I don't see how one can deduce that the latter is impossible just because the former is impossible.

R Totale specifies that this is within the confines of electoral politics, in which case it is perfectly logical to assume that if limited left-wing goals have been unsuccessful then much wider (hence more expensive, will face more resistance etc) demands are less likely to be successsful.

The fact that we can't achieve meaningful reforms under capitalism doesn't mean that revolution is impossible at all. But I think achieving such reforms is a sign of fear in the capitalists. They won't even throw us the crumbs unless they are afraid we will take more.

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My perception of the current Labour situation is that the membership (who elects the party leader) doesn't have the same political makeup as the Labour voters (who elects the MPs). Is this perception wrong? If so, why are people voting on anti-Corbyn candidates, don't they have a pro-Corbyn Labour alternative?

The membership of the party votes in an internal party election for the leader of the party.Currently 485,000 (making it the largest party in Western Europe, wikipedia reckons that makes it the richest, but that doesn't seem too credible, they were mortgaging their headquarters not too many years ago). The party won almost 12.9M votes at the last election from the general public. Local Labour parties have control over which candidates they field in an election (unless the central party intervenes, which is possible)
This is usual in most parliamentary democracies, parties choose candidates to 'present' to the voters. In the UK to run in a by-election to become an MP the candidate must pay a deposit of £500 which is returned if they win at least 5% of the vote.

As I see it the dictatorship question is interesting. It depends on how you view power. In a dictatorship, you have a dictator, but you also have backers and a security apparatus. These both require rewards to help maintain the leader's power. Fear and coercion can also be an element once the leader has a certain level of power. A democracy is different in that the government is largely trying to win votes while trying to deliver to its backers (who may be the voters). I think this is the key difference. Democracies are willing to use violence and coercion against 'their own people' when they can get away with it. The tactics used by dictatorships don't work as well when you might lose power. You then must rely on your successor not to use your dirty laundry to cement their position (even though they rarely do).

So a democratic government is caught between two masters, one of which it serves and one it has to dupe/placate, so the former gets rewards to a greater of lesser extent and the latter gets repression and coercion and rewards only if it is absolutely unavoidable. A dictatorship merely needs to maintain its power and does so using repression, coercion and rewards which vary depending on how available the three mechanisms are, how effective the system thinks they will be and how important it thinks you are.

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R Totale
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Oct 5 2019 17:38
explainthingstome wrote:
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I don't think the history of non-reformist electoral parties is great either.

But did the non-reformist electoral parties suffer from the same issue?

I mean, I should be clear that the whole concept of a non-reformist electoral party is one that comes from the SPGB's line of thinking - from my perspective, if I'm right, then a non-reformist electoral party is just an electoral party that hasn't managed to successfully do electoralism yet. But assuming there is such a thing, if we agree to define it as the SPGB and their international companion parties, then I'm pretty sure I'm right that none of them have ever actually reached the stage of having a representative elected. So at best, we can say that there's no proof SPGB MPs, once elected, would behave any differently to other politicians.
Beyond that, when I try to think what a rupture with capitalism would look like... I don't have a blueprint, and you should be suspicious of anyone who says that they do, but generally speaking I think it's likely that we'll continue to see more insurrections along the lines of Egypt and Tunisia 2011, and Haiti, Hong Kong and Puerto Rico more recently, and even the most advanced capitalist economies will see more things along the lines of the August 2011 riots in the UK, the anti-police uprisings in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, the Gillets Jaunes in France and so on. Other stuff that might be relevant includes the defence of territory from the police and state for an extended period of time (e.g. in various ways Chiapas, the French ZAD and Exarchia) and climate change-related disasters where the state doesn't respond adequately and self-organised responses look like a form of "disaster communism", as in the various Mutual Aid Disaster Relief projects. Obviously, none of those things have been sufficient to overthrow capitalism so far, but they are all things that exist to some extent and I can imagine continuing in the future, and perhaps potentially extending in a communist direction. On the other hand, I can't imagine how on earth the SPGB would go from winning a total of 145 votes in the 2017 general election to forming a majority in Parliament.

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[The day-to-day life of the socialist] elected representative would be very dramatically altered, they would by definition stop doing what they were doing before and start spending all their time around politicians instead. I think that presents a pretty powerful incentive for that person to change their ideas

I don't think that being surrounded by people who are not like you is necessarily going to turn you into them to any great degree. After all, the Nazi party wasn't less radical after the general election of 1930 despite being mostly surrounded by leftists and more traditional rightwingers.
I mean, I don't want to play down how radical the Nazi party was, but its record in the 1930s was definitely disappointing to those like Ernst Röhm and Gregor Strasser who wanted to see the national socialist revolution sweep the establishment away. And, importantly, even at their most radical their programme was still ultimately compatible enough with the maintenance of the old order for establishment conservatives like von Hindenburg to see them as a lesser evil. I don't think that could ever be true of any sort of non-reformist communist/socialist party.

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My perception of the current Labour situation is that the membership (who elects the party leader) doesn't have the same political makeup as the Labour voters (who elects the MPs). Is this perception wrong? If so, why are people voting on anti-Corbyn candidates, don't they have a pro-Corbyn Labour alternative?

Theoretically, the Labour candidates have to be chosen by their local parties before they become MPs. In practice, once an MP has won their seat, they are very difficult to displace. Say you're a pro-Corbyn Labour member, and you live in a seat with a very right-wing Labour MP, and there's a general election on the way. Do you put all your energy into trying to get your MP deselected, while the other parties are concentrating on campaigning and trying to win the seat, and so risk losing altogether to an even worse candidate? Or do you put up with it and campaign for your anti-Corbyn candidate who's at least in the same party as you?

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I guess this has a connection to the other thing that you say about how representatives often do things that their voters don't like. If the person I'm supporting isn't doing what I like, why can't I just vote on someone else?

I mean, good luck with that, but US elections happen on a four-year cycle, the UK election system is messy but there's supposed to be a fixed five-year interval between elections, so once someone has got into power there's a whole lot of time for them to do a whole lot of things you don't like before the next election. But OK, let's say that, for instance, you voted Labour in 2001 but don't like wars - who do you vote for in 2005? Or you voted Lib Dem in 2010 because you don't like tuition fees - who do you vote for in 2015?

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I agree, but why is working on an international scale a hindrance to engaging in electoral politics? There have been talks about certain political ideologies gaining ground in several countries at roughly the same time, for example in 1968, or the rise of far-right populist parties in modern Europe.

I mean, electoral politics is kind of tied to the nation-state as a system, and to electoral cycles that don't really sync up - so, let's say there's an election in the UK in 2021, and the SPGB win a majority and form a government, but then the newly-re-elected President Trump threatens to invade us. In that situation, being told "don't worry, the US left has a really good candidate lined up for the 2024 elections" wouldn't be much comfort. Beyond that, yeah, I accept that there can be international electoral trends, but I think this line of argument is a bit different to the SPGB's "democratically capturing the state through parliamentary elections is the safest, surest method for the working class to enable itself to establish socialism" line, which (to bring things back to the question in the OP) seems to just go beyond saying that capitalist democracies aren't dictatorships, and cross over into denying the tendency for them to become dictatorships.

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What are the potential things one could do to subvert and break down discipline in the armed forces?

Again, I should stress that I don't have a blueprint here, but generally I'd say stuff like the activity that was carried on in the armies of all the European powers during WWI, the GI resistance to Vietnam, IDF refuseniks, even the mass defections from the Syrian army in 2011, and so on. You may spot that all these relate to conscript armies - it's true that there isn't much of a history of mutinies in volunteer armies. I still suspect that we won't be able to get to communism without them, though.

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Oct 5 2019 20:43

Someone once said that in a dictatorship or a democracy, you need 30 percent of the people to support what you are doing and make sure people who oppose it aren't all united. That somebody might have been Goebbels though, so its perhaps best to take with a pinch of salt.

I guess the core difference is that in theory in a liberal democracy, power is more fluid and reactive to change,, thus the alliances that support the ruling factions are subject to demographic and social change. In a dictatorship on the other hand these power relationships are fixed, and remain so until they potentially crack. An example would be how the USA rebounded economically and culturally after the oil crisis and vietnam, whereas the USSR retreated into stagnation and gerontocracy in the Brezhnev era.
There are of course a considerable number of shades of grey between a ''liberal democracy'' and a ''dictatorship'' though.

ajjohnstone
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Oct 6 2019 01:50
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So at best, we can say that there's no proof SPGB MPs, once elected, would behave any differently to other politicians.

I refer you to my post #13

For the record, from our rule-book
“27. Candidates elected to a Political office shall be pledged to act on the instructions of their Branches locally, and by the Executive Committee nationally...Members of the Party shall not stand for any Political office except as official candidates of the Party.”

How such a rule is complied with can be legitimately questioned. Perhaps a pre-signed undated application for the Chiltern 100s?

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“On the other hand, I can't imagine how on earth the SPGB would go from winning a total of 145 votes in the 2017 general election to forming a majority in Parliament.”

Well, can you imagine any revolutionary working class movement developing from the insignificant presence we possess presently? The political invisibility the SPGB has is shared by every group represented on Libcom.

It is a situation we have to debate and discuss on how we are on the verge of the abyss and there is little manifestation of a mass movement of our tradition of liberatory politics. I keep telling my comrades that it is time to for some reflection on why we are failing. I'm sure others here think it is time for re-assessing their positions in light of a very clear lack of progress over a hundred -odd years.

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“...let's say there's an election in the UK in 2021, and the SPGB win a majority and form a government, but then the newly-re-elected President Trump threatens to invade us. In that situation, being told "don't worry, the US left has a really good candidate lined up for the 2024 elections" wouldn't be much comfort. Beyond that, yeah, I accept that there can be international electoral trends, but I think this line of argument is a bit different to the SPGB's "democratically capturing the state through parliamentary elections is the safest, surest method for the working class to enable itself to establish socialism" line...”

I know you acknowledged "international electoral trends" but do we really envision a basically conservative-minded British worker to be so different from all his or her counterparts around the developed world in that this upsurge in political consciousness is not replicated elsewhere, probably with more earnest determination. (Okay, that's a personal view, some may wish to argue the average Brit is more radical than some other nationalities.) The premise also assumes that a similar rise in class struggle does not arise in the equally conservative-minded USA.

Such scenario seems dependent on the theory of “uneven development” and that a “workers' state” would temporarily be put in place to fend off foreign intervention. Surely we agree that ideas are social and therefore cross borders, in much the same time-line.

How important is the date of all the various elections? I don't believe when the time comes we will be too legalistic. The expression of the popular will be evident by all manner of political and economic action. I have on earlier threads argued the SPGB is not committed to mere number-counting of the bums on the benches in the House of Commons.

The importance is that while we currently remain a minority, constitutional political action and electoral activity continues to be the most fitting strategy to pursue, is the SPGB's opinion which is based on today's realities. Conjecture and speculating about the events in the future we leave to the crystal ball readers.

But breaking that rule, we can see some generalized shift in political resistance such as the increasing leader-free and political party independent movements such as taking place today in Hong Kong and Iraq as well as within the environmentalist campaigns. We also see the risks when a similar protest process in Syria's Arab Spring was diverted into a militarized resistance resulting in foreign powers intervening and suffocating any chance of change.

Spikymike
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Oct 6 2019 10:20

ajj's post 13 proves what? Maybe that it is possible for an individual SPC/SPGB candidate to get elected to a capitalist legislature in some rare circumstances on their personal credentials and without the electorate fully signing up to the party's political platform - irrelevant. 'Uneven development' of the class struggle and class consciousness is a fact of modern history and cannot be wished away. Most capitalist countries are 'democracies' in formal terms but the reality offers no effective means of political parties exercising any real influence or power. In terms of ''shifts in political resistance' and how that might be practically expressed Post #21 stands hands above ajj's wishful thinking in response, as does the history of the independent assembly and workers council form.

ajjohnstone
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Oct 6 2019 11:27

If I am guilty of wishful thinking, Spikey, then do you think I am the only one from the libertarian communism tradition. You will have no doubt seen my pessimistic prognosis on the SPGB forum, and I think it equally applies to the organized anarcho-left communist groups. What growth has there been? I can only judge by this forum and its slow decline does not fill me with any confidence. Its main importance is not debate and discussion but as the depository for valuable texts.

No-one disputes that workers councils have appeared on occasions when circumstances arose to permit it. But did they have any lasting influence that still prevails today? I fear not and when they still do arise they seem to be re-inventing the wheel and repeating the same old weaknesses, just as cooperatives do.

Post #13 was about how a socialist MP or group of them would behave as a minority within Parliament.

As for uneven development, I still maintain it is not the obstacle it is made out to be in the hypothetical scenario that was presented. Would the rural countryside of interior of China reflect the consciousness of the industrialised sea-board. Doubtful, but would it thwart the progress and advance of the implementation of socialism, not in my view.

Regards democracy, for power to be lodged in the hands of the people does not mean merely that they are to have the widest possible franchise and equal voting power. It implies that the people are to have control of all social institutions, a say in all social activities, the self-management social life. Such a condition of affairs presupposes at the very outset the common ownership by the people of all the means of life. Political freedom offers the best means to make that change, and the tools are to hand were the workers to take them up.

Our time and our energy should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our co-workers in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. For socialists, it eventually comes down to the need to take sides. Whose side are you on? The upside of an almost total disenchantment on the part of the electorate with politics-and business-as-usual or an authentic message for real change that will make a difference

Elections is focused on political candidates, parties, and alternative policies around issues which are all related to how the capitalist system is organised and run but never on a discussion regarding the differences between capitalism and alternative economic systems or even the possibility of a totally different and truly democratic system. That is why supporters of capitalism appreciate elections. Well-controlled elections do not question, let alone threaten, capitalism. In a nutshell, capitalism is NOT democratic, capitalists are NOT interested in democracy, capitalism's politicians are there to protect the interests of capital and there is NO nice way to conduct capitalism in the interests of the majority. Politicians and the media insist that we have democracy, that we have free elections which allow us to choose whatever form of government we wish, unlike countries where a single-party dictatorship exists. Ritualised elections now offer a choice between heavily marketed political brands rather than competing aspirational visions.

The SPGB indeed hold it essential that the transformation to a new society be started by formal democratic methods—that is, by persuasion and the secret ballot. For there is no other way of ascertaining accurately the views of the population. While elections may seem to be irrelevant, people should not turn their back on the electoral system as such. The result of a properly conducted ballot will make it clear, in the event of an overwhelming socialist vote, to any minority that they are the minority and that any attempt to oppose the desires of the majority by violence would be futile. The formal establishment of the socialist majority's control of the state avoids the possibility of effective use of its forces against the revolutionary movement. An attempt to establish a socialist society by ignoring the democratic process gives any recalcitrant minority, the excuse for possibly violent anti-socialist action justified by the claim that the alleged majority did not in fact exist or that the assumed majority was not likely to be a consistent or decisive one. The electoral system can be used to effect the revolutionary act of abolishing capitalism by signaling that a majority of ordinary people fully understand and want to effect that change.

Despite their shortcomings, elections to a parliament based on universal suffrage are still the best method available for workers to express a majority desire for socialism. The ruling class who monopolise the ownership of wealth do so through their control of parliament by capitalist parties elected by workers. Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised, so that socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption.

Spikymike
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Oct 6 2019 14:04

Well I've argued that some forms of class struggle have proved themselves superior to others and the most likely means in the beginning of any attempt by the working class to undermine and then replace capitalist social relations in the future, but I suppose ajj and I might agree that communist content is more important than the particular forms used and we understand that communism is about 'human community' and not simply a better or more perfect 'democracy'. Dauve puts it so much better than me in this longer tract here:
https://libcom.org/library/a-contribution-critique-political-autonomy-gi... or here
https://troploin.fr/node/17

ajjohnstone
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Oct 7 2019 00:26

Substance is always superior to slogans, Spikey.

And I have always been one for letting a 1000 flowers bloom. Our fellow-workers can pick the most appealing posy, always the choice is theirs to make, rightly or wrongly, according to ones political position. But the bouquet we've been offering appears to be getting neglected and rejected

But just to add, there is now an interesting development within SPGB which appears to be relaxing our notorious "hostility clause" regards "fellow-travelers", although I prefer the term "the thin red line" from John Crump. Moves are afoot to reverse the conference decision and its Party poll endorsement.

But I don't wish to derail what I found an interesting topic by making it about the SPGB. We've been here too many times before. Since it was mentioned I thought I would take the liberty in clarifying its claims.

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Oct 7 2019 16:26
ajjohnstone wrote:
If I am guilty of wishful thinking, Spikey, then do you think I am the only one from the libertarian communism tradition.

First of all, it is not widely accepted that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is in the tradition of libertarian communism. There is no such thing as the parliamentary wing of anarchism. Second, your justifying wishful thinking on the basis of others being guilty of the same. Isn't that what you are doing here? Do you honestly think that is right?

As for the rest of your post, it sounds like your making a sales pitch to a potential recruit. I can't believe anyone reading this thread will find the arguments there convincing. Some passages in particular are emblematic of the SPGB's poorly thought out schema of a socialist revolution. Why would a socialist majority need to establish that they are a legitimate majority in the eyes of a reactionary minority before carrying out a social revolution?

ajjohnstone wrote:
The ruling class who monopolise the ownership of wealth do so through their control of parliament by capitalist parties elected by workers.

Inequality in wealth isn't the product of capitalism, but the control of parliament by the ruling class?

EDIT:

ajjohnstone wrote:
But I don't wish to derail what I found an interesting topic by making it about the SPGB. We've been here too many times before. Since it was mentioned I thought I would take the liberty in clarifying its claims.

FWIW, I agree with this. For those who want to see past discussions of the politics of the SPGB, see this post.

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Oct 7 2019 16:23
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R Totale: So at best, we can say that there's no proof SPGB MPs, once elected, would behave any differently to other politicians.

I personally don't see any proof that you're right. But I guess I don't have any proof either.

This might be a question that everyone here think has already been answered but I'll ask it anyway. To me, you seem to basically be saying "we don't know whether or not electoralism would corrupt MPs, so we shouldn't be wasting time on electoralism." But what concrete activity is it that an electoral party (like the SPGB) is engaging in that's a huge waste of time? And what is the alternative thing to spend this time on?

Also: do you believe that a stable anarchist society (that won't vanish after invasions etc) requires an anarchist world majority?

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Do you put all your energy into trying to get your MP deselected, while the other parties are concentrating on campaigning and trying to win the seat, and so risk losing altogether to an even worse candidate?

I'm not sure if I understand the situation that you're talking about but if the Labour voters are very pro-Corbyn I think I would try to get them to vote on a more pro-Corbyn Labour candidate.

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you voted Labour in 2001 but don't like wars - who do you vote for in 2005?

If I was a social democrat I might've voted on the liberal democrats as they all voted against the war. Or create a new party (like the USPD in Germany).

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Oct 7 2019 16:41
explainthingstome wrote:
And what is the alternative thing to spend this time on?

I recommend you read Phil Dickens' excellent Electoralism or Class Struggle? blog series. It's a quick read. Not only does it destroy every pro-electoral argument anarchists often encounter, but it has a section addressing the question often posed to them, that you are asking us right now: what is the alternative? I'd also recommend libcom's introduction to direct action.

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Oct 7 2019 16:47

I am still confused on exactly what tradition that the SPGB comes from, they quote Marx but reject Lenin and the Second International, but it's own formulations seem very vague. I am going to quote from the linked thread,

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For the typical Left party, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles or whatever) , whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles. We are blamed for no entryism/intervening in workers struggles and trying to dominate the unions. But our position is that shared by the IWW when they decided unions should not be used as vehicles for political parties and decided upon no political party manipulations of workers self-organisation. Very authoritarian of us not to impose our political programme on the unions as many would like to.

Why do they have a "syndicalist"(anti-political?) approach to union organizing? What does the party do if it is its "own activity"? Is this counter to what Marx and Engels thought that the social-democratic parties should do?

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Our analysis isn't very popular because of the Leninist distortions misquoting Marx on the Paris Commune in attempt to pass off smashing the state as orthodox Marxism.

Doesn't Marx and Engels themselves say this in the 1872 introduction to the manifesto?

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Other state socialists who i am guessing you mean the social democrats of the 2nd International and since, well again, our critiques of using the state in the interest of the workers led to us distancing ourselves from those and setting up our own party and never joining with them.

Do they reject both Bernstien and Kautsky, do they reject Bebel as well or does he get a pass since he was the only one to reject the notion that socialists should hold minister posts?