Post-Insurrectionary Strategy

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Jacob Richter
Joined: 13-07-08
Apr 6 2019 18:04
Post-Insurrectionary Strategy

Post-Insurrectionary Strategy

It took a while for an article on Karl Kautsky, when he was a Marxist, to come out that got past the strawmen presented by the Eurocommunist-sounding James Muldoon and the Luxemburgist-sounding Charlie Post. Eric Blanc suggests the taking up of defensive parliamentary strategy, the basis of the Finnish Revolution, as the socialist model of revolutionary change in the most developed capitalist countries:

[Kautsky’s] case was simple: the majority of workers in parliamentary countries would generally seek to use legal mass movements and the existing democratic channels to advance their interests […] even when a desire for immediate socialist transformation was deepest among working people, support to replace universal suffrage and parliamentary democracy with workers’ councils, or other organs of dual power, has always remained marginal.

In other words, socialists should win a majority in parliament, thus provoking anti-socialist forces to move against parliament, thus triggering a massive socialist response.

There are major problems with this defensive parliamentary strategy. While it should not be stated that its conceptions of “legitimacy,” “power,” “majority,” and “support” are crude, those same conceptions are too shallow. The best of Kautsky the Marxist is not enough, not because it is not left enough, but precisely because its centrism is not developed enough. What follows is both a fuller criticism of this strategy and an advocacy of post-insurrectionary strategy in a very specific form of party revolution: the mass party-movement making the anti-capitalist rupture on the basis of majority political support from the working class.

Constitutional Limits

The defensive parliamentary strategy does not acknowledge constitutional limits. Every country has a process to amend its constitution which requires much, much more than a simple majority. Even further democratization of liberal-constitutional orders faces this as a major obstacle. Whether it’s replacing elections altogether with sortition (demarchy), getting past fetishes regarding universal suffrage (which will be discussed later in the article), establishing separate legislative bodies for social policy and for economic policy, ensuring that every public official has standards of living comparable to the median professional worker, implementing multiple avenues to recall any public official where there has been abuse of office, or some other fundamental democratic change, the defensive parliamentary strategy evades the constitutional amendment question. History has shown, time and again, that small-d democratic routes to socialism are incompatible with liberalism and its insistence on the constitutional order.

Which Majority?

The defensive parliamentary strategy does not recognize the existence of multiple kinds of majorities, whose individual distinctions are key to advocating any anti-capitalist rupture in an informed manner. There are constitutional majorities, parliamentary majorities, electoral majorities, class majorities, and of course the demographic majority. The first of these has already been discussed. The second, the very underpinning of the defensive parliamentary strategy, ignores the ordinary system of checks and balances in liberal-constitutional orders, be they bicameral legislative setups or the politically unaccountable judicial review. Blanc has already noted the need for major democratic reforms, not least because electoral majorities are not the same as parliamentary majorities.

The longer-term concern is the distinction between electoral majorities and class majorities. Without venturing into Lenin’s emotional outbursts against the renegade Kautsky in 1918, it should suffice to be stated that the defensive parliamentary strategy relies too much on universal suffrage to bring about the socialist government capable of the anti-capitalist rupture. Not for nothing did the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) arrive at the position of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) that capitalists should not be allowed to participate in elections, precisely because of the anticipation of big business resistance. If anything, given the pervasiveness of lobby money and quid pro quo arrangements today, why should they not be excluded from the entire political process altogether?

The distinction between electoral majorities and class majorities gains greater significance when non-worker classes other than capitalists are concerned. Not for nothing did Marx and Engels advocate the self-emancipation of that socioeconomic class which depends on the wage fund – the working class. Even in the most developed of capitalist economies, the various non-worker classes other than capitalists number as much as a third of the population. A defensive parliamentary strategy which somehow wins over a supermajority support from these classes, yet which cannot command the majority political support of the working class, cannot be seen as the self-emancipation of the working class!

Which Support?

The defensive parliamentary strategy does not recognize the existence of multiple kinds of support, whose individual distinctions are key to advocating any anti-capitalist rupture in an informed manner. The relevant ones, in this case, electoral support, political support, and class support. When none other than Engels mistakenly judged the individual vote under universal suffrage to be a gauge, he did not anticipate the possibility of protest votes by individuals ordinarily not supportive of the party selected, nor did he anticipate the possibility of spoiled ballots by socialist individuals. The former should not count as political support, while the political support of the latter should be found elsewhere.

Not all political support is mere electoral support. Both Blanc and Post mentioned the need for independent organization and mass action outside parliament and the rest of the electoral arena. However, even that is not the best gauge for political support.

The best gauge is voting membership. Individual commitment to political principles, to a political program, as expressed by economic support (not necessarily financial support) and an appropriate degree of “non-activist” participation (to avoid careerism and burnout), signifies real support that a passive, periodic vote could not express.

Class support, within the context of voting membership, necessarily entails a workers-only voting membership policy. The likes of Engels understood that the extension of voting membership to those not of that socioeconomic class dependent on the wage fund went against the principle of self-emancipation for that class. While he was a Marxist, Kautsky argued for the mass party-movement to which he belonged, the then-Marxist Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), to maintain this policy, even against the likes of August Bebel and his working-class credentials!

Party Revolution

Historically, the workers movement did not create bodies exclusive to itself but which met in continuous session. The concept of the continuous session has historically been the one saving grace of parliaments in relation to trade union bodies or workers councils. Meeting at this most frequent level is required to hold bureaucracies to account, which neither trade union bodies nor workers councils did.

The defensive parliamentary strategy is reductionist in advocating that only the existing parliaments are capable of meeting in continuous session so as to hold bureaucracies to account. The limitations of these establishment bodies are well known.

Instead, what is needed is a mass party-movement, or class-for-itself:

1) Of only those of that socioeconomic class dependent on the wage fund;
2) By only those of that socioeconomic class dependent on the wage fund;
3) For those of that socioeconomic class dependent on the wage fund;
4) Committed to organizing the broader class-in-itself through as many means as conceivable, including but not limited to mutual and alternative culture;
5) Having internalized as many democratic processes as needed for the class-in-itself to grasp full, unobstructed, public policymaking power and enforcement; and
6) With the capability of creating one or more bodies exclusive to itself that can meet in continuous session so as to hold to account any bureaucracy, whether the latter is exclusive to the workers movement or not; and
7) With the will to create the aforementioned body or bodies.

Legitimacy and Legalisms

It has already been asserted that the mass party-movement as defined above must have majority political support from the broader class in order to have legitimacy. Although the defensive parliamentary strategy does recognize the possibility of anti-socialist forces moving against a socialist-won parliament, as well as an extra-legal socialist response in turn, the obsession with legal means restricts excessively the resort to extra-legal means to the very end. Legal obstacles, such as hard constitutional limits and regular checks and balances, have already been mentioned.

Legal means ought to be pursued where possible, and extra-legal ones when necessary. The degree of violence should be determined by the extent of violence committed by the opposition.

Addendum: Revolutionary Centrism

Eric Blanc’s usage of the word “center” is inaccurate. There was indeed an orthodox Marxist center, but it existed before the vulgar “center” from 1910 onwards. The orthodox Marxist center, or revolutionary center, very much included the likes of the Bolsheviks. They opposed both the strategy of reform coalitions, advocated by those to their right, and the strategy of shutting down the state with mass action, advocated by those to their left. The latter strategy had its genesis in the insurrectionary general strike of Mikhail Bakunin, flowered in the violence romanticism of Georges Sorel, and continued in very diluted form in the works of Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky.