Are capitalist democracies actually just dictatorships?

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ajjohnstone
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Oct 7 2019 17:32

" what tradition that the SPGB comes from"

Impossibilist

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossibilism

And that is all I am going to say, so to not derail this topic with arguments that have been repeated ad nauseum on Libcom...use the search facility....oops that doesn't work, does it?

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explainthingstome
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Oct 8 2019 18:20

I think that I've gotten everything that I wanted from this thread. I give my thanks to R Totale in particular.

Ultimately, while the replies I've gotten have made some points that may be correct , I'd still say that Britain, France etc are democracies. I don't believe that the failures of left-wing governments are a product of capitalist conspiracy, but rather the product of them trying to do something that isn't yet possible. I consider Britain to not be a dictatorship as the population are allowed to create and consume political thought (in general at least) that challenges the present system and they're allowed to vote on and create political parties. Also, I believe that most people support the capitalist basis of our society, even though they might oppose some of the things that they do not realize is the inevitable result of capitalism (like wars). That being said, I think that opinions, like the anarchist ones, that are against the current order do have a harder time getting heard, so I'm not saying that our democracies are great.

These threads can get very complicated. I think that I'm mainly responsible for this. For future threads I will try to talk about just one issue and not three different ones.

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R Totale
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Oct 8 2019 18:45
explainthingstome wrote:
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."

With all due respect, it seems to me that you've got things a bit backwards there - we over a century of evidence showing how "socialist" political representatives behave once in power. The hypothesis that's unproven is is "perhaps socialist MPs elected on precisely the right platform would behave differently to all other elected representatives".

Quote:
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?

Again, I don't want to be harsh, but this "oh, just stand for election, it doesn't take that much effort" line is one that can only come from someone who's never come anywhere close to actually being involved in an electoral campaign. The average UK constituency has over 70,000 voters - are you aiming to try and speak to each one of them? 90%? 75%? At least put a leaflet through their front doors? Maybe leaflet their houses more than once, since the opposition certainly will?
As for the alternative... at the risk of cliche, I'll refer you to that classic section from "As We See It":
"Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf."

I'm unconvinced that there can ever be an electoral campaign which doesn't encourage people's reliance on others to do things for them. This also comes back to the question of what it is that makes people want socialism/communism/anarchism/whatever - I don't think that getting a leaflet through your door, or having a brief chat with someone on your doorstep asking for your vote, makes it much easier for people to really imagine being part of a world where they played an active part in the running of their own lives, I think there are other forms of activity that are much better at increasing people's confidence, initiative, participation and so on.

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

Dunno. It's a big question. I suppose I'd say it requires a plurality of people to find the proposals being put forward by the insurgents, the "party of anarchy" or whoever, more attractive than the proposals being put forward by any other actor. But if, say, 30% of the population side with the anarchists, 25% with some form of state socialism, 25% with some form of liberal capitalism, and 20% with the fascists, what then?

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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).

Ah, but the liberal democrats had economic policies that a good social democrat wouldn't like, as became very clear in 2010-15. So do you use your vote to support a party who want a further extension of the market into all areas of human life, just because they're against the war? And as it happens, there was an attempt to create a new party, it's one of those things I keep meaning to bring up on this thread but don't really have the time and energy to make my replies even longer than they already are... it did not go well. And, crucially, I think that you can't blame him pretending to be a cat on Big Brother on Respect's platform - do the SPGB have contingency plans in place on how they would stop any of their prospective MPs from doing a cat impression on a reality TV show?

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R Totale
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Oct 8 2019 18:53
explainthingstome wrote:
I think that I've gotten everything that I wanted from this thread. I give my thanks to R Totale in particular.

Ultimately, while the replies I've gotten have made some points that may be correct , I'd still say that Britain, France etc are democracies. I don't believe that the failures of left-wing governments are a product of capitalist conspiracy, but rather the product of them trying to do something that isn't yet possible. I consider Britain to not be a dictatorship as the population are allowed to create and consume political thought (in general at least) that challenges the present system and they're allowed to vote on and create political parties. Also, I believe that most people support the capitalist basis of our society, even though they might oppose some of the things that they do not realize is the inevitable result of capitalism (like wars). That being said, I think that opinions, like the anarchist ones, that are against the current order do have a harder time getting heard, so I'm not saying that our democracies are great.

Ooops, crossposted there - yeah, I think I'd pretty much agree with most of that, with the exception that I'd probably stress more how capitalist democracies have the potential to turn into dictatorships at any point if the conditions are right.

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explainthingstome
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Oct 8 2019 20:41

I feel like I want to reply to what you wrote prior to seeing my latest post.

Quote:
R Totale: With all due respect, it seems to me that you've got things a bit backwards there - we over a century of evidence showing how "socialist" political representatives behave once in power.

What about a scenario where a majority of socialist MP's abolish parliament and replace it with councils or something else? Would the socialist MP's be corrupt on the very first day in office?

Quote:
Again, I don't want to be harsh, but this "oh, just stand for election, it doesn't take that much effort" line is one that can only come from someone who's never come anywhere close to actually being involved in an electoral campaign.

I never said it was easy. Lots of things aren't easy, that doesn't mean that it's meaningless to do anything. Furthermore, the electoral campaign wouldn't be about convincing Labour voters to like Corbyn, it would rather be about informing them that they can actually vote on a Labour member that doesn't dislike him.

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I think there are other forms of activity that are much better at increasing people's confidence [than campaigning], initiative, participation and so on.

What would you say is a really good activity to do?

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But if, say, 30% of the population side with the anarchists, 25% with some form of state socialism, 25% with some form of liberal capitalism, and 20% with the fascists, what then?

I'd side with all non-dictatorical forces against the pro-dictatorship forces. The alternative is to kill or imprison most people for having opinions contrary to mine, and I wouldn't even support that even if it did led to an anarchist victory.

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Oct 12 2019 18:21

OK, catching up with this:

explainthingstome wrote:
What about a scenario where a majority of socialist MP's abolish parliament and replace it with councils or something else? Would the socialist MP's be corrupt on the very first day in office?

No, but I find it hard to believe in a scenario where this hypothetical socialist party goes from 0-51% of the vote share overnight, without first passing through an extended period of socialist MPs being a smaller or larger minority in a capitalist-dominated parliament, which is where I think you would see the problems come in.

Quote:
I never said it was easy. Lots of things aren't easy, that doesn't mean that it's meaningless to do anything.

Ah, I might have misread you there - I read "But what concrete activity is it that an electoral party... is engaging in that's a huge waste of time?" as you saying that it isn't that timeconsuming, and that is a line of argument that sometimes gets made. If that wasn't what you were saying, then ignore that bit of my response. I still think that Solidarity quote explains why it's a waste of time, anyway.

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What would you say is a really good activity to do?

Ah, there's the big question, going to try not to write an essay here - I think the libcom introduction to direct action probably covers this, along with stuff like the prole.info texts. Anyway, broadly speaking I'd say stuff that's rooted in people's lives, where everyone involved has a say in making decisions - the classic example is workplace organising, and there's various stuff from AngryWorkers, Recomposition, Organizing Work and so on that explains why this is so vital. Other things that can have a similar potential are tenants' organisations - I think Parkdale Organize in Canada are a good example of this - student movements like the 2010 one in the UK or the Quebec one a few years back, claimants or disabled people's movements and so on. Obviously all of these forms of activity can be approached in sterile, alienating and hierarchical ways, but they don't necessarily have to be, whereas I think electoralism is always inherently hierarchical, involves an appeal to placing our trust in leaders to sort things out on our behalf, and so on.

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explainthingstome
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Oct 13 2019 08:15
Quote:
R Totale: No, but I find it hard to believe in a scenario where this hypothetical socialist party goes from 0-51% of the vote share overnight, without first passing through an extended period of socialist MPs being a smaller or larger minority in a capitalist-dominated parliament, which is where I think you would see the problems come in.

Do you personally think it's likely that most of the 51% (I would personally prefer a higher percentage) would be "newbie" MP's on the day of a socailist electoral victory? That is to say, do you think that the growth of either SPGB ideas or anarchist ideas would be a straight line or an exponential function or whatever one calls it?

Quote:
Ah, I might have misread you there - I read "But what concrete activity is it that an electoral party... is engaging in that's a huge waste of time?" as you saying that it isn't that timeconsuming, and that is a line of argument that sometimes gets made

Well I kind of meant, how much time does the SPGB spend on electoralism? I mean from what I can tell most of their time goes to writing articles, letters or blog posts that talks about socialism or ideologies or history. I don't see how that's connected to their electoralism, other than the fact that they're trying to convince people of their ideology, just like any political current does.

Quote:
Ah, there's the big question, going to try not to write an essay here - I think the libcom introduction to direct action probably covers this

Thanks. Is it correct to say that you believe that direct action results in more people embracing an anarchist mindset?

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R Totale
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Oct 13 2019 09:24
explainthingstome wrote:
Do you personally think it's likely that most of the 51% (I would personally prefer a higher percentage) would be "newbie" MP's on the day of a socailist electoral victory? That is to say, do you think that the growth of either SPGB ideas or anarchist ideas would be a straight line or an exponential function or whatever one calls it?

Right, I see where you're coming from here... but the difficulty is that this is asking me to say which of two different versions of a strategy I don't believe in sounds more plausible.

Quote:
Well I kind of meant, how much time does the SPGB spend on electoralism? I mean from what I can tell most of their time goes to writing articles, letters or blog posts that talks about socialism or ideologies or history. I don't see how that's connected to their electoralism, other than the fact that they're trying to convince people of their ideology, just like any political current does.

Yeah, but again, without wanting to spend too much time dunking on the SPGB here, I think that's down to them being a pro-electoral party that's not very good at electoralism. Like, in the 2017 general election they stood in 3 seats out of 650, which is not exactly ideal for an electoral party.

Quote:
Thanks. Is it correct to say that you believe that direct action results in more people embracing an anarchist mindset?

Kind of, or that's a bit straightforward and mechanistic, but I suppose I'd say that it's very difficult for people to embrace an anarchist mindset if they have no experience of direct action (not saying that it's impossible, but pretty rare), and considerably easier if they do. The last big upsurge in interest in UK anarchism coming after the 2010 student movement sort of supports this, I think. Thinking about your original post, the AFAQ section on direct action is probably also relevant here - not sure if that's one of the ones you'd been reading?

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explainthingstome
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Oct 13 2019 12:57
Quote:
R Totale: but the difficulty is that this is asking me to say which of two different versions of a strategy I don't believe in sounds more plausible.

But do you think that, if the anarchist movement grows, that the development will look like a straight line or will the line look different? Is it more likely that it will be like a curve?

The question I'm about to ask may require a very long text, so I understand if you don't want to answer it or just link me a relevant article, but: how would the state power "turn into" the kind of democracy that you want for society during a revolution? The way that I've kind of described my example is that socialist MP's move power from parliament to local councils or whatnot.

Quote:
I think that's down to them being a pro-electoral party that's not very good at electoralism. Like, in the 2017 general election they stood in 3 seats out of 650, which is not exactly ideal for an electoral party.

I think that they knew that they would never win in the present political climate. First you get the hearts of the people and then you get their votes. Right now, SPGB activity seems focused on spreading socialist ideas.

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I suppose I'd say that it's very difficult for people to embrace an anarchist mindset if they have no experience of direct action

I'm going to eventually make a thread related to this and ask people about how they (or people they know) became anarchists. I haven't seen such a thread on here.

Quote:
not sure if that's one of the ones you'd been reading?

No, I don't think I have yet.

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R Totale
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Oct 13 2019 15:19
explainthingstome wrote:
I'm going to eventually make a thread related to this and ask people about how they (or people they know) became anarchists. I haven't seen such a thread on here.

Will try and get back to your longer question but just to say that this could be really interesting. In the meantime, you may like these:
https://libcom.org/blog/right-wing-revolutionary-left-tom-wetzel-0205201...
https://libcom.org/blog/growing-during-%E2%80%98war-terror%E2%80%99-1505...
https://libcom.org/blog/making-politicized-prisoner-22052015

Although I suppose there's always the problem that any such attempt can only hear from people who are already anarchists, when in some ways the really interesting question is "for people who aren't already anarchists, what would it take to make them interested?"

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R Totale
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Oct 20 2019 10:02
explainthingstome wrote:
Quote:
R Totale: but the difficulty is that this is asking me to say which of two different versions of a strategy I don't believe in sounds more plausible.

But do you think that, if the anarchist movement grows, that the development will look like a straight line or will the line look different? Is it more likely that it will be like a curve?

Yeah, I think it'll be a curve, or some more complicated shape, but again that's another reason why I don't think the development of revolutionary movements matches up neatly with the kind of quantitative measurement associated with elections. I think that what people want, and the ways that they want things, are quite complex and can change easily depending on circumstances, whereas liberal electoral representation is based on the idea that individuals have fairly simple and easily measurable fixed preferences. Obviously I'm not trying to justify dictatorship by saying that, more thinking of Marty Glaberman's ideas about consciousness:

"At the beginning of the war, the UAW bureaucracy, like that of most other unions, had committed itself not to strike for the duration. Prices, however, rose steadily, and the rank and file brought to the national union convention a demand to abandon the no-strike pledge. The union hierarchy sought to sidestep that pressure by arranging to mail to each member of the union a form asking recipients to say whether they wished the pledge to continue. Marty conceded that most of those who returned a form voted Yes. But, Marty countered, records demonstrated that more than half of the workers in Detroit automotive plants had taken part in wildcat strikes!

...Marty believed strongly that, as Marx set forth in his Theses on Feuerbach, action precedes and supersedes theory. A favorite anecdote imagined a worker at his machine. He observes a group of fellow workers coming down the aisle. There are too many of them to be going to the storeroom for material. It is too early for them to be going to lunch. So the worker turns off his machine and joins the others heading for the parking lot. Once there, he turns to a fellow worker and asks: “What the hell is this all about?”

Similarly Marty disputed the idea that workers must be converted to socialism before a socialist revolution is possible. Rather, he thought, they become socialists in the process of making a revolution. In Russia, for example, workers who abused their wives, were frequently drunk, were anti-Semitic and often illiterate, nevertheless became revolutionaries as they combated the powers that be."

Quote:
The question I'm about to ask may require a very long text, so I understand if you don't want to answer it or just link me a relevant article, but: how would the state power "turn into" the kind of democracy that you want for society during a revolution? The way that I've kind of described my example is that socialist MP's move power from parliament to local councils or whatnot.

Broadly speaking, alternative institutions and forms develop first independently from the state (you could say the Occupy movement was one microscopic embryonic example of what that could look like in contemporary Western conditions, alongside stuff like the local councils in Syria), come to be seen as more legitimate than the state, take and hold territory (again, without wanting to be uncritical of either, I think Chiapas and the ZAD are both examples worth bearing in mind here), and then hopefully expand and don't get massacred. If I knew more about the situations in Puerto Rico, Haiti, Hong Kong, Lebanon etc I'd probably be able to offer more helpful examples from there.

alb
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Oct 25 2019 14:27

Amusing article here which might have some relevance to the discussion on this thread.

Spikymike
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Nov 24 2019 17:33

So as we are in the throws of another UK General election (and with the spgb putting forward it's usual token candidates, along with a few others on the Left) thought I would offer up these '26 Thesis' on the problems with democracy as ideology and practice in the modern capitalist world to keep the doubters busy for a while:
www.ruthlesscriticism.com/democraticlifeindex.htm