The Democratic Principle - Bordiga

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working class
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Jun 4 2011 01:12
The Democratic Principle - Bordiga

After reading Bordiga's critique of democracy here, I have a few questions. I agree with him about the principle of democracy not being valid in a class society and workers councils having no traces of bourgeois democracy.

However, if this critique applies to democracy within the party or organisation, this would lead to a Stalinist form of organisation. But, does his critique also apply to democratic decision-making within the party? I am not sure of this.

I know that anarchists believe in democracy as a fundamental principle and claim Leninist Marxism to be undemocratic and hence authoritarian. But what is the anarchist take on Bordiga's criticism of democracy?

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Goti123
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Jun 4 2011 15:33

Perhaps this helps: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH5.html#sech55

??

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Jun 4 2011 15:48
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But, does his critique also apply to democratic decision-making within the party?

Bordiga's piece is not a critique of 'democratic decision-making' but, as it says on the title, 'the democratic principle'. The point is that one must not have any sectarian quibbles about 'true democracy' or some other such rubbish, but rather the best form of organisation to use in any given situation is context-dependent. The revolution is a question of content, not of any particular form of organisation. Of course, proletarian organs may confirm better to the democratic principle than bourgeois organs, and to bring this up would be perfectly fine, as long as we remember that this character of the proletarian organs is a result of necessity and not any eternal democratic principles. Indeed, one may have a form of organisation that is still more democratic than 'bourgeois democracy', but does not conform to the democratic principle, such as the Paris Commune, which had that eternal bogeyman of Anarchists, 'leaders'.

Goti123 wrote:
Perhaps this helps: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secH5.html#sech55

Bordiga also opposed 'Democratic Centralism', so no.

ajjohnstone
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Jun 4 2011 18:13

For reading:-

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/jan04/panbordiga.html

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Jun 4 2011 19:36

Bordiga is spot on in relating democratic ideology to the notion of the isolated citizen in a world of competing commodities: one man one vote and all that, a notion compatible with bourgeois modes of functioning, but which fails to grasp proletarian decision-making as a collective process in which majority votes play a role but are not an absolute guide: in particular Bordiga rightly rejected the idea that the communist programme was reducible to what the majority of communists thought at a given moment. He was less clear on the relation of form to content in class organisations: the proletarian content of organisations also gives rise to certain forms. For example, it was not a matter of indifference whether soviets arose as genuine mass organisations or as 'sections of the party', a notion that Bordiga flirted with in the 20s. This is connected to his idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the (temporary) dictatorship of the party, which had also been theorised by the Bolsheviks as a result of the isolation of the revolution and the fusion of the party with the state. This notion had disastrous consequences - the liquidation not only of the soviets, but of the party as well.

Anarcho
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Jun 5 2011 22:36
Zanthorus wrote:
Bordiga also opposed 'Democratic Centralism', so no.

That would be because he was for centralism but against democracy. To quote his article:

Quote:
Democracy cannot be a principle for us. Centralism is indisputably one, since the essential characteristics of party organization must be unity of structure and action.

And it is very top-down, as per democratic centralism:

Quote:
At certain moments its impulse may come from either broad mass consultations or from the action of very restricted executive organs endowed with full powers.

In short, the party imposes its dictatorship because the masses cannot be trusted to made the right decisions... a fine liberation indeed!

Anarcho
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Jun 5 2011 22:43
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In Russia for example, power is in the hands of the working class and the peasantry

I think this quote sums up well why we should not take Boridga seriously. He has no conception of what a social revolution entails. He replaces the autonomist self-activity of the masses with dictatorship by the party leaders. This will never create communism.

Harrison
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Jun 5 2011 22:58

ugh i so do not like Bordiga. Democracy is necessary within the organs of the revolutionary workers, to ensure they remain class instruments as opposed to that of an unnacountable communist intelligentsia which is free to cease acting in the interests of international revolution at any moment, and is liable to develop their own independent class interests

working class
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Jun 6 2011 05:44
Harrison Myers wrote:
ugh i so do not like Bordiga. Democracy is necessary within the organs of the revolutionary workers, to ensure they remain class instruments as opposed to that of an unnacountable communist intelligentsia which is free to cease acting in the interests of international revolution at any moment, and is liable to develop their own independent class interests

I agree with this. I do not see any leeway extended by Bordiga towards a democratic structure within a party or an organ of the working class. If we extend Bordiga's argument, then Stalinism was justified because Stalin did not find democracy to be necessary. Compared with Bordiga's anti-democratic stance, Trotsky's "Socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen" seems a lot saner.

capricorn
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Jun 6 2011 10:01
working class wrote:
Compared with Bordiga's anti-democratic stance, Trotsky's "Socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen" seems a lot saner.

If Trotsky's said that then he's a hypocrite since he, like Bordiga, defended the concept of the dictatorship of the Party (even if for him it was on pragmatic grounds while Bordiga raised it to a principle).

But did he really say this? According to wikiquote this is what he said:

Quote:
A nationalized planned economy needs democracy, as the human body needs oxygen.

I don't know who paraphrased this as "socialism needs ..." No doubt some Trotskyist as both them and Trotsky did equate "a nationalized planned economy" (ie state capitalism) with socialism. And of course all Trotsky was calling for was "democracy" amongst the leaders of the single vanguard party in charge of the nationalized planned economy.

It's even open to doubt that a nationalized planned economy does need democracy. Being a species of capitalism, it needs a state to impose things that the majority doesn't want or like (such as a restriction of consumption to create funds for capital accumulation).

Nearly forgot to add that of course real socialism does require democracy "like the human body requires oxygen".

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Jun 6 2011 10:19
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capricorn wrote:
working class wrote:
Compared with Bordiga's anti-democratic stance, Trotsky's "Socialism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen" seems a lot saner.

If Trotsky's said that then he's a hypocrite since he, like Bordiga, defended the concept of the dictatorship of the Party (even if for him it was on pragmatic grounds while Bordiga raised it to a principle).

But did he really say this? According to wikiquote this is what he said:

Quote:
A nationalized planned economy needs democracy, as the human body needs oxygen.

I don't know who paraphrased this as "socialism needs ..." No doubt some Trotskyist as both them and Trotsky did equate "a nationalized planned economy" (ie state capitalism) with socialism. And of course all Trotsky was calling for was "democracy" amongst the leaders of the single vanguard party in charge of the nationalized planned economy.

It's even open to doubt that a nationalized planned economy does need democracy. Being a species of capitalism, it needs a state to impose things that the majority doesn't want or like (such as a restriction of consumption to create funds for capital accumulation).

Nearly forgot to add that of course real socialism does require democracy "like the human body requires oxygen".

he said this in 1936 in the period when he delivered his partial self-criticism which included e.g. that all working class organizations should have organisational freedom ... Trotsky broke in the period 1936/37 with some stuff he did between 1918/23 and partially reverted to his positions in the period around 1905 but he never admitted explicitely thad he did serious shit following 1917 ... admitting own errors generally isn't a strength among all kinds of subjective revolutionaries

capricorn
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Jun 6 2011 10:25

I don't think that even after 1936 Trotsky ever advocated that Mensheviks, anarchist and dissident Bolshevik groups should have "organisational freedom" in the USSR, did he? I could be wrong. Does anybody know if he did?

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Entdinglichung
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Jun 6 2011 10:38
capricorn wrote:
I don't think that even after 1936 Trotsky ever advocated that Mensheviks, anarchist and dissident Bolshevik groups should have "organisational freedom" in the USSR, did he? I could be wrong. Does anybody know if he did?

he did ... often not quoted by orthodox trotskyists, e.g. in the 10th and 11th chapter of "The Revolution Betrayed"

capricorn
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Jun 6 2011 13:04

I see you are right. At the end of chapter 11 he did write:

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Bureaucratic autocracy must give place to Soviet democracy. A restoration of the right of criticism, and a geniune freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of Soviet parties, beginning with the party of the Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions.

I assume that by "Soviet parties" he meant those parties that were suppressed in the soviets in the period 1917-1923 by the Bolshevik government of which he was then a member, ie Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, anarchists. He doesn't make it clear whether he also favoured for Russia in 1936 free elections to a general state Legislative Assembly (since he regarded the soviets as representing the working class only and by industry). Probably not, I imagine, as these might not have given a majority to "the party of the Bolsheviks".

a.t.
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Jun 6 2011 14:06

Bordiga's critique of democracy was not opposed to democracy itself but the turning of democracy into a principle that stands over the programme of Communist revolution. Bordiga was not some elitist Maoist-type who believed in the dictatorship of party intellectuals and in fact this is what he opposed in the Bolshevisation of the PCd'I , especially the Popular Front recruiting drives which brought individuals into the party who were unexperienced and would blindly follow the directives of the party leaders.

Also the party for Bordiga was not the stereotypical elitist 'vanguard' either but was often merely a synonym for the class as a whole. There are very valid criticisms that can be made of Bordiga but to dismiss him merely as another elitist on the Maoist model does him a massive disservice.

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Jun 6 2011 23:14
Anarcho wrote:
That would be because he was... against democracy.

Bordiga wasn't 'against democracy' as such. He was against the idea of democracy as a principle prescribed as a priori perfect by eternal reason, as the quote you give actually shows somewhat clearly. He did not present an argument which could be used to justify removing all forms of democratic decision making from proletarian organs. This comes out in full force near the end of Bordiga's arguments with regards to the organisation of the proletarian state:

Quote:
None of these considerations is absolute, and this takes us back to our thesis that no constitutional schema has the value of a principle, and that majority democracy in the formal and arithmetic sense is only one possible method for coordinating the relations that arise within collective organizations. No matter what point of view one takes, it is impossible to attribute to it an intrinsic character of necessity or justice. For Marxists these terms have no meaning. Therefore we do not propose to substitute for the democratic schema which we have been criticizing any other schema of a state apparatus which in itself will be exempt from defects and errors.

(emphasis added)

Or we could refer to his summing up of the argument in 'Communist Organisation and Discipline':

Quote:
In one of «Rassegna Comunista» issues we published an article on the «Democratic Principle», taking into consideration its application both in the State and in the political and union organisations, and demonstrating that for us such a principle has no subsistence whatsoever; we can only speak of a mechanism of numerical and majoritarian democracy, which can be convenient, for certain organisations, in given historical situations, to introduce or not.

Bordiga's argument here is, I think, in conformity with Marx's argument in 'On the Jewish Question' that the state based on political equality represents the illusory species-life of the abstract citizen, which exists as long as man's activity is not a direct affirmation of his real species-life. Democracy in this context presents itself as a form of organisation for a fundamentally capitalist content. The revolution is a question of proletarian content which is expressed through certain forms of organisation, and without this content these forms usually lend themselves towards being co-opted by capitalism.

Quote:
In short, the party imposes its dictatorship because the masses cannot be trusted to made the right decisions... a fine liberation indeed!

In short, you have no comprehension of the critique of abstract man and fundamental principles plucked from the nether-world of eternal reason implied by Marx's move in 1843/44 to men "not as an abstraction, but as real, living, particular individuals" (Comments on James Mill). You have no comprehension of how important this critique is for Marx's demonstration that the economics of the Robinsonades represents not a science but the ideology par excellence of the bourgeoisie. You have no idea of how the bringing of real man and his activity back into the picture feeds into Marx's critique of speculative idealism in The Holy Family and The German Ideology. And you have no comprehension of how this links to the critique of organisational fetishism and the recognition of political equality as the illusory species-life, to the understanding of socialism as the true community of men, to the necessity for socialist theory to make a fundamental break from the ideologies of capitalist modernity rather than creating a more 'consistent' version of liberal capitalist ideology. For you, everything is dissolved into the oppossition of the Leninist party-dictatorship and it's advocates versus 'the masses'.

Anarcho wrote:
He has no conception of what a social revolution entails.

I'm sorry, aren't you the one that thinks that Pierre Proudhon was a genuine socialist? And you think that we should ignore Bordiga because he has no conception of what a social revolution entails?

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Jun 7 2011 13:05
Zanthorus wrote:
I'm sorry, aren't you the one that thinks that Pierre Proudhon was a genuine socialist?

I find Anarcho's sectarianism quite irritating, but I don't think there's any disputing that Proudhon was a genuine socialist. It's just that many early socialists were wrong about a lot of things.

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Jun 7 2011 15:03

I agree with that - at a certain moment, the Proudhonists helped Marx to become a communist. But I also support Zanthorus in his argument in favour of taking Bordiga seriously, and of regarding him as a comrade.

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Jun 7 2011 15:38
Angelus Novus wrote:
I don't think there's any disputing that Proudhon was a genuine socialist.

Eh, I don't know about that. I agree with the Communist Left's critique of self-management and as such think don't think that Proudhon's schema's represent any kind of overcoming of capitalist society. Although 'socialist' is sort of vague anyway.

Alf wrote:
at a certain moment, the Proudhonists helped Marx to become a communist.

I've never actually seen any convincing evidence of this.

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Jun 7 2011 17:18

It's true that most of Proudhon's ideas about socialism were deeply flawed, and would be entirely reactionary today. The point is what he and the current expressed at a time when the modern communist movement was still extremely immature.

The Parisian "communist artisans" which so impressed Marx at the meetings he went to around 1844, and which played a significant part in his decision to throw in his lot with the communist movement, would probably have been Proudhonists; Marx also recognised Proudhon's questioning of private property and defended him against Bruno Bauer in The Holy Family. "French socialism" was acknowledged by Engels as one of the component elements which resulted in the development of "scientific socialism".

capricorn
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Jun 7 2011 18:08
Zanthorus wrote:
Angelus Novus wrote:
I don't think there's any disputing that Proudhon was a genuine socialist.

Eh, I don't know about that. I agree with the Communist Left's critique of self-management and as such think don't think that Proudhon's schema's represent any kind of overcoming of capitalist society. Although 'socialist' is sort of vague anyway.

Alf wrote:
at a certain moment, the Proudhonists helped Marx to become a communist.

I've never actually seen any convincing evidence of this.

I have to agree with Zanthorus on this one. You just need to read Proudhon's rants against communism and attacks on the idea of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs" to realise that he was not one of us. In the 1840s he did describe himself as a socialist but at the time this meant little more than being in favour of social reforms to try to benefit workers (which was why the Communist Manifesto was called that and not the Socialist Manifesto). Proudhon stood not for communism but for a self-managed free market economy. And he was a currency crank.

Proudhon had a high reputation amongst German revolutionaries when Marx came to live in Paris in 1843 but Marx soon realised that this was over-rated and wrote The Poverty of Philosophy to expose his views as shallow. I've never been sure why anarchists include him in their pantheon. I'd have thought they'd have found his pro-market and pro-competition views an embarrassment.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 7 2011 19:15

I agree that Proudhon was not a communist, but he was definitely a socialist. The early socialist movement had a lot of cranky and odd ideas. Murray Bookchin uses the term "artisanal socialism" in his book The Third Revolution, and I think that's a fairly apt description of Proudhon.

As to why capital-A Anarchists include him in their pantheon, I think it's because he was actually the first to use the word "anarchist" to describe his ideas.

Then again, I've got no dog in this fight. Anarchism and Marxism were both currents in the historical workers movement of the 19th and early-20th Centuries. There existence arises from a proletarian culture and constellation of social forces that will never again exist in that form. People who proclaim themselves "anarchists" or "Marxists" are just nurturing ideologies that are long past their expiration date.

Marx's lasting contribution is his critique of political economy. Anarchism hasn't left behind as many theoretical contributions, but it's existence as a historical social movement should be an object of study, especially in Spain.

revolut
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Jun 7 2011 19:13
capricorn wrote:
Proudhon had a high reputation amongst German revolutionaries when Marx came to live in Paris in 1843 but Marx soon realised that this was over-rated and wrote The Poverty of Philosophy to expose his views as shallow.

I know the topic is Bordiga, not Proudhon, but you're wrong about the dates. Still in 1846 (when he had already left France), Marx wrote to Proudhon offering him collaboration.