Labour Party (EMEP)

Democratic Movements and Socialism

The bourgeoisie and its ideologues are trying to explain every social incident and phenomenon as a new “end” of classes and the class struggle. They keep repeating that classes are dead and will never return, in order to wipe away from the consciousness of the working people even the possibility of ending the economic and political rule of the bourgeoisie.

With the collapse of the revisionist USSR, Francis Fukuyama, an ideologue of imperialist barbarism, announced that the war between the working class and bourgeoisie had ended, and called it the end of history and ideologies. The propagandists of the New World Order and critics of “real socialism” have cried in unison that national borders were going to disappear and that the free market will bring prosperity and peace to the world. But the general tendencies of capitalism were in motion even before the ink had dried. The result was wars, national enmity, exploitation, poverty, unemployment and hunger.

Using scientific and technological developments, the temporary defeat of socialism and some new cultural components as a base, they proclaimed the working class dead and the end of class differences, replaced by differences of status, income and cultural identities. While discussing the struggle of oppressed identities, they ignored the relationship between these identities and capitalism, and also presented these movements of identities as proof of the end of class movement.

The insurgencies that started in North Africa in 2011 and spread to almost all of the Arab countries showed the world that the era of revolutions had not ended. However, the bourgeoisie tried to reduce these movements to Western type demands for capitalist democracy, denying their opportunity and potential to develop. The same could be said about the 2013 Gezi Resistance in Turkey. Occupy Wall Street and the rising mass movements against austerity in Greece, Italy and Spain are defined in essence not as the reaction to the results of capitalism but as a movement of anger against neoliberalism; an insurgency of the educated bourgeoisie, of professionals or of the “majority.

The rising and undeniable worldwide movements for women’s rights, for protecting nature and the environment against capitalist pillage, the movements of oppressed nations, ethnic identities, religious groups, sexual orientations, etc., are presented as indicators of the ideology of globalisation and the majority of civil social. They are all used as proof that the class struggle is an “archaic” ideological argument that has been left behind. The alternative globalisation movements have been placed in a position where, with the slogans of “another type of globalisation” and “a better world,” they are dependent on reforms by international institutions, where their points of view are limited to reforms.

Leaving their specific aims and programmes aside, the theories that define these movements –detached from their objective roots and ignoring their relationship with capitalism and the class struggle – reject an analysis based on the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the two main classes under capitalism. According to the “new social movement” theorists, society has gone through deep-rooted changes and does not fit the “model” put forward by Marx. The working class – to which Marx attributed the revolutionary role – has lost its influence and has become just one more part of society through labour parties. Hence these movements have only one choice: a “radical” or “moderate” struggle for democracy!...

In fact, despite its position in the struggle for democracy, its “good intensions” and “attempts,” any movement that is not based in the working class and does not aim to destroy the networks of capitalist relation and to establish collective production relations, will not be able to overcome the limits of the ruling bourgeois capitalist system and cannot consistently carry through its own democratic demands.

Movements of Cultural Identity

Social movements, which are historically as old as class societies, are expressions of unrest, of demands for needs that have to be met and fulfilled. Insurrections, riots and revolutions have existed throughout history; they have had a significant impact on shaping social life, they have been the “engine” of change, to use a common expression.

The wave of rebellions that spread through the Arab world, starting with the suicide of Mohamed El Bouazizi in Tunisia on 17 December 2010, and to a certain extent the Gezi Rebellion, have been seen by some authors and intellectuals as a milestone in the transition from modernism to post-modern society in the Middle East; they have been compared to the Europe of 1968. According to this analysis, the millions involved in the Arab rebellions went into the streets not for economic reasons or ideological objectives but with pragmatic demands that concerned their daily lives. Without demanding Power, they carried out a post-modern struggle using “new methods” such as occupying squares. Likewise, despite its differences with the Arab rebellions, the Gezi Resistance has been seen by many thinkers as a step towards post-modernism and its forms of opposition in Turkey; in other words, it was a step towards “new social movements”.

The concept of “new social movements” is based on the idea that movements such as feminism, anti-racist, environmentalist, animal rights, anti-nuclear and peace movements – on the rise since the 1970s – have broken from the “old” social movements based on the class struggle, primarily of the working class, and that they are an ontological “new” concept. They are inspired by post-structuralist and post-Marxist tendencies of the 1970s.

There are two different views regarding the relationship between the “new social movements” and classes and class struggles. The first, represented by Claus Offe, sees them based on the new middle classes. The second uses the argument that these movements do not have “an economic base,” hence they cannot be explained by the terminology of classes but rather by identities and values.

According to Offe, the opportunities of consumption and the monotonous structure created by the “society of prosperity” has led to “new” social movement that stress the non-economic values in life. Values such as identity, participation and fulfilling ones potential have come to the fore.

The most important representative of the identity approach, Alain Touraine, sees the “new social movements” as based on the paradigm of the post-industrial society. Movements arise in the new society and the domain of broad “civil society,” instead of the state as in the past. According to him, the struggle is to transform civil society; their aim is not to take state power. As the distinction between private and public spheres has been eliminated in post-industrial society, new conflicts arise on the basis of identities that are not visible or excluded from the public sphere. Societies and the world in general are not under the rule of the bourgeoisie, but of the state.

First, the claim that the “new social movements” are “new” and that they are based on post-modern or post-industrial social foundations has no objective foundation. One main assumption of the “new social movements” is that modern capitalist society has been replaced by a post-modern or post-capitalist society. Therefore, the class struggle has lost its relevance or at most has the same importance as any other forms of struggle. State power, rather than being the representative of a class or an alliance of classes, has become a “biopower” that tries to control all areas of society and life. This framework is the main argument of post-capitalist, neoliberal propaganda, which claims that the society we live in has become independent of capitalist class relations, that differences between classes have disappeared.

Rather than decreasing, class conflicts all over the world are becoming sharper along with the increase in exploitation, poverty and unemployment. Rather than the main characteristics of capitalism disappearing and the erosion of class divisions, the last 40 years of neoliberalism has brutally exposed the essential characteristics of capitalism. The number of people in control of the means of production is constantly shrinking and billions of people in all countries throughout the world do not own any means of production. They have nothing but their labour power to sell; they are forced to enter the capitalist market.

In China, India, Turkey, Egypt and Brazil, in parts of the world that began developing capitalism rather late, just within the last 15 years, millions of peasants (hundreds of millions if you think of China and India) have been thrown off their lands. They have migrated to the cities to join the ranks of the armies of the unemployed or to work in the informal sectors.

Privatisations, liberal deregulation policies, the removal of all “national” barriers in the way of capital, the burdening of society with the costs of the deteriorating environment, the reduction of workers’ wages, flexible and unregulated work, the appearance of savage 19th century working conditions at a more advanced technological level, every day shows clearly the reality of the existence of classes, the chasm that exists between classes and the struggle between them. From this perspective – despite scientific, technological developments and other “new” phenomena – capitalism continues to exist and maintains all its essential characteristics.

There are important parallels and elements of continuity between those “old” movements that began in the 18th century and those deemed to be “new”.  For example, the focus of the “new” social movements on identity, using different tools and the politicizing of daily life, were also visible characteristics of national movements existing since the last century.

To approach issues that are the focus of “new” social movements as if they had never existed, been discussed or struggled for in the “past”, is at the least an exaggeration if not a fallacy. For example, the women’s rights movement is focusing on working conditions and salaries, which is something the workers’ movement has focused on for decades. Likewise, groups that protest against the military power of the USA see their primary aim as economic equality around the world.* The focuses of the “new social movements” such as personal liberty, equality, participation, peace, etc. are not only not “new” in the way they are portrayed but are inherited from the progressive movements of the bourgeoisie and the working class. Many issues that seem new today have been main elements of social movements of the past, and economic issues deemed to be in the past are very important components of today’s social movements.

* Taken from J. J. Macionis, Sociology, 14th edition, 2012, p. 555.

The demands for recognition of identity are also not a phenomenon that only began in the 1970s. Movements in 19th century of ethnic minorities, women and for religious freedoms regularly put forward demands regarding autonomy and identity.

It is not possible to analyse the movements of different sections and classes in society and their actions and rebellions by isolating them from the economic production relations, social conditions and various other conditions in which they have arisen and developed. While the existence and movements of classes – this applies also to individuals and groups – are shaped by the material production conditions in which they exist, the individual and combined actions and movements of these classes, individuals and groups also influence changes in these social conditions. The economic and social conditions, the political and economical-vocational organisations, the ideological factors, orientations and tendencies, the “cultures” and perceptions that have been taken over, reshaped and reproduced within the conditions of these movements, all play a role in the development of interclass relations. Furthermore, these relations and conflicts do not exist or take place at whatever time or in any condition but within the society from which they emerge.

Economic relations and social conditions are the foundations of social movements. The social division of labour and the organisation of social production – the social character of production, production as the collective labour and creation of workers from interconnected and linked sectors – are created primarily by the proletariat and this makes it the primary force of the social movements. This relationship with the material conditions of production of social movement advances it from as abstract movement of isolated individuals, separated from one another, into their collective movement. Actions, thoughts and morals of individuals cannot be isolated from their conditions of life, from the class relations and conditions of production that give rise to them. “Even something that an individual achieves is in essence today also a product of society…” Humans can only be brought into conflict and struggle with other humans – groups of humans – by material conditions of life. The struggle develops between them and they start “wars” in connection with their demands and objective, according to their polarised positions within the existing system of production.

For instance, the Gezi Resistance of 2013 in Turkey, which was the subject of attempts to camouflage it as a “new social movement”… The resistance began locally and spread to one of the most important centres of Turkish capitalism as the “collective” struggle of the working class and other labouring sectors, oppressed and subjected to different types of pressure, against monopoly reaction. It was a struggle against a government that used political pressure and police brutality. Independent of whether the oppressed and exploited reacted as a “crystallised” expression of their financial-social demands, it was not a movement isolated from the relationship between classes and the intermediate strata and sections; it was not an “oasis in the desert.” To reduce the resistance to a question of whether it was “expected” or “unexpected,” or to represent it as a “new development” or “new evidence” against the class struggle or the historically revolutionary role of the working class within this struggle, would mean either not paying attention to or ignoring the class context of the social movement and its relationship with the material conditions of production; it was a movement of the exploited and oppressed social sectors, primarily the working class.

What Do the Peoples’ Uprisings Show?

First, that the era of revolutions has not ended; on the contrary that it is current, that capitalism cannot bring prosperity and peace to the people and that the relationship between democracy and the market has no reality.

How sufficient are these social movements, such as the insurgency in Tunisia and Egypt or actions demanding reforms in Spain, Greece and the USA, in meeting the demands and the overcoming of the limits of capitalism, despite significant participation of the workers and other labouring people?

According to some post-anarchist thinkers covered with “anti-authoritarian” rhetoric, these movements are evidence of the end of the revolutionary action of the working class. They show that the “majority,” the petty bourgeoisie, the “salaried bourgeoisie” or irreducible identities make up the foundations of social opposition, or in the words of John Holloway, “justified” the conditions of the paradigm arguing that it is possible to “change the world without taking power”!*

* John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power, Pluto Press, 2002, USA.

For example, according to Negri and Hardt, these movements are the resistance of the “majority” against the “Empire.” In saying “we try to use the concept of majority to define subjects like Gezi” Hardt explains the “Gezi Resistance” as demanding “a new democracy” that overcomes the limits of capitalism;

On a positive note I can comment on two or three main characteristics. The first is the concept of majority or plurality as you mentioned, the second is demanding a new type of democracy. Maybe this means that the democracy we are subjected to is insufficient, degenerate and wrong but at the same time accepting our yearning towards another democracy. I think that from some perspectives, setting camps through forms itself involves demand for partnership. Put another way, this is a refusal of private property and liberalism and also the government control seen as their alternative. Besides, the building of partnership areas especially in urban areas brings together open access, shared responsibilities and democratic governance among with it.”*

* Interview with Michael Hardt, “Organising the Multitude Is Difficult”, in Mesele Dergisi, June 29, 2014

In their work, “Declaration”,* Negri and Hardt salute not only the Gezi Resistance but also the Arab insurgencies and the peoples’ movements against austerity programmes as actions and organizations of the “majority,” that they are oriented towards the “common good” against private property.

* Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Declaration, 2012.

While describing the Arab insurgencies as “direct riots,” Alan Badiou points to their potential of turning into “historical riots.” Badiou defines a riot or insurgency as a disruption of a continued routine, an “event” that breaks with the situation, that is, with governmental rule. The “event” in Badiou is that which breaks with and opposes government control.

In his book “The Rebirth of History,” (2011) he states that the Arab uprisings, in their internal organisation, have gone beyond class structures and that they are communist movements because they called for the realization of the common interest of all humanity.*

* Alain Badiou, Rebirth of History, Verso, London, 2011

The unification of people from different classes, leaving aside their class differences, the search for a “real” democracy in the face of government representation and its imposition of violence, and the incompatibility of this demand for democracy with capitalism, provides a great potential for a “communist” movement according to Badiou. As if the workers’ abandoning their class identity in search of a democracy without classes that opposes capitalism could lead to a communist movement.

The reason for Hardt to see the Gezi Resistance as “communist” is the link that he makes between the demand for democracy and communism. According to him, communism – and socialism as its first stage – is not the working class abolishing private ownership of the means of production after the seizure of political power; it is the building of an independent communal society by people from different classes who turn their backs on the state. From this perspective, for him, the democratic fight against the government is primary while abolishing the regime of private property is secondary!

Hardt’s observation that Gezi Resistance has started the search for an alternative democracy is correct. Furthermore, from the perspective of gaining rights through direct struggle against the system of bourgeois representation and achieving its demands through a mass struggle, Gezi does harbour the seeds of real democracy. Nevertheless, these are only perspectives and seeds. The movement has to have an anti-capitalist perspective to succeed.

Adopting a simplistic approach, Hardt, Negri and the libertarian theoreticians conclude that the occupation of Gezi Park and the establishment of a “commune” of struggle indicate the movement’s opposition to private property and liberalism; that the camp and forums represent a demand for collectivism. As they put the State at the centre of the class struggle, they make the mistake of characterising every riot or insurgency against the government or some expressions of the state as inevitably anti-capitalist.

The libertarian theoreticians, in putting the objective conditions of the movement in second place, see the movement itself as the confirmation of the “alternative society”. According to this viewpoint, “the movement should conquer its own space and control it”. Today’s libertarian politics sways between a caricature of anarchism and moderate reformism.

These ideas define a “communism” that is above classes and within capitalism, based on the postulate that communism founded on working class struggle is bankrupt. Anarchist or post-anarchist thinkers such as Murray Bookchin, Bruno Bosteels and John Holloway reject the organisation of the working class as the ruling class; they put the conflict between the power and society at the centre, promoting “communal groups” that turn their back on the State.

However, these communal groups cannot overcome capitalism on two issues. First: they put forward a small, temporary communal group that is not built on the overthrow of the capitalist authority and the state apparatus, but on a kind of withdrawal, turning ones back or disengaging from the state apparatus. It cannot be claimed that a communal group that fails to overthrow the capitalist state and abolish capitalist relations overcomes or will overcome these relations by “turning ones back” on them.

Second: the communal group established is not a new and consistent network of social relations but rather the relations of collaboration in the struggle. The Gezi “commune,” for example, is not a form of social relations that creates the material and non-material production or reproduction of society; it is more of a communal organisation of struggle and consumption.

Could They Not Have Advanced?

Of course, the democratic character of a movement does not exclude the possibility that it could advance or gain the potential of overcoming capitalism, with new components and a new programme.

If the environmental or women’s rights movements, or the struggles against imposed life styles, lack the necessary consciousness and programme to target the source of their problems, they will remain imprisoned within the forms that gave rise to them, which are the direct result of capitalist character of the relations of production. Social movements can overcome this only if they do this in the struggle and realise that the political, democratic reforms cannot really meet their demands and hence they orient themselves to overcome the limits of capitalism.

However, in the rising democratic movements and rebellions around the world, starting with the Arab uprisings in the autumn of 2011, this tendency has not been strong enough. Despite their partial successes and deep rooted changes, the fact that they were not able to finally win is due to the structural weaknesses of these movements.

In Egypt, millions took to the streets and Tahir Square to demand the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who ruled for 30 years. This was followed by the rule of Muslim Brotherhood under the presidency of Mohamed Mursi. When millions took to the streets again, as their demands had not been met, the Chief of the General Staff Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared himself President through a military coup. Likewise, despite the struggle of millions of Greek workers against austerity measures after the crisis of 2008, and despite the occupations and mass demonstrations, the result – at least for now – is the Syriza government that is implementing the austerity measures and had to call a new election due to its weakness. We could give many more examples.

This does not mean that social movements have not achieved successes. Through these resistances very important and historical gains have been made. The people have gained experience in struggle in the difference between allies and enemies; submission has been gradually replaced by consciousness in struggle; they recognize that they can bring down governments through their own actions; they are progressively developing the idea of socialism within the struggle. However, the anti-democratic and reactionary governments that people stood up against have been replaced by new ones and the people’s main demands have not been met.

One of the most important characteristics of the social movements that emerged since 2011 is that the movements have not had a consistent common programme that the masses could unite behind. A programme not only of demands but one that the people carry out and take part in organising, even in power, adopting a communist perspective aiming at the abolition of capitalist production relations that are at the root of the lack of people’s democracy, of socio-economic poverty and other problems. Of course this perspective cannot be accomplished through the outbreak of a spontaneous, unorganized movement, but only through one influenced and led by a communist organisation and programme.

For example, the Gezi Resistance did not aim to overthrow the state and establish the rule of those classes and strata allied with the resistance. In other words, it could not do this because of the lack of its own organisation. Supported by various classes and strata, the Resistance, although it demanded a general democracy, was not a movement for power but an outbreak of rejection and anger. Concrete demands for the protection of Gezi Park were a symbol of making the government retreat and the slogan that the “government must resign” showed the anger against the government. But the movement did not have a clear perspective on the question, for example, of the replacement of the AKP [Justice and Democracy Party] by another bourgeois party such as the CHP [Republican People’s Party].

From this perspective, the fact that the movement did not “aim at power” was not a matter of “naivety” but one of its main weaknesses, along with not targeting capitalism directly. The class composition and the relation of forces within the movement were determining factors in this. The fact that the determining elements of the working class did not take part in the movement with their own demands and organisations was a big handicap in its ability to lead and organise the movement towards taking power and its programme.

The arguments to “stay away from power and its corrupting influence,” of “autonomy” and of “creating non-hierarchical living spaces,” put forward by the bourgeois liberal and libertarian individuals and groups inevitably transformed it into praise for the spontaneity and disorganised character of the movement. From this viewpoint, a resistance that does not aim at power could create alternative, exemplary communist living spaces within a semi-anarchist framework and thanks to this, supposedly transform the country!

However, “the fundamental question of every revolution is that of power” (Lenin). A movement that does not seriously put forward the question of power, that does not aim at it in theory and practice, regardless of its subjective wishes, ideals and demands, is condemned to remain permanently within the limits of capitalism. The Gezi Resistance, which was an indirect form of class struggle, has shown this once more.

A democratic movement that puts forward the question of power could lead to positive results, at least in terms of winning democratic demands. However, a democratic movement whose perspective does not go beyond capitalism cannot even resolve the political democratic demands that it sets out to resolve – neither breaking links with imperialism, the women’s problem, the demands for the future of youth – in a real and concrete manner. Under the conditions of bourgeois reaction, many demands that could possibly be resolved under capitalism are rooted within capitalist relations of production, and are constantly produced and reproduced by the existing socio-economic structure. Thus in practice it seems impossible to resolve them (though theoretically this possibility exists). Therefore, a socialist programme, perspective and leadership needs to be in place for democratic political demands to be realised concretely, overcoming the existing socio-economic limitations.

From this perspective, although the movement as a whole puts forward demands and slogans for “real democracy” and “popular aspirations” directed at the political structure, they forget the bourgeois capitalist nature of production relations. A democracy in which the exploited millions are in power is only possible through destroying the bourgeois dictatorship based on the private ownership of the means of production.

The demand for a “real democracy” has not gone beyond the rejection of the present false “democracy”. This shows once more the importance of the conscious participation of the working class in the movement, which the Communist Party makes advance, while paying attention to the different tendencies towards political democracy and gradually to the rejection of all forms of bourgeois rule. The failure of these spontaneous rebellions to even win their own demands show that capitalism can only be destroyed under the leadership and programme of a Communist Party that has established strong ties with the working class, that understands the tendencies among the masses and is skilled in leading them.

September 2015

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