Opposing class society with ideals of justice Ruthless Criticism

The program of socialist anti-capitalism:

Opposing class society with ideals of justice

[Translated from Karl Held: Das Lebenswerk des Michail Gorbatschow. Von der Reform des ‚realen Sozialismus‘ zur Zerstörung der Sowjetunion. Munich, 1992. p. 20-22]

The Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) and its fraternal parties – both those that were in power for 40 years in the Eastern bloc states and most of the other communist parties that never really succeeded in the free world – inherited a rich tradition of criticism of bourgeois society and thence made it the guideline for their exercise of power where they ruled. First, they maiuntained, like all communists, that it is a class society in which private property increases through the exploitation of wage labor, so that wealth is accumulated in the form of capital and its producers remain permanently excluded from it; and that the workers participate in this wealth only inasmuch as the preservation of their labor power makes their wages necessary. Second, socialist criticism is directed against the political rule that puts its power completely at the service of capital, secures the dependency of the working class on private property with law and order, and puts alternatives to this business, namely alternative executive managers, up for vote and so seals power democratically.

However, with these insights, the advocates of socialism did not leave it at that. As if they still had to lend proper stress to these two central objections – which, by the way, they gathered from Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production; as if the explanation of the material dependence, thus how and why the people work their whole lives, as consumers and taxpayers, as voters and unemployed, as renters and soldiers, etc., as pawns of the owners of capital and those responsible for political power, would not be any decisive argument against it; as if the injured, those who should be “won for socialism,” could never ever be convinced by understanding why they will never reach decent living conditions with wage labor, but are completely full of the higher values of freedom, equality and fraternity and get worked up only by their incantation: so the left parties, of whom we speak here, raised a third reproach against the bourgeois order. Namely: this order, in serving the rule over the masses of working people and their exploitation, acts unfairly against the masses and not at all democratically, thus falls short of the principles laid out in the constitution. It is only to hide the real relations that the powerful use the formal procedures of popular sovereignty when they secure their privileges.

What sounds like a slight variation of the materialist accusation against exploitation and the political force organizing it – and also helps itself to the same material as evidence – expresses a completely different standpoint on the character of bourgeois rule. Anyone who ascribes the harmful effects of wage-labor and state coercion on the working class to the absence of rights and democracy holds, first, a good opinion of these forms of association; second, that they are something completely different than what they really are and accomplish; and third, calls for their realization as a political outcome, as if the democratic constitutional state is not at all what it is. And indeed it demands this in the name of the victims from the political power, whose ideology – its existence is as indispensable as it is beneficial for the subjects – it takes bitterly seriously. Yet not in a way that rejects this as a cheap idealization of political rule. The socialists of the twentieth century did not attack the demand for justice, which doesn't award some advantage to anyone who can't point to accomplishments and sacrifices on his part, as no more than the morality of class society. Instead of fighting the demand for fair treatment – which there is already enough of without the help of left critics: it is the point of view which goes along with submission in practice, reinterpreted into an assertive pounding on universally binding norms – as the false consciousness of capitalistic competition and its juridical management, modern socialists celebrate this affirmative discontent which does not want to believe that it is at its mercy. They don’t want to get it into their heads that the concept of equality – the same treatment of very different types of citizens or, to be precise, the submission of classes who are supplied with anything but equal means under the restrictions of the law – only makes sense in a society based on disparities. The real law, which puts equality and freedom into practice, thus everything whereby the state forcibly lays down the services of one class for the property of another – “to each his own!” – they disgrace before the ideal that they pass off as the “task” of the state. Measured by the “true” objectives instead of the real one, the political rule fails its task – and the degraded and offended have their advocates in the socialists, who promise the realization of their rights by means of the state.

It disturbs them not in the slightest that, in their criticism of capitalism, the working class moves up to the potential beneficiary of the political power. As the people, they are chosen to fight for the ideal state which helps them then to what they are due. In this way, those who are forced to live off and for their labor are recognized and confirmed in that they are active as democrats. The question what benefit the working class wins for itself through filing electoral ballots, through membership in democratic organizations and through a state-loyal free press is brusquely rejected by comparisons with fascism. That even the really existing democracy is already better than a dictatorship: this trusted argument of every bourgeois politician, which proclaims submission to be an unavoidable necessity, also serves the left critics of capitalism. That democracy offers more possibilities for engaging in the struggle for the best form of state: then the continuation: and because these possibilities must be less seized than above all defended, an anti-fascist struggle takes place instead, right in the middle of the flourishing of exploitation and the war preparations of democracy. Completely as if the degradation of the workers into pawns in the service of their masters is only realizable in a dictatorship, they confer the judgment upon the democratic version of bourgeois rule: “invaluable.”

They all master the praise of labor; over there, where it is a state doctrine, as well as in the free world where communist parties derive from the sacrifices of the workers the right to sue for the “realization of democracy.” That they pay their addressees the same compliment as bourgeois politicians who know how to appreciate the contribution of labor to the construction of the nation does not irritate the socialist parties: they want to address the fact that those who have unselfishly built up everything deserve nothing less than a fair treatment by the state authority, if not yet the right to a worker's state – or at least a constitutional right to, of all things: work. They are not fazed by the thought that the honorable, “selfless” accomplishments of labor, which are extorted from the wage dependent, summarizes the whole “class position” against which communist criticism is directed. In the opinion of socialists, the wage workers, by their forced need to produce wealth in the form of capital their whole lives – if they are needed and as long as they are needed – acquire the right to a political reward: a state power committed to them.

In response to the small contradiction that a rule over people is completely superfluous if it only achieves what the people need and want, the orthodox and cultured friends of the workers become very historical and revolutionary-theoretical. A “dictatorship of the proletariat” is also a state, they then say, and bitterly necessary for subjugating of the enemies of socialism. That everything that the state activity carries out in relation to its people – the disciplining of the majority, the compulsion to renounce, the sophisticated organization of rights and duties – becomes superfluous if the people have organized a revolution; that “order” is then, maybe finally, something other than the violently governed social peace of services and privations of a whole class, for whom sweat in the workplace “created” by an employer is no longer worthwhile; that one needs no force apparatus, on account of a few hundred employers freed from their burden of responsibility, to govern apart from the worker's power over them and therefore against them: all this makes no sense to people who hold socialism to be the redemption of the ideals which bourgeois politics has looked after since its first days – and a materialism functioning according to plan to be a utopia.

However, the socialist friends of the workers do not usually have to face objections from the communist side, but are occupied with implementing their idea of a more just force to capitalist reality. In their view, this is composed of two camps: on one side, a working class, which as the producer of wealth, as the “forces of production” par excellence, is oriented to socialism, or may become so, because on the other side stand a bourgeoisie and a state, which simply knows no duty to this class, to its people. According to the logic of this socialism, every damage imposed on people becomes a proof of the moral and factual failure of the government. Before the ideal yardstick of a politics and economics that would serve its own servants, every successfully carried out limitation on the people testifies to the failure of the rule and verifies its weakness.

This criticism quite carelessly confuses the failure of the subjects for that of the rule; it fights for successful politics, whose absence is proved by everything that the real politics put into action and demands from its people. It can accuse a state which secures private property and counts economic growth in money, which is made into more money in the hands of businessmen and bankers, of “neglect,” of not having braked the profit-maximizing of the capitalists; omissions in the case of the democratically so desirably supervised and restricted profit-obsessed men in top hats are the reason for price increases, wage cuts and unemployment. And these sins of the state, its misconduct compared with its real duties, find their suitable “explanation”: in their compliance to the rich, the politicians show that they are not at all “independent,” but are “enslaved” and steered by the monopolies. The rich exercise power! announces the principle and central point of the “theory of state monopoly capitalism,” which in its different versions always only protests that the state is not a tool of the people, because others have taken it.

In his concern about the fair distribution of wealth and rights by the state, the modern socialist without ado avows his alternative nationalism. He wants to know nothing of the termination of the services which allow “the economy” to grow, with which the distribution of wealth is already decided and which the class state then completes in the nationalization of as many shares of wages as it judges necessary. A criticism of the services to the wealth of the nation, to which the wage laborers are obliged their whole lives and which by no means ensures even a lifetime income, these socialists regard as an insult to the workers, who are so esteemed for their efforts. In their name and because they earn it, it demands that their fair, entitled share in progress no longer be kept from them. All the burdens and costs imposed on them are noticed, before the yardstick of a “social” rule, as failures of the system.

Also, for this diagnosis, leftists draw from the fund of bourgeois ideologies, namely about crises that can strike the whole nation for various reasons. Nevertheless, while the guardians of the market economy and its freedom justify everything by allusions to this “danger” and portray everything that they organize – “restructuring,” thus lay-offs, cuts in “social benefits”, etc. – to be objective constraints, “matters of necessity,” the left critics read them as oaths of disclosure: the admission of its impotence to guarantee employment and livelihoods to the population. In the name of social progress, they complain of the waste and destruction of the “productive forces” due to the “relations of production,” as if the enormous wealth produced in the capitalist version of the utilization of humans and nature escaped them – and with all this they believe themselves faithful followers of Marx when they no longer criticize the exclusion of a class from wealth, but make the “productive forces” the same as a moral category.

Ultimately, they all become impressed by the “crisis of the system” and its consequences. The “rulers” have to stand accused of “not knowing any solutions.” And every sign of discontent and particularly everything that calls itself a “movement” can enjoy the unreserved sympathy of the socialists, who regard contempt for the people as the reason for the catastrophe from which only they can save the nation. “National solidarity,” the alliance of all the affected, is not a disgusting slogan to these class fighters, on the contrary: springing from below, it “isolates” the enemies of the people, unites the same and gives the faithful representatives of progress the assurance of embodying humanity's desire to see the dawn of socialism.

In extreme situations, the revolution might happen to whose imperatives these sort of communists also avow themselves and is not really to be done without taking power away from the propertied class, as they envision. Nevertheless, their whole program is at the same time one single cancellation of the communist program of eliminating the violent guarantees of capitalist exploitation and abolishing all the corresponding forms of association in order to initiate a planned economy beyond compulsions imposed by economic property and state law. Their project – to provide the proletariat, as it is, in the state, as they know it, with means that until now have “only” been in the hands of the rich, with justice and the true homeland which has not yet been realized – is no more revolutionary than this; if it went according to them, the true democracy which they want to construct would be in the real absolute place. [1] And beginning with the Russian revolution, all communists adhered to this, even if the really existing bourgeois state continually clarified that it does not offer any space for their people's democracies. Where the Red Army did not bring them to power – and even there they put up “popular fronts,” as if it had not been their party that conquered power! – they enriched (provided they were not banned) the parliamentary party competition with their ever more moderate radicalism.

[1] This contradiction can be called a revision of Marxist criticism, and it is in this sense, when we refer to the type of socialism criticized above, that we speak every now and then about “revisionism.” Deviating from Marx is by itself not a criticism – except for those who, like those people of the left we have criticized above, refer to Marx as an authority. But they also do not defend their theory of a fair distribution in favor of the masses because they have interpreted Marx badly. The justification of their politics puts them at odds with Marx’s support for the class struggle in capitalism as a consequence of their point of view, that with their calculated love for the “masses” and their fanaticism for rights they reproach the bourgeois state for withholding from the exploited what they are due.