The Realities of Power

by Ryne Tipton on April 28, 2015

Ryne graphic

Overcoming the fears associated with seizing power will be one of the biggest obstacles for the American Left to overcome. All measures enacted by the State require the backing of force. The illusion that power is somehow inherently devious or obtrusive to human freedom is ridiculously childish. Without power, no decisions can be made, nothing can be done by any party or class- regardless of whether it is capitalists or workers who act as “dictators” within the system. Socialists have to seize power with the assent of the public in order to make our demands a reality.

In America, this means capturing the State by electoral means. In a liberal democracy where basic human rights are protected and access to the ballot is universal, there is no motivation for armed struggle. Instead, class war must be waged in our representative decision making bodies where the concerns of the working class can be aggregated and distilled by representatives.

The separation between the working class and the representatives they elect pose a problem for socialists who yearn for more direct democracy. Many anarchists would argue that representative democracy is repression, and even Marx himself was vehemently critical towards bourgeois democracy and periodic elections which only serve to strengthen the power of the ruling class.

But, as many astute observers have pointed out, especially Zizek, a functioning direct democracy on a large scale is pure fantasy. Every citizen, every republican participant, cannot be expected to make hundreds of decisions per year across a wide span of issues- each requiring different levels of experience, knowledge, and finesse to properly evaluate. Leadership and representation of the working class is a necessity because revolutionary transformation is a collective, class-centric process, not one that is tailored to the individual needs of each voter.

Now, regardless of the knowledgeability of each citizen, it is the citizenry who serve as the final decision makers in a democratic process. They have to live with the decisions that are made on their behalf, so it is only fair and just that they be able to delegate power to representatives of their choosing. They must also be guaranteed the rights that come along with a representative-democratic system: the right to petition, assembly, freedom of speech, etc. in tandem, so that true accountability can be realized.

Fair enough. But, I would also argue that a revolutionary party that operates under the confines of a democratic process must hold within itself a reciprocal nature: it ought to be both the leader or vanguard of the working class and shaped by the experiences of its participants. One half principe, one half citizen.

A revolutionary party is not simply a limp vehicle that can be used by its members in any way that they see fit. No, it must be directed. It must have leadership which can mobilize its members into action, mold their experiences. There must be a feedback loop of mobilization from above and mitigation of exercised power from below. As said before, the working class must be in charge, leaders must arise organically (to borrow from Gramsci) up from the ranks of the working class, and be held accountable to the interests of their constituents.

The Party must have an ideal: the goal of placing the working class in control of their own lives, but it must also guarantee rights separate from the collective decision making process, the rights that are fundamental to the existence of democracy in the first place. Protecting democratic rule from collapse is the duty of the Party, the modern Principe (another nod to Gramsci and by extension, Machiavelli).

In a way similar to that of the Vecchio Principe, the Modern Prince must be concerned with the realpolitik of rule. The Party must maintain itself from attack, the illegal and sometimes violent dissension of the ancien regime which seeks to subvert popular rule, the bedrock of the revolution itself. In the days of Machiavelli, if a Prince came to power by the favor of the people (aptly named “constitutional principalities”), the nobles would seek to gain His favor to counter popular influence. Lying, cunning, able, with the intent of using the prince as a vehicle to oppress the people.

The Party must come to power (as previously said) with popular support. And, it must be able to free itself from the demands of those who wish to preserve their own power. These modern nobles are the capitalists, the financiers, and the bourgeois partisans who serve them. Of course they must be negotiated with. They are a part of the society, and shouldn’t be excluded from it solely on the basis of their position in the old order, but instead ought to be judged on their reception to the new. If they seek to preserve their private property rights against the new social rights fought and won for by the people as a whole, then they must be dealt with.

Their obstinate resistance to the new order is to be expected. As Machiavelli once said, “The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order.” But even more importantly, “…And only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new…partly from fear of their adversaries…partly because men are generally incredulous.” The Party must be able to convince its constituents of their own revolutionary potential, of their ability to defeat adversaries who hope to do the new system irreparable damage. It must secure itself by combating both the self-doubt of its membership, and the assault of its enemies.

In emerging from liberal democracy, this means proving the party’s capabilities in the realm of policy, especially in the services it provides outside of the official state apparatus (the service model). If the Party is placed in the position of “prince” by the favor of the people, then it must work to maintain their friendship. At the local level, this means sewer socialism. Local governments may incorporate participatory budgeting and other democratizing measures into their framework to strengthen both the power of the people in line with the socialist ethos, but primarily, it can be assumed that most revolutionary activity will be contained within the affairs of the national government. Massive pools of capital, major industries and businesses require the power exercised by national democratic institutions to ensure their socialization, not municipalities. So, ensuring good, non-corrupt government at the local level which incorporates some direct procedure is critical to sustaining both the party and socialism itself.

Conversely, on the national level, the role of the Party ought to be the preservation of the democratic process and ensuring its extension into the commanding heights of the economy. This requires a change in the country’s framework, constitutional changes. According to Machiavelli, these kinds of changes are the “difficult to handle…dangerous to carry through” and they require enormous support from the population. They’re dangerous for many reasons; not only the resistance from the ruling class, but also the potential for the melding of the egregiously political with production upon which people depend. If the Party alienates itself from the rest of the public and develops a bureaucracy entirely independent from the interests of the people, then the economy will be put to the service of new oppressors. But, if the Party can walk a precarious line between ensuring popular sovereignty and limiting excesses, then democracy will finally become a meaningful, non-capitalist institution by which the citizenry can govern themselves.

Sometimes, the Party will have to make decisions against the general will in order to preserve the institutions that allow the general will to be fully expressed. Preserving the political rights of those disloyal to the new order without blemish is suicide (and liberal fantasy). By all means, allow the dissenters to speak, allow the opponents to come forth and make themselves known. But never allow these people to sabotage, undermine, and destroy democratic institutions which are necessary for freedom to flourish. We shouldn’t seek the approval of the ancien regime. Instead, on this point, I wholeheartedly agree with Machiavelli: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Our actions ought to be tempered by humanity, but sometimes when dealing with those who are unwilling to reciprocate ethics, we are dragged down into the mud of realpolitik by necessity.

What regime does not monitor the actions of its enemies? What regime does not limit the capacity of the people to tarnish democratic institutions? It is senseless to allow people to destroy freedom in the name of freedom. After the Civil War, did the Union give every Southern rebel their precious voting rights back simply because the War was over? Of course not. If Germans could somehow revisit the years prior to the rise of the Nazi regime and reverse its assent to power by repression, would they do so? Obviously, yes.

Preemptive measures to stop authoritarianism or the return to capitalism ought to be sensible components to any regime which calls itself democratic. Democracy is first and foremost protected by a culture which fosters egalitarianism and free thinking, but it is also bolstered by the might of its defenders. If we are not willing to stomach stifling the rise of capitalist militias, spies in government, right-wing resistance movements, and all the rest, then we are not willing to accept the necessary tasks needed in securing socialism.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Three Queens and a pair of Dueces April 30, 2015 at 6:45 pm

I read recently that there were 9 million + households in the USA with a net worth of over 1 million bucks. I then looked up the number of households and I came across the number of 120 million plus. So my best guesstemate is that about 7.5 percent of US households have a net worth of over 1 million.

Now 1 million does not buy as much as it did decades ago. A three bedroom home in a good neighborhood can easily run up to a million if what I am told about modern America is true. But of course if neccessary a person with a one million dollar home could trade it in. There are plenty of decent homes in decent (by American standards) places for less than 150,000 bucks. So a net worth of a million is nothing to belittle.

So we have 7.5 percent of households being officially millionaire households. Yet I want to point out that this really underestimates the level of wealth that many American families have achieved. I really doubt that the calculations that were used to place 7.5% of American families in the millionaire catagory included the value of their social security payments, government retirement payments, or any other retirement payment that a person can not sell or leave to decendents. I also imagine that it does not count the value that such families recieve from Medicare. If I am correct about this, and I am willing to bet 10 bucks that I am, even though I have not done any research on the subject what so ever, then the number of millionaire households in the USA is actually much higher than 7.5%. Could it really be as high as 15%??
Well, let us say no it is really not that high. The thing is just as there is a strong correlation between race and net wealth in the USA I bet that there is also a strong correlation between age and net wealth. So if 10 or 12 percent of American families are millionaire families what percent of these families would have at least one member over the age of 65? Or better yet what percent of housholds in the USA with at least one member over the age of 65 are millionaire families when we include the market value of ALL pensions and medicare? My guess would then be around 30%. Would any one else like to take a guess?
If a million is nothing to belittle is a half million something to sneeze at? If we count the market value of pensions I wonder if the percent of African American families with at least one member over 65 who then would have a net worth of half a million would be greater than 15% or even 20%. For white Americans and Asians my guess is that the total percent would be at least 40% and very plausibly as high as 60%.
Now let us consider only those families who are still on the road to old age. The percent of wealthy families based on net wealth will be much lower. But what is important for politcal puposes is not what their level of wealth is today but what they expect that their level of wealth will be to 20 or 30 or 40 years.
Therefore the conclusion that I draw is that there is and will continue to be a huge number of people in the USA that will be quite antagonistic to radical changes in economic policies and will not really be enthusiastic about programs that will seem to threaten their position or current well being.
WE know that past performance does not guarrantee the same future performance.
WE know that much of this apparent accumulated wealth is built on faulty accounting principles.
WE know that much of this wealth has been built by unjust means which bothers US.
THEY probably do not care about what WE know or what bothers US.
YET history has repeatedly shown that regimes with the support of just 15% of the population can achieve and maintain national power.
WE can do it in America. Can we do it in time? The tempratures are rising.

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Three Queens and a pair of Dueces May 6, 2015 at 5:01 am

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Three Queens and a pair of Dueces May 7, 2015 at 9:35 am

Recently there was a series of comments on the website The Unrepentent Marxist that were triggered by the suggestion that the consumption of beef needs to be curtailed to protect the earth’s environment. It seems to me that there was disagreement about whether such measures are actually neccessary or whether or not the masses (workers) will be smart enough to recognize that such self discipline is neccessary.
Well these comments along with a series of strikes here in Germany got me to realize something else today.
What I realized is an unpleasant and inconvient truth, well at least theoretically. The truth of the matter is, if there actually were a revolution, strikes in any industry that had been nationalized by the government would be an act of economci sabotage.
A society that allows open mass acts of economic sabotage will not last very long.
Those running the society have a right and a duty to protect the rest of the society from such sabatours and seditionists. So anyone even thinking about trying to take control of an out of control system should realize in advance that it will likely be neccessary to become a brutal dictator in the eyes of much of the population and even in the eyes of history to drag any society to a new higher evolutionary level.
Now it seems to clear to me that a mixed economy is a neccessary step that needs to be taken to prepare the population of any society to be able to live in a socialist society. It also seems very possible to me that a mixed economy is a good as it gets.
The fact is that global capitalism would have collapsed if it had not been proped up by socialist measures. The same thing can be said about every socialist country on this planet that currently still calls itself socialist.
The socialist do have an excuse. Socialism has not been tried very much. Yet any one who has taken even a couple of classes in political economic philosophy can identify reasons why the therory of both socialism and democracy for that matter do not work. Would Parecon be the exception?
If it is, it will not be successful without conflicts. In Parecon the wages of workers will be set by guilds. Now it has been years since I have busiest myself with reading about Parecon. I doubt if the word guilds is found anywhere in the writings of the economists who developed the idea, whose names I sadly forget at the moment, yet guilds are exactly what the building blocks of society are.
Guilds seemed to work pretty good in the middle ages. Yet that is looking back at them over the distance of hundreds of years. One can not expect compition between guilds or between factions within the guilds to end.
What ever path a revolutionary leadership would take they are not going to last long unless they are prepared to be ruthless if being ruthless should be neccessary. YES try humor first. I myself do not have much faith in the reasonableness of most humans on the planet right now. That is a charachteristic that needs to be delevoped. That brings up the sad subject of how most religions in the world are sources of evil and need to be successfully dealt with.

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Louis Proyect May 7, 2015 at 10:07 am

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