Leninism as "Enlightened Despotism"? October 27, 2004 by RedStar2000
The corrosive effects of real-world criticism on a decaying ideology are interesting and instructive to observe.
Since it has become no longer possible to plausibly deny the despotic character of the Leninist state (socialism), the Maoists of the "Revolutionary Communist Party" (U.S.) have decided to admit it...but couple it with the word "enlightened".
"Enlightened despotism" doesn't sound nearly so bad as just plain despotism to people's ears. It promises "good things" for people...up to and including the voluntary retirement of the despots once the people have shown themselves "fit to rule".
Is this just a "change of words", a new "marketing image"?
quote (Bob Avakian):
...it could be said that the goal is to move from where the vanguard is "an enlightened despot" to where there is no despot and no need or basis for one.
Nicely put...if you accept the "need" for "enlightened despotism".
quote (Bob Avakian):
Still, the fact remains that, when we come to power, there will remain great inequalities and social divisions, and notions of "pure democracy" would only serve to bring the bourgeoisie back to power.
Or to put it more precisely, why would "pure democracy" limited to the working class serve to "bring the bourgeoisie back to power"?
No one but an idiot would suggest that the ex-bourgeoisie and their lackeys will "have a vote" on anything. Our role towards them is "despotic"...that's what the dictatorship of the proletariat means.
But it's clear that Avakian means something else altogether...
-- emphasis added.
Imagine what would be necessary to make revolution in a country like the U.S. Millions and tens of millions of people and all their revolutionary upheaval will be organized into an organized fighting force, and people will go through tremendous changes in their relations with each other and in their view of the world, in their ideological outlook. But then that's not going to stay on that same high level--it won't be possible to maintain things at that level all the time.
True, nothing stays the same...but why shouldn't that "high level" grow even higher?
Will all these revolutionary people "just get tired"? Go back to "private life"?
Granted, we've seen this happen often enough in past revolutionary upheavals...but isn't there a fundamental reason for that?
Isn't it a fact that past revolutionary upheavals (all of them) have not been revolutionary enough? Have come and gone, leaving most people still feeling "shut out" of matters of consequence, still "at the mercy" of the whims of some "superior"?
Still "on the bottom"!
The "wave-like" nature of revolutionary consciousness reflects political realities. "Enlightened despotism" is still despotism and people react accordingly.
Perhaps if policy were firmly in the hands of the whole working class...then the "wave" of revolutionary consciousness would not recede but grow even higher.
That seems to me at least as likely as Avakian's forecast...if not more so.
quote (Bob Avakian):
What I mean by being an "enlightened despot," again to be deliberately provocative, is that it will be unavoidable that, especially in the early stages of the proletarian dictatorship, the party--and, in a concentrated way, the party leadership--will have a disproportionate influence, shall we say, over society. It will have a disproportionate influence over what happens in society. Not because we're determined to run everything--but because that's the reality of it.
No, it is because you have determined in advance that "only you" can "run things". You trust only yourselves (the party leadership) to "get it right".
The revolutionary masses "can't be trusted". If we relied on "pure democracy" among the revolutionary masses, they'd "bring back the bourgeoisie".
And they'd do that because they're "used" to despotism and don't really "like" having the responsibility to actually determine "what is to be done". What they really "want" is an "enlightened despotism" that will do good things for them.
Avakian sees the revolutionary party as "the good and rightful king" who will, over many decades or even centuries, teach the masses to dispense with the need for kingship.
My view is different, of course. The best way to learn to live without despots ("enlightened" or otherwise) is to get rid of them and the circumstances that promote the rise of new ones.
One of the first steps that should be taken in a post-revolutionary United States is to dissolve it...replacing it with a federation of several hundred or even a thousand "ultra-democratic Paris Communes".
That may not stop a brilliant and really determined despot...but it will make things extremely difficult for the bastard.
quote (Bob Avakian):
Everything's not going to be all equal, especially in the early stages of socialism...
Which is why I'm not a socialist and am, in fact, opposed to it.
It's a dead end detour on the road to communism.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on October 19, 2004
In the early stages of the seizure of power, during civil wars and their aftermath, the core revolutionary authorities act (and need to act) on behalf of the larger movement -- there isn't room or time or openings for many forms of broad debate and consensus etc. And any study of real life seizures shows why; there is an intense ferment that gives rise to the revolution, and then hardened, organized, focused forces act and fight through.
Why is it assumed that the "larger movement" is incapable of acting directly for itself?
To be sure, most upheavals of the past could be accurately described as the victory of "hardened, organized, focused forces" acting on behalf (or at least claiming to act on behalf) of "the larger movement". (The outstanding exception being that of Petrograd in February 1917.)
But is that a true invariant of history? Is it really the only way that successful revolution can happen?
Moreover, does that method yield the desired result...communism? Thus far, it has not done so.
You see, if you predicate your practice on the theoretical assumption that state power must and can only be seized and wielded by the vanguard...and you go on to succeed with that approach, you've simply fulfilled your own prophesy. You had a plan, you carried it out, period.
The other possibility "never had a chance"...the "larger movement" can't withstand the challenge of a well-organized minority that happens to articulate the same goals as the larger movement.
It's just plain easier to obey a new boss than it is to figure out things for yourself...and if someone acts like he "knows what he's doing" (even if he doesn't, appearance is sufficient), then why not let him take over?
In the confusion of a revolutionary era, there are likely to be enough people who simply want to be told what to do next that a "hardened and focused" minority can seize power.
But what will they do with it? And why should they choose one course over another?
As those consolidate as a new power there are two pulls, two roads available: one is to impose themselves on society (like the "bearded ones" in Cuba) claiming for themselves the halo of revolutionary righteousness. BA is arguing for a different path "expanding the 'we' that rules." He argues that without that, even revolutionaries ruling will turn to capitalism ultimately, because the society will lack the ferment, and wavelike advance, and broad support needed to make transitions to communism.
He may sincerely desire to "expand the 'we' that rules"...but on what grounds can we actually conclude that he will do that?
Remember that his "socialism" is still a class society. To all intents and purposes, it is "capitalism without capitalists". By its very nature and ordinary functioning, it reinforces and elaborates all the inequalities of the old order and all the attitudes that go with those inequalities.
It "tries" to create a new capitalist class...and as we saw in the last century, it ultimately succeeds.
The vanguard can be aware of this and can try to stop this process...but how?
Everything in the new class society (except the public rhetoric) "pulls" towards the capitalist road...why should the vanguard be able to resist that "pull"?
In accordance with the "wave theory", the masses are now quiescent and desire only a "normal" and "orderly" life...so there's no real pressure on the vanguard to resist the capitalist road.
And we know that we can't simply rely on the advanced consciousness (such as it may be) of the vanguard itself...their material circumstances will change their consciousness soon enough.
So why won't the vanguard become corrupt, despotic, and (ultimately) openly capitalist?
It would be the "natural" thing to do.
But in fact, many of the roots of inequality (including for example the sharp and deep contradiction between mental and manual labor) remain. You can't simply take any person and put them in charge of complex social production units.
Quite true, you can't. What you can do is set up a management collective consisting of both ordinary production workers and technical experts from the old order...and have them "wrangle" over the necessary decisions. The major decisions can even be submitted to a work-place referendum and the managerial collective can be periodically rotated.
Of course, that's very "inefficient"...but, as I'm sure you know, if "efficiency" were our purpose then the most sensible course would be to retain capitalism. The transition to communism is never going to win any efficiency or productivity awards.
Let me add in passing that this view is sometimes rather poorly caricatured as "plumbers will do brain surgery by decree of the soviet". You know that will not be the case...although the plumber's kid will get a fair shot at becoming a brain surgeon if that's what she wants.
But I think what does exist is a vast and completely untapped reservoir of "practical technical expertise" in the working class...and a revolution that fails to make use of it and relies instead on the expertise of the old order is going to regenerate that old order.
In other words, you can act like objective necessity doesn't exist, you can act like you can ignore real inequalities, real problems involved in putting the ordinary people "in charge" -- but if you ignore them, they will bite your ass, and you will be threatened with losing power from another side.
Every course of action is fraught with difficulties and dangers; there's no "sure bet".
The question is which risks should we be willing to take? Putting ordinary people "in charge" of things risks economic failures, shortages, and popular discontent with the revolution itself.
Putting experts from the old order "in charge" risks the regeneration of the old order itself.
Very backward countries like Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc. may have had no choice but to rely on the old experts.
We do have a choice. Our working class is very highly skilled and possesses considerable technical expertise in its own right...and has the tools to gain more.
I think they will do a more than adequate job...and in some areas may exceed the old order's experts by a substantial amount.
And in the turmoil of revolution, if you establish an electoral system (even one confined to the formerly oppressed) you will discover, as many have discovered, that sooner or later the former exploiters will find powerful ways to "force" the people to demand the old system back. (Bribery, pressure from without, appealing demogogically to the former stability in times of revolutionary scarcity and difficulty, etc.)
Yes, those are risks...though there are obvious counter-measures that could be taken. (Bribe-givers and takers could be summarily shot, for example.)
But if I may, I'd like to dwell on the matter of "demagoguery" for a moment. If someone runs for a seat in the "soviet" or its equivalent on a platform of alleviating shortages, what's wrong with that?
Her incumbent opponent is naturally going to claim that the shortages are a result of "objective conditions" (i.e., not his fault).
What I would watch out for is if her proposed remedies for alleviating shortages involved measures that would restore or lead to the restoration of capitalism.
If so, I would campaign against her directly on that issue.
You see, if the "soviets" or whatever they might be called, are not perceived as genuinely democratic, then people will conclude that what they think "doesn't matter" and will retreat into that political passivity (often sullen) that we both deplore.
And no amount of "revolutionary rhetoric" from the podium can overcome that. It's only when ordinary people see that their ideas and opinions matter that they will shake off their habitual lethargy and immersion in "private life".
It is not like the people can "purely" decide (in a world still dominated by imperialism, with real agents, and real sabotage, and real infiltration, and real threat of attack, and real networks within the country fighting for restoration).
If the people don't "purely decide", then reaction doesn't need any of that stuff. All it has to do is wait a few decades and then welcome the "vanguard" back into the "fraternity of capital".
The fact is that the upsurges of the masses of people have a wavelike motion, and all of history suggests that it cannot simply be sustained...You can't abolish the wavelike motion of the world. And changing the policies of revolutionaries will not make revolution a linear process...the wavelike motion is objective and inherent.
If it's not the policies of revolutionaries that cause this "wave-like" phenomenon, what does?
Why does it happen?
Is it "human nature"?
It is not possible for the people (who in both capitalism and early socialism need to work, and have great pressures of ordinary life) to throw themselves permanently into the high rate of revolutionary activity.
You've just repeated my hypothesis in different words.
Your "early socialism" still leaves most people "having to work" with "great pressures of ordinary life".
As I said, "on the bottom".
Therefore they can't throw themselves permanently into a high rate of revolutionary activity.
Consequently, I propose the adoption of communist policies as rapidly as possible...beginning on day one after the revolution.
Policies that will have as their immediate aim a drastic shortening of the working day and a dramatic lessening of the pressures of ordinary life.
If we want that "high rate" of revolutionary activity to sustain itself and grow even higher, then we have to create the material conditions to make it possible.
That's what I want, how about you?
In fact, [Avakian] is analyzing the complex but real contradictions of revolution -- the difficult leap and ruptures between being a despised and oppressed class to being a ruling class of liberators.
It is not easy to go from being brutalized in prisons to leading a high-tech society along the socialist road.
Isn't this just another, though somewhat more colorful way of saying that the revolutionary masses "can't be trusted to get it right"?
Isn't it the process of making revolution itself that overcomes the feeling of being "despised" and "oppressed"?
A "high-tech" society does indeed require a great deal of expertise...who would deny it? And if you had to start from close to zero (as the Russians and Chinese did), it would be a very formidable task.
But we don't have to "start from zero" and most workers are not semi-literate ex-cons. (In fact, there's a small minority of ex-convicts who have educated themselves in prison to a remarkable extent.)
It seems to me that Avakian's (and your) opinion of the competence of the revolutionary masses is extremely low...which, if accurate, would create insurmountable obstacles to the achievement of communism.
I don't think it's accurate.
The question is "how do the masses become fit to rule", what is the process?
And my answer is: they become "fit to rule" in the process of overthrowing the old ruling class; they actually learn to rule by doing it.
And how do you go from a relatively small and dedicated class conscious core (at the beginning of the revolution) to a situation where broader and broader sections of the people take up this position and act on their own historic (not narrow and immediate) interests.
I doubt that "small and dedicated cores" will have much significance. When the material conditions for proletarian revolution have matured, the "historic" and the "narrow and immediate" interests of the working class will coincide.
Communism will be understood as plain common sense.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on October 21, 2004
Redstar: Your straight to communism idea has been attempted before. There are definite similarities to the line and policies of the Khmer Rouge on this count.
It's possible that there may be some similarities in vocabulary...I've never encountered any of the writings of those people.
But, as I've noted before, you simply cannot talk sensibly about an immediate transition to communism in a peasant society.
You might just as well speak of the "transition to mammals" when all the world's animal life were still fish.
Thus I think that references to the Cambodian experience are simply irrelevant to this discussion.
(And, by the way, I've likewise never heard of any reference to the Khmer Rouge in connection with "radical democratic control" of society by the revolutionary masses.)
I find it interesting that you advocate the use of execution to solve these rather difficult contradictions: "Bribe-givers and takers could be summarily shot, for example."
I hope you noticed the word could...if I thought the word "must" was more suited, I could have picked it.
But there's a sense in which you are quite right...I am a "hard-liner" against the bourgeoisie and their lackeys.
I think prisons and labor camps and secret police are counter-productive -- do more harm to the revolution than good.
So when we catch someone who is "up to no good" in a serious way (bribery certainly fits that description), I say, yes, shoot the bastard!
I don't see any good reason to "fool around" about this.
That hardly means that every "contradiction" is "best resolved by a firing squad". It does mean that some "contradictions" are between the masses and the class enemy.
This all actually reminds me of what Avakian says about a line of no leaders, and such. He talks about it in the Revolution speech when he's talking about irony. Basically he's saying that the great irony of those who take up this line from the perspective of attacking the idea of leadership will in fact become what they criticize. And that this has quite a lot to do with the fact that because of their material privileges they are in fact leaders. But with a rejection of leadership in form, but a taking up in content, what is actually happening is that their leadership is unaccountable.
Avakian has every right, of course, to make this criticism. I've actually met a few "anarchists" and "libertarian communists" who projected an authoritarian attitude fully equal to Avakian's...and even Stalin's.
But the "radical democratic commune" is a hostile environment for the leader-wannabe...regardless of his rhetoric. The "soviets" can hold him "accountable" and can recall him from office...indeed, if there are strong term limits, he will be rotated out of office automatically (even if he pleads for an exception "just this once").
That's very different from Avakian's socialism...where he concedes that his party will exercise despotic power.
That's as "unaccountable" as it gets.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on October 21, 2004
This looks at revolution "country by country" -- which is a very mistaken approach in our interconnected world (one century into modern capitalist-imperialism).
The whole world is in a complex transition from capitalism and feudalism to socialism and communism.
And so the agrarian revolution of peasant countries is objectively and inevitably intertwined: both with the anti-imperialist struggles of their nation against foreign capitalist domination, but also with the world historic process of proletarian revolution for communism.
Understanding how they are intertwined, and how the proletariat now (not the bourgeoisie as a century earlier) is leading (or can lead) the struggle of peasants for land and liberation is a key question of the revolution today.
The key phrase there, I think, is "understanding how they are intertwined".
You seem to imply the view that because what is really happening "in the big picture" is the historic transition from class society to classless society, "therefore" the nature of peasant revolutions has "changed" in such a fundamental way as that it no longer naturally leads to capitalism.
I don't see any material basis that would lead to such a conclusion. It seems to me that a peasant would be totally bewildered by the idea of communism...unless it were heavily sugar-coated with some quasi-religious doctrine promising heavenly redemption for earthly sacrifices (cf. the peasant war in Germany, 1519-21).
The Trotskyist view that "socialist revolution is for advanced countries, and can't happen in the peasant world unless it happens in the metropolis first" is (objectively, despite subjective intent perhaps) tied to a mistaken (and ultimately chauvinist) nationalism of imperialist countries.
I do not know whether or not you are being "fair" to Trotskyism in this summary (I've never heard a modern Trotskyist say that the Bolsheviks should not have attempted a socialist "revolution" in Russia...which was certainly a backward country in 1917).
But to suggest that proletarian revolutions require an advanced and well-developed proletariat is an objective observation of fact. Introducing allusions to chauvinism, nationalism, and imperialism is completely irrelevant.
A hypothetical doctrine that suggested that communism could not develop in the "third world" unless "westerners" brought it there and imposed it at gunpoint would be "chauvinist, nationalist, and imperialist".
I suggest no such thing, of course...and I've never heard of anyone who ever did. In an imaginary world where the imperialist countries did not exist, those backward countries would progress through the same stages of class society that the "west" did...and would eventually arrive at communism.
There are no human societies that would not eventually innovate technology...and start on the road of history. It's only a geographical "accident" that the "west" was first.
I don't see anything "chauvinist, nationalist or imperialist" in that view.
And it actually denies and overlooks the way the third world has been a storm center of revolution (including socialist revolution!) over the last century, and also the role THAT plays in accelerating revolutionary movements in the metropolis.
That peasant revolutions with an anti-imperialist character serve to weaken the rule of the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries is indisputable.
But, thus far, it has not weakened that rule significantly. Aside from France in May of 1968, the imperialist bourgeoisie have not been seriously threatened at home since the end of World War I.
That doesn't mean it won't be threatened in the future, of course. "Two, three, many Vietnams" (as we used to say in the 1960s) would have a very significant impact on imperialism at home.
And that could happen.
Insofar as the predominately agrarian revolutions in Russia and China -- which called themselves "socialist" -- have affected the rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie at home, I think the results were mixed.
After all, they were very poor and undeveloped countries and, although over time they became less so, they never truly "caught up with", much less surpassed the imperialists.
You know as well as I that many westerners (not just intellectuals but also workers) visited the USSR and China over the decades...but even those who were most favorably impressed could not help but reveal the tremendous gap in "ordinary life" between what people in the "west" regard as minimally decent conditions and what things were actually like in those countries.
Sure, there were plenty of bourgeois lies, distortions, etc. But objectively, there's simply no way to put a favorable "spin" on obvious material deprivation. (Today, tourist websites devoted to Cuba advise visitors to bring two or three extra bottles of aspirin and give it to the Cubans...because it's so unbelievably scarce.)
The proletariat in the advanced capitalist countries see no reason to struggle for a "socialism" that would make things worse.
Supporters of the USSR and China (or Cuba today) could and still do talk about all the improvements (and they were/are real improvements)...but no one can change the fact that "socialism" in a poor and backward country is always a poor and backward "socialism".
If the Nepalese Maoists win, do you think Nepal will leap into the 22nd century? It won't...it will limp and stumble into the 19th century (a great advance!) and people there will still be poor as dirt.
With a lot of hard work, they will learn how to read and write. Wireless internet service is probably too much to hope for.
It is not raised as a vague promise, but as an urgent matter for today -- and something that demand urgent changes in how communists have usually worked today.
Very promising. Be specific!
How will you work differently now so as to avoid the mistakes of your ancestors in the Leninist paradigm?
The process of ruling, as a working class, is not a matter of being "skill workers" with "technical expertise."
Lenin wrote in State and Revolution that any class conscious worker could run a socialist ministry. This proved to be very mistaken.
Yes, it was a mistake but why was it a mistake? Because, in my opinion, it assumed that one could substitute ideological consciousness for technical expertise. And we both know that's not true.
But what of the worker who is both class conscious and possesses technical expertise?
Lenin didn't have such workers (in any significant numbers) to work with! In Russia, they hardly existed.
We will have millions of such workers.
Setting aside all the bourgeois hype about the "information age", what's actually happening if not the creation of whole new sectors of workers who know how to do stuff that people of Lenin's age couldn't even imagine!
Have you ever played the computer game Sim City? Unfortunately, I never have...but I've read about the game. You design a small city from scratch and you actually see how changing this or that factor effects a whole bunch of other factors, often in totally unexpected ways.
Of course, it's a bourgeois game with bourgeois ideological assumptions built into the program ("don't pass a minimum wage law or all the businesses will leave and your city will die", etc.).
But what are these kids learning if not a "theory of systems"?
Or, how to run a high-tech society so that it will actually work.
It is objective. And it would be idealist, naive, ahistorical and unmaterialist to think we can just decide to proceed linearly anywhere.
Reality develops through leaps, back and forth motion, spirals, eddies, etc. It is not linear. And this is objective (it is not a result of our decisions, but a result of how matter itself works in complex motion).
Revolutionary activity and sentiments come in waves.
I'm not prepared to contest dogmatic assertions...all you're saying is that "it is" because "it is" and "that's just the way it is".
The most recent interpretation of the evidence regarding the expansion of the universe suggests a continuing and accelerating expansion that will evidently go on indefinitely.
So let's don't "put the blame on matter".
You're perfectly free to assume that the post-revolutionary period will be characterized by a decrease in revolutionary enthusiasm by the masses...and to plan your post-revolutionary strategy of "enlightened despotism" accordingly.
But I am perfectly free to assert the contrary...even at the risk of being called all those "terrible" names ("idealist, naive, ahistorical and unmaterialist").
After all, I have the whole universe "on my side".
It is not "human nature" -- but the fact that powerful conjunctural movements arise from factors, and the very existence of the struggle and the development of the underlying contradictions that gave rise to the struggle influence how long and how broadly that struggle can continue.
That's ignorance dressed up in formal wear.
"It happens that way because it happens that way and we don't really know why."
Why doesn't a strike go on forever? Is it merely that the leaders don't trust the workers, and so decide to end a strike?
In the advanced capitalist countries, trade union leaders (the true "aristocracy of labor") never "trust the workers".
They begin and end strikes for short-term material gains (or to reduce short-term material losses).
This has no bearing on the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses in direct action at all.
This is another (almost bizarre) example of the same idealism.
Was it the decisions of Lenin that forced Soviet workers to work after the revolution? How were they going to rebuild agriculture and industry? by magic?
If you seek the "bizarre", take a glance in your mirror.
What does the Russia of Lenin's day have to do with proletarian revolution in an advanced capitalist country?
There is a need for labor and work, and division of labor, under socialism -- and not because the revolutionary leaders just have a hankering for such things -- but because that is objectively where the stage of society is at.
That remains to be seen, does it not? Neither of us knows or even can know what the objective conditions will actually be when proletarian revolution erupts.
But none of that negates (or can negate) the transitional nature of socialism. Or the fact that there are objective reasons why a classless society has to emerge out of struggle WITHIN a socialist class society (yes, in a series of advances over time).
What are those "objective reasons"? Do they exist "for all time"?
Anyone who has thought through how to run telecommunications in a socialist and then communist way, quickly runs into real issues, line questions, matters of training, and the huge obstacles capitalist class society places between the masses and ruling.
Unless you are a telecommunications worker yourself with considerable experience and expertise, I doubt that your musings on "how to run it" under "socialism" or communism would be any more useful than mine.
The dispute between us seems to be: will there be communist telecommunications workers who will know how to run it in a communist fashion at the time of the revolution?
You don't think so; I'm convinced they will exist in large numbers.
...otherwise it is just pious utopian babble...
Now, now, contain yourself. All the things that I've said here are ideas that you will have to confront thousands of times in the coming decades alone...not to even mention what you'll run into if you live long enough to see the revolution itself.
Remember that the Russians first started talking about overthrowing the Czar in 1821...imagine how many arguments they must have had!
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on October 22, 2004
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