Last updated: 8.Sept.2001
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Proletarian Democracy

How will economics, politics and culture work
when the working class runs modern society?

Working class rule has never existed except in embryonic form
(the Paris Commune of 1871 and early Soviet Russia).
Nevertheless it will emerge triumphant in the 21st century.
How will a modern society suppress the former ruling bourgeoisie
without also suppressing the independent political life of workers?

It is to questions like this
that the discipline and focus of the
Proletarian Democracy elists will be dedicated.


      1. Introduction

      2. Readers Respond    What our readers have to say
      3. What do you think?    (post your views)
      4. The Discussion Lists   The Open ListThe Resonance List

      5. Mission Statement

      6. Topics
(related theoretically)
                        Bourgeois ideological warfare
                        The Transitional Economy
                        Cargo Cult Leninism

      7. Projects
(related theoretically)
                        Participatory Economics
                        Self-Organizing Moneyless Economy

6. Related Theoretical Topics

Bourgeois Ideological Warfare
The Transitional Economy
Cargo Cult Leninism

This is an interesting and important question because of the extent to which bourgeois culture, ideology and prejudices saturate present-day society

insincerity so saturates our culture
that it appears normal
and shape the attitudes of anyone who is not blind and deaf. The bourgeois worldview is omnipresent and we are bombarded, on a daily basis, with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of images which tell us, in the most authoritative way, how we are supposed to look, what we are supposed to think, what is sexy and what is cool. This constant flood of propaganda from network executives, studio heads, advertizers, trusted anchormen and distrusted political authorities conditions and encourages us to see ourselves as weak, powerless, frustrated, isolated, insecure and, above all, incapable of shaping the world in which we live. Probably the most obvious examples of this are (1) the extent to which women's bodies are promoted as commodities and (2) the constant insincerity which saturates advertizing and media to such an extent that it appears normal. This crap is pushed at us in the form of news, advertizing, TV shows, movies and even magazine covers at the check-out line.

The bourgeois worldview is aggressive and intrusive in the extreme--relentlessly linking our deepest aspirations with commodity fetishism--invading the inner world of youth and exploiting the strivings of young people for acceptance and appreciation within a community of peers. This has a devastating impact, in particular, on the self-image of young people. The bourgeois ideology is not content to divide our class into atomized, isolated individuals but goes further and aims to divide the self--alienating us
from the divinity of our nature as the product of a 15 billion year evolution of matter into consciousness.

The bourgeois ideology promotes a view of the world in which nothing makes sense, nothing can be explained and things just happen. This is because an accurate, materialist understanding of nearly any social phenomena will lead to conclusions and a consciousness which represent a direct threat to bourgeois interests which require, above all, that we be kept passive and ignorant of the extent to which all social ills flow directly from the domination of society by a tiny parasitic class. The aim of this toxic-sludge-is-good-for-you culture is to convince us that we are better off, safer and happier if we leave the control of society to bourgeois authorities, bourgeois experts and bourgeois institutions who know more than us and have our best interests at heart.

    On the Transition to a Moneyless Economy

I hope to eventually write more on this key topic. As long as the economy operates on the basis of money or exchange of any kind (for example the exchange or trade of one kind of commodity for another, or the exchange of money/commodities/wages for labor) economic forces of immense power (almost irresistible--because no resistence is possible that does not lower the productivity of labor) will spontaneously lead to the concentration and accumulation of capital and, with this concentration, the development of a class (defined in terms of its ownership or control of this capital) that has material interests separate from and opposed to the rest of society. This class will strive to subjugate the entire life of society (all traditions, all culture, all education, all "public opinion" and all institutions) to its complete domination. Therefore, as long as the economy operates on the basis of money or exchange there will be a danger of bourgeois restoration.

Attempts to create an economy that does not rely on the market (such as in Russia, China, etc) by top-down centralized planning have similarly led to the creation of new ruling classes which, in order to preserve their own privileges, were compelled to suppress the political life of the working class. This suppression of the initiative of workers, however, crippled the development of the productivity of labor and led to these societies having lower productivity than the Western capitalist countries.

The key to a society which is not class-divided into rulers and the ruled is the creation of an economy that does not rely on money (or exchange) or any kind of central planning which concentrates power and authority to the extent that class divisions can be created.

A workers' state would organize a moneyless sector of the economy side-by-side with a regulated capitalist sector. The capitalist sector would itself consist of both (a) private capitalism and (b) state capitalism. The moneyless sector would not require the highly centralized planning and the unnecessary concentration of authority that have characterized the supposedly "socialist" countries but would consist of a large number of independent units that would simultaneously cooperate and compete with one another to most efficiently transform skilled labor into socially useful goods and services.

The moneyless sector would be a "gift economy" that would operate without money, wages, commodities or exchange. It would be highly experimental and would grow as it learns what it is doing, eventually competing with the capitalist economy and absorbing and transforming it as a developing chick does the white of an egg. (See also The Self-Organizing Moneyless Economy below.)

    What is a cargo cult Leninism?

I have coined the phrase "cargo cult Leninist" (adapted from the famous talk on "cargo cult science" given in 1974 by Richard Feynman) to describe organizations (and people) who repeat phrases such as "the dictatorship of the proletariat" without understanding what these phrases will mean in the context of modern conditions.  It is the identical phenomenon as the South Sea natives repeating the magic phrase "Roger, over and out" into "microphones" woven out of reeds in order to invoke the radio gods.

A cargo cult Leninist is anyone who gives prominent attention to the goal of workers' rule but who fails to deal with the ideological debris created as a result of the degeneration of the attempts to create workers' rule in the Soviet Union and China. Specifically, cargo cult Leninists are those who mouth phrases about workers' rule without explaining how a workers' state would suppress the former (and aspiring new) bourgeoisie without also  suppressing the independent political life of the working class and, in particular, without suppressing the right of workers to:

  1. create independent political organizations
         (without requiring the permission of anybody), and

  2. fight to influence the consciousness
    of the masses

          and mobilize mass support for criticisms
          of incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption
          within _any_ sphere of society--including the
          ruling circles

Put simply, any serious talk of proletarian dictatorship without such basic clarity on the nature of proletarian democracy is a sham, a travesty, idiocy and denial by well-meaning but clueless cargo cultists who have completely lost touch with the thinking of ordinary people who conceive of workers' rule as a police state based on thought control.

Cargo cult Leninists are a vanishing species.  They are totally incapable of defending their views with scientific argument in the public forums which have emerged in the wake of the last five years of the revolution in communications.  Not being able to defend your views with principled scientific argument is the _kiss of death_ in relation to attracting the support of militant young activists who represent the lifeblood of any organization with revolutionary pretensions.

It does not make a damn bit of difference whether you worship Stalin or you worship Trotsky if you cannot talk about workers' rule in the context of modern conditions--you are equally clueless, equally incapable of demonstrating (to ordinary people--who have _not_ had lobotomies) that you understand the modern world.

If you understand modern conditions you will understand that workers' rule in a modern society would have the support of the majority of the population--and would not be afraid of the circulation of reactionary views but, on the contrary, would trust the masses and would rely on the masses to confront these reactionary views in millions and billions of encounters.

If you understand modern conditions you will understand that any effort to censor access to ideas over the internet would cripple the development of the internet and, in doing so, would also cripple the development of the productivity of labor which is necessary for the survival of workers' rule.

If you talk a lot of workers' rule but cannot clearly say that attempts by a future workers state in a modern society to suppress the rights of workers to form organizations and win support for their views (whether or not their views are right, wrong or reactionary) is both profoundly impractical and profoundly unnecessary -- then you are a cargo cult Leninist.

7. Related Theoretical Projects


( and some links )

There are three theoretical projects (that I know of) that are related to the focus of this list.

In the 1970's a Russian intellectual, A. B. Razlatsky, influenced perhaps by the cultural revolution in China (as were many at the time) concluded that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" that supposedly existed in his country was a fiction disguising the rule of a parasitic strata that was exploiting the working class and suppressing its revolutionary energies.

Razlatsky responded by creating an underground communist organization that aimed to restore a genuine proletarian dictatorship to the then Soviet Union. Razlatsky's underground group organized workers for strikes and similar work stoppages in defense of their basic rights. The authorities eventually discovered the existence of this group and in December 1981 Razlatsky and one of his collaborators, Grigorii Isaev, were arrested and sent to the Gulag. Eventually, under Gorbachev, they were released. Razlatsky died in 1989. Isaev went on to lead a very militant strike (in 1997?) of five thousand workers (which included a factory occupation and the months' long blockage of the main avenue in Samara, a city of 1.5 million). Isaev was arrested twice in the course of this struggle and each time released under international pressure.

Razlatsky's theoretical work includes "The Second Communist Manifesto" (1979), "Notes in the Margins of History" (1989) and many other works. He is most well known for two theses:

  • The political economy of the Soviet Union had more similarities to feudalism than either capitalism or socialism.
  • In a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat the workers' party would be completely distinct from the state (so much so that party members would be required to resign from the party before taking a position within the workers' state).
Grigorii Isaev has continued with Razlatsky's work, founding the Samara Stachkom (ie: strike committee) and the Party of the Proletarian Dictatorship (PDP). On the theoretical front, Isaev has advanced the thesis that the term communism should be abandoned as the name of the movement aimed at the overthrow of bourgeois rule--and replaced by the term proletarism. The precedent for this is Lenin's advocacy, following the great betrayal of 1914, that the term "social democracy" be abandoned in favor of the term "communism". The revisionist betrayal of Lenin's 1917 revolution by a corrupt strata of self-serving feudal lords, argues Isaev, is fully comparable to the 1914 betrayal by the workers' parties which abandoned the interests of the working class and sided with their own bourgeois rulers at the outbreak of the first world war.

I am inviting Perry Vodchik, a supporter in the United States of the PDP and a follower of Razlatsky, to join me in founding this serious discussion list. I have my disagreements with Perry (and with Razlatsky) but I have great respect for his integrity, maturity and dedication.

In 1991 Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel came out with a book, Looking Forward, which attempts to describe the economic functioning of a society which is not divided into antagonistic classes. This effort suffers, in my view, from three serious defects:

  1. Exchange (ie: money, prices, wages) is still a necessary method of organizing production. This means that, to one extent or another, the economic life of society
    is still based on (and ruled by--held hostage to) the laws of commodity production.
  2. The economic planning of this society is done in a centralized way. The authors are unable to see the necessity of distributed authority and competition between production units to discover the best methods of raising the productivity of labor.
  3. The authors show no recognition of the class struggle that will continue to exist after the working class overthrows the system of bourgeois rule. What measures will be used to prevent the former (or newly emerging) bourgeoisie from successfully organizing for the return of the rule of society by a small minority? This book shows no recognition that a distinction must be made between:
    • the period after the overthrow of bourgeois rule
      during which a great many former bourgeois will
      still possess enormous resources and influence, and
    • the period after classes (and the influence
      of bourgeois habits and ideology) have died out.
More information about this can be found at the Participatory Economics Project (ParEcon).

In 1994-5 I wrote what became known as The Self-Organizing Moneyless Economy. As far as I know, this constitutes the first scientific speculation on how a communist economic and political system will function in a classless society without money, prices, wages, the market, all-powerful central planners or a state machine with the power to coerce.

The lengthy essay contains brief sketches of the organization of political, cultural and economic life in a future where all authority flows from principles that have been distributed universally and are part of everyone's internal compass rather than institutions which are external to the individual and which use one or another form of carrot or stick.

I should note that the problems dealt with in the self-organizing moneyless economy are distinct from those of the period of workers' rule that will be the focus of this discussion list. (Eventually a separate elist may eventually be set up to discuss the self-organizing moneyless economy.) The period of workers rule will involve a lengthy period, perhaps lasting several generations (counting a generation as twenty years or so) during which the working class will learn how to run an economy and increase the productivity of labor without the use of exchange, money or a set of new rulers that eventually act like feudal lords. (Any use of exchange or money will tend to spontaneously lead to the emergence of a ruling class with material interests that are antagonistic to the rest of society.)

Also of potential interest are some comments, from a similar perspective, made by my friend Joćo Paulo Monteiro titled Communist society: a dialogue

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