Karl Marx

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Dan Hodges Lies about Liberal Left Hating White Working Class

Yesterday I put up a piece attacking ‘Celebrity Radio’ host Alex Bellfield, who had falsely claimed that ‘lefties’ had done nothing about the sweatshops in Leicester. As I explained in my piece, the problem wasn’t with the left. The Labour MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, had talked about the problems with the area’s sweatshops in a Zoom online meeting on Saturday afternoon organised as part of the Arise festival of the Labour Left. Webbe made it very clear that she and others had tried to get the authorities to act about the appalling conditions and low pay in the city’s garment industry, but they were ignored.

Now another right-wing hack is also spreading lies about the ‘liberal left’. Yesterday a video appeared on my YouTube page from Talk Radio. This one had had the title ‘Dan Hodges – Liberal Left View White Working Class as the Enemy’. Hodges is a writer for the Daily Mail. Such is the quality of his journalism that readers of Zelo Street know him as ‘the celebrated Blues artist Whinging Dan Hodges’. It’s an old chestnut. The Tories have been pursuing this line for years. Way back in 2003/4 the Spectator was publishing pieces like ‘Blackened Whites’ about how anti-racist activists were maligning the working class. These articles contained lines such as ‘there is only one minority not welcome under Labour on the streets of central London – White men’. They also opined about how the Left despised working class Whites because of their patriotism, amongst other values.

This is a flat-out lie. It was another one that was shown as such by the speakers at Saturday’s conference. The first of these was Black Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy. She gave a superb speech making it clear that Labour stood for the working class in all its diversity, and that we should not allow the working class to be divided. It was a theme repeated again and again by nearly all the speakers there, including, I believe, Corbyn’s deputy, John McDonnell.

Owen Jones, the bete noir of the rabid right, made the same point in his brilliant book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class. He dispels accusations of racism made against the unions during a strike. I’ve forgotten the precise details, but the media presented it as if it had been caused by White workers refusing to work alongside Blacks and Asians. In fact the reverse was true. The strike had been called by the union partly because of the exploitation of BAME workers. There is racism in the working class,  and a feeling of marginalization. The latter has its roots in the way New Labour turned its back on the working class in order to chase middle class Tories. This created a constituency of White, low-skilled, working class people in their fifties for UKIP. See the excellent study of that particular piece of populism when it was led by the Fuhrage, Revolt on the Right.

I don’t believe Black Lives Matter has helped this situation. Although the demonstrators have repeatedly stressed that they are not against Whites – I’ve mentioned the meme of the cute little Black girl holding a placard spelling this out – and there was another placard with the slogan ‘We’re Not Trying to Start a Race War – We’re Trying to End One’, unfortunately that is the impression some BLM protests make. The right-wing put up another video a few days ago about a group of BLM protesters demonstrating against White privilege in Birmingham. The photograph for that video showed a White middle-aged women waving a placard with the slogan ‘Use your White Privilege for Good’. This is particularly tin-eared. Whites and ethnic minorities are not homogenous communities occupying distinct places in the social hierarchy. While Whites generally have higher status, better jobs and education, and are more prosperous than Black, this is certainly not uniformly the case. Some ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, outperform Whites. Indians are only slightly behind Whites in society as a rule. Muslims and Blacks are at the bottom, but nevertheless there are many Whites who are as poor or poorer than parts of those ethnic groups. And the worst performing group at school are White working class boys. By waving such placards, the protesters appear to show that they are indeed elite middle-class Whites with a hatred of the working class. But if they do, those protesters do not speak for all left-liberals.

The Labour left support the White working class, just as they support all the disparate communities of the working class. The Tories don’t. They only appear to in order to garner votes, fostering racial antagonism in a very cynical policy of divide et conquera. As we’ve seen over the past ten years of Tory rule, they have cut welfare benefits, frozen pay and introduced mass unemployment and job insecurity to Whites as well as Blacks and Asians, while at the same time lying to them in the pages of the Scum, the Heil, Torygraph and Spectator that they are really defending them. It’s a classic piece of misdirection that the racist elites have done for centuries. In 17th century America the colonial rulers after Bacon’s rebellion found a way to prevent White indentured labourers joining forces in revolt with Black slaves: they simply defined Whites legally against Blacks, but gave them no extra rights nor privileges. White indentured labourers were as exploited as before, but it worked. Whites felt themselves to be superior and no longer joined Black revolts quite as they did. Although many White working people, as well as liberal Whites further up in the social hierarchy could still have considerable sympathy for Black slaves. James Walvin in one of his books on slavery has a passage from a 19th century article stating that in Scotland, the women who demand slave emancipation are working class.

The likes of Hodges have been lying to Black and White for a long time. It’s time we stopped listening and exposed this lie for what it is. Working people of all colours unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains, as Marx could have said.

 

Book Review: Revisiting Marx’s Critique of Liberalism: Rethinking Justice, Legality and Rights by Igor Shoikhedbrod

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 9:09pm in

In Revisiting Marx’s Critique of Liberalism: Rethinking Justice, Legality and Rights, Igor Shoikhedbrod deepens conventional understandings of Karl Marx as one of the foremost critics of liberalism, showing how Marx’s work does not simply repudiate liberal ideology from the outside, but rather tests its internal limits, setting it against its own presumptions and ideals. Tracing Marx’s intellectual development and his conceptions of justice and rights, this is an excellent and timely book that makes a persuasive case for including Marx in the canon of the great theorists of liberalism and democracy.

Revisiting Marx’s Critique of Liberalism: Rethinking Justice, Legality and Rights. Igor Shoikhedbrod. Palgrave Macmillan. 2019.  

Karl Marx has a reputation for being one of the foremost critics of liberalism and the discourse of rights. In Revisiting Marx’s Critique of Liberalism, political theorist Igor Shoikhedbrod contests this simplistic assumption. His Marx does not hold a dogmatic antipathy to justice and rights. Instead we get a glimpse of Marx as a philosophical pioneer of what is known in critical theory as ‘immanent critique’. This Marx does not simply repudiate liberal ideology from the outside, but rather tests its internal limits, setting it against its own presumptions and ideals, in order to expand our comprehension of it and articulate a wider notion of human emancipation. Shoikhedbrod makes a persuasive case for including Marx in the canon of the great theorists of liberalism and democracy, as a thinker who had something original and profound to say about the dominant political imaginary of modernity.

The book has multiple aims. It is a re-reading of Marx’s theory of law and justice. Shoikhedbrod wants to move from the dominant opinion that Marx dismissed law and justice as such. Through this re-reading, Shoikhedbrod also aims to re-construct a Marxist theory of law that is closer to Marx’s own intellectual development. In other words, he wants to assemble a Marxist theory of law that can address the deficiencies of common interpretations, chief among them being that of the Russian legal theorist Evgeny Pashukanis (1891-1937). Shoikhedbrod also puts forward a radical defence of constitutionalism, the rule of law and democracy, from a Marxist perspective, as a necessary site of social struggles against ‘global financialised neo-liberalism’ and state authoritarianism. In so doing, he demonstrates the relevance of Marx’s immanent critique of liberalism to contemporary debates in political theory. Finally, he defends a notion of post-capitalist, communist legality against critics who imagine that a post-capitalist society will abandon institutional law as such.

The first part of the book is where Shoikhedbrod lays out his re-reading of Marx’s comments on liberalism and law, which are scattered across many different texts. Shoikhedbrod is evidently sensitive to the role of biography in the formation of political philosophy, and therefore he traces Marx’s intellectual development from a young radical democratic/republican in a fierce battle with the Prussian state to an exiled revolutionary. In the first stage of his development, Marx differentiated between rational law and positive law, justice and law, ‘Recht’ and ‘Gesetz’. This allowed him, in his early journalistic writings, to criticise laws from the ideal standpoint of a universalised, substantive concept of equality. In this period, we see a young German radical concerned with the erosion of civil and political liberties, and the legislative battles at the heart of the rise of industrial capitalism. Later, especially as his confrontation with Prussian authoritarianism escalated, Marx realised that it is not enough to simply contrast ideal (rational) against positive (existing) law. He recognised that those ideal standards are themselves an expression of a deficient legal form that conceals social inequalities.

Marx reached his political maturity with his formulation of a materialist theory of law and society. His model sees legal form as a central component and expression of the underlying mode of production. In this stage, bourgeois right, especially private right, is essential to the structure of capitalist society as such. Marx replaced legal-democratic critique with historical analysis, demonstrating that every legal form expresses a certain property relation that defines an epoch. This does not mean that Marx abandoned his earlier view of the importance of political emancipation (such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and universal suffrage). Rather, he sought to radicalise political emancipation beyond its limits towards a more substantive social notion of freedom. Therefore, Shoikhedbrod criticises the tradition of legal scholarship that took Marx as outright dismissing legality and right.

The second part of the book engages with the most important theorists of liberalism and democracy in contemporary political philosophy: namely, John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth and Nancy Fraser. What those authors share, in Shoikhedbrod’s view, is the assumption that Marxism is a doctrine hostile to rights. In fact, it could be argued that the reconstruction of liberalism led by Rawls and Habermas was driven by the need to save modern political philosophy from Marxist denigration. However, as Shoikhedbrod makes clear, especially in the cases of Rawls, Habermas and Honneth, their attempts to provide liberalism with a renewed normative core end up cutting off the resources for any critique of contemporary financial capitalism. The three theorists reproduce a neo-Kantian understanding of right and law, which cannot explain, let alone directly resist, the social and political deficiencies of contemporary capitalism.

However, sometimes it is unclear in the book where the core of Shoikhedbrod’s disagreements with these theorists lies. Is it their neo-Kantianism, their toothless critique of financial capitalism or is it simply for not being Marxists? Shoikhedbrod may need to develop a deeper intellectual history of those authors and their divergent relations to Marx in order to account for their hesitations. Another problem is a certain confusion regarding the place of the ‘market’ in capitalism and post-capitalism. It is unclear to me why Shoikhedbrod too quickly dismisses the value of Rawls’s and Honneth’s defence of some version of market socialism, while he also argues that Habermas is wrong in identifying the market with capitalism (150-59).

Finally, Shoikhedbrod puts forward a Marxist defence of constitutionalism, the rule of law and political democracy. This may sound odd to those who are used to viewing Marx as a dogmatic enemy of democracy, but Shoikhedbrod presents a different view of the rule of law that is also partially inspired by the historian E. P. Thompson. In this view, the rule of law is a partial and limited protection of weaker classes against the arbitrary abuses of the strong. It is a means or a site through which the oppressed could push back at and set limits to capitalist exploitation. This is clear, for example, in the case of Marx’s celebration of proletarian victory in battles over a shorter working day in Capital. Shoikhedbrod reminds leftists of the centrality of reforms for resisting the ravages of capitalism and for strengthening social struggle, and possibly as a utopian foreshadowing of what communist legality could become.

It is here that the contemporary relevance of the book comes to light, as we witness the terrifying rise of authoritarian movements across the world. However, it would have been useful for Shoikhedbrod to expand and elaborate further on how he conceptualises the nature of ‘social struggles’. How can his account renew and transform older debates around reform versus revolution, and the role of political parties and parliamentary elections in social struggle? This would have clarified the political implications of his philosophical arguments. Another obscurity is the way he posits ‘social struggles’ unproblematically, without indicating whether those struggles merely approach legality from the instrumental point of view of their material interest, or whether they play a more normative role in embodying a radical core of citizenship. There is a tension here between an instrumentalist and ideal-normative view of social struggle, which would have also benefitted from engagement with debates in other corners of political theory. I am thinking here of other critics of Marx like Hannah Arendt, Sheldon Wolin and Claude Lefort.

All in all, this is an excellent and timely book. Especially impressive is Shoikhedbrod’s attention to Marx’s biography and formation as a political actor in his own right. Shoikhedbrod restores a radical-democratic Marx who is passionate about political emancipation, who sees the political value of freedoms of expression and association and who actively embodies this impassioned spirit of resistance to state repression.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Combination of Image by moritz320 from Pixabay and Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay.

 


Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Two

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Trade Unions

He discusses the unions, which he describes as ‘proletarian capitalists’. They are there to protect the workers, who have to sell their labour just as the businessman has to sell the product they create. Unions are there to ensure the workers are able to charge the highest price they can for their labour. He also discusses strikes and lockouts, including the violence of some industrial disputes. Scabs need police protection against being beaten, and angry workers will tamper with the equipment so that anyone using it will be injured. They will also place fulminate of mercury in chimneys to cause an explosion if someone starts up the furnaces.

Party Politics and Socialism

Shaw describes the class conflict between the Tories, representing the aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the industrial middle classes. These competed for working class votes by extending the franchise and passing legislation like the Factory Acts to improve working conditions. However, each was as bad the other. The aristocracy kept their workers in poverty in the countryside, while the middle classes exploited them in the factories. The laws they passed for the working poor were partly designed to attack their opponents of the opposite class.

He goes on to give a brief history of British socialism, beginning with Marx, William Morris’ Socialist League, and Hyndeman’s Social Democratic Federation. These were small, middle class groups, disconnected from the British working class through their opposition to trade unions and the cooperatives. It was only when British socialism combined with them under Keir Hardie and the Independent Labour Party that socialism became a real force in working class politics. The Fabian Society has been an important part of this, and has made socialism respectable so that the genteel middle classes may join it as Conservatives join their Constitutional Club.

Shaw believed that socialism would advance, simply because of the numerical supremacy of the working classes, and that soon parliament would be full of Labour MPs. However, he also recognised that many members of the proletariat were anti-Socialist. This is because they depended for their livelihood on the businesses serving the idle rich. He called this section of the working class the ‘parasitic proletariat’. The working class is also distracted away from socialism through lotteries and so on.

Democratic, Parliamentary Socialism and Nationalisation

Shaw argues strongly that socialism could only be established through democratic, parliamentary action. General strikes wouldn’t work, as the employers would simply starve the workers out. The strikes intended to stop the outbreak of the First World War had failed the moment the first bomb dropped killing babies. Violent revolutions were purely destructive. Apart from the human lives lost, they destroyed the country’s vital industrial and economic structure. Socialism needed to build on this, not destroy it. Similarly, confiscating the capitalists’ wealth, either directly through nationalisation without compensation, or by taxing capital, was also counterproductive. The capitalists would simply sell their shares or unwillingly surrender them. The result would be bankruptcy and mass unemployment. This would result in further working class unrest, which would end in a counterrevolution.

The only way socialism could proceed would be by long preparation. You should only nationalise an industry once there was a suitable government department to run it. Compensation should be given to the former proprietors. This did not mean robbing the workers to pay their former exploiters, as the money would come from taxing the upper classes so that the class as a whole would be slightly worse off than before, even though the former owners were slightly better off.  You can see here and in Shaw’s warning of the ineffectiveness of general strikes the bitterness that still lingered amongst the working class after the failure of the General Strike of the 1920s.

Nationalisation could also only be done through parliament. There were, however, problems with parliamentary party politics. If the socialist party grew too big, it would split into competing factions divided on other issues, whose squabbles would defeat the overall purpose. Party politics were also a hindrance, in that it meant that one party would always oppose the policies of the other, even though they secretly supported them, because that was how the system worked. We’ve seen it in our day when the Tories before the 2010 election made a great show of opposing Blair’s hospital closures, but when in power did exactly the same and worse. Shaw recommends instead that the political process should follow that of the municipalities, where party divisions were still high, but where the process of legislation was done through committees and so on parties were better able to cooperate.

Limited Role for Capitalism

Shaw also argued against total nationalisation. He begins the book by stating that socialists don’t want to nationalise personal wealth. They weren’t going to seize women’s jewels, nor prevent a woman making extra cash for herself by singing in public or raising prize chrysanthemums, although it might in time be considered bad form to do so. Only big, routine businesses would be nationalised. Small businesses would be encouraged, as would innovatory private companies, though once they became routine they too would eventually be taken over by the state.

It’s a great argument for a pluralistic mixed economy, of the type that produced solid economic growth and working class prosperity after World War II, right up to 1979 and Thatcher’s victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Karl Marx, Class Struggles in France and the historical materialist method!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/03/2016 - 6:00am in

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Karl Marx

Karl Marx did not only involve himself in abstract conceptual work on how to understand the capitalist social relations of production. He was also an engaged analyst of class struggles at his time. This included three separate writings on developments in France: The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850 (1850); The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852); and The Civil War in France (1871). In this post, I will discuss key aspects of Marx’s historical materialist approach in relation to The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50 and conclude with some ideas of what this method implies for efforts today to understand the global political economy as well as the possibilities for revolutionary change.

Key aspects of Marx’s method include (1) a focus on the social relations of production, (2) an acknowledgement of different class fractions, (3) the importance of the international dimension in understanding class struggle, as well as (4) the historical specificity of developments in individual countries.

Focus on the social relations of production

For Marx, a focus on the social relations of production is essential, when analysing historical developments and class struggle. He asserts that ‘wage labour is the existing bourgeois organisation of labour. Without it there is no capital, no bourgeoisie, no bourgeois society’. Equally, when examining the reason for the eventual defeat of workers in France in the period of 1848 to 1850, he refers to the social relations surrounding production. ‘What succumbed in these defeats was not the revolution. It was the pre-revolutionary traditional appendages, results of social relationships, which had not yet come to the point of sharp class antagonism’. It is on the basis of how production is organised that he identifies a range of different relevant classes and class fractions in the French struggles from 1948 to 1950.

Different class fractions

Marx assumed that ultimately all capitalist societies would be divided into two large classes, capital and labour. However, he was sensitive to the fact that the development towards this situation was a historical process, within which many more classes and class fractions were involved. In other words, rather than simply thinking in terms of capital and labour, he identified a range of relevant classes on the basis of an analysis of the social relations of production. In France in 1848, this included the industrial proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie such as small shop keepers, the peasant class as well as capital. The latter were sub-divided into different class fractions. ‘The bourgeois class fell apart into two big fractions, which, alternately, the big landed proprietors under the restored monarchy and the finance aristocracy and the industrial bourgeoisie under the July monarchy, had maintained a monopoly of order’. He further established that finance capital was dominant in France, while manufacturing played a subordinate role. In short, Marx was prepared to modify and adjust his general concepts such as capital and labour to the concrete empirical situation he was investigating.

The international dimension

Marx always understood capitalism as an international phenomenon and appreciated that class struggles within one country were directly affected by economic developments elsewhere. In 1848 he wrote that ‘French production relations are conditioned by the foreign trade of France, by her position on the world market and the laws thereof; how should France break them without a European revolutionary war, which would strike back at the despot of the world market, England?’. And equally, when discussing why there had been a revolution in France in February 1848, he pointed out that ‘the second great economic event which hastened the outbreak of the revolution, was a general commercial and industrial crisis in England’. The capitalist social relations of production and class struggle can only be understood within an international context.

The historical specificity

When analysing concrete struggles, Marx was careful not to generalise his findings from one country to another. In the case of France, he acknowledged the rather different production structure from the one in England, which then, in turn, led to a different assessment. Discussing the position of French manufacturing, he stated that ‘in England industry rules; in France, agriculture. In England industry requires free trade; in France, protection, national monopoly besides other monopolies. French industry does not dominate production; the French industrialists, therefore, do not dominate the French bourgeoisie. This focus on historical specificity already included an implicit reference to uneven development, the fact that different countries are in rather different positions within the global economy, which was later developed by Leon Trotsky in the notion of ‘uneven and combined development’. ‘Just as the period of crisis occurs later on the Continent than in England, so does that of prosperity. The original process always takes place in England; she is the demiurge of the bourgeois cosmos. On the Continent, the different phases of the cycle through which bourgeois society is ever speeding anew, occur in secondary and tertiary form’. This historically different location has then also implications for where revolutionary uprisings are more likely to erupt. ‘Violent outbreaks’, Marx argues, ‘must naturally occur earlier in the extremities of the bourgeois body than in its heart, since here the possibility of adjustment is greater than there’ (see also Uneven and combined development and the issue of resistance in the UK!).

Karl Marx and the analysis of the global economic crisis

In his assessment of class struggles in France from 1848 to 1850, Marx highlighted the importance of crisis as an opportunity for revolutionary change. ‘A new revolution is only possible in consequence of a new crisis. It is, however, also just as certain as this’. Today, we face another, much larger economic crisis on a global, but especially also European scale. Marx’s method developed more than 100 years ago remains relevant. First, we cannot understand the crisis by looking solely at issues such as the regulation of financial markets, as vulgar economists do. Rather, we need to analyse the underlying social relations of production and the related developments, which have brought this crisis about. Second, we need to identify the different social class forces, when thinking about agency for change. We cannot automatically assume, for example, that all workers are likely to be revolutionary agents. Different class fractions of labour are likely to act differently. Third, the international dimension is of importance. As different countries are in a different location in the global economy, so are different labour movements. It is no surprise that Greek workers are much more involved in open resistance, being in the periphery of the European political economy, than British workers from the core. Finally, we need to investigate the historical specificity of the capitalist social relations of production and here the way capitalism has evolved since the mid-19th century. While Marx’s method can be used for an analysis today, his findings cannot simply be transferred.

This post was originally posted on Trade Unions and Global Restructuring (5 July 2012) and appears here as one of the texts originally read in the Marxism Reading Group. 

Karl Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/03/2016 - 7:35am in

HollowayThe notion of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is widely vilified. Often linked to Stalin’s authoritarian rule in the Soviet Union, there is little positive said about it. Moreover, the negative evaluation is also regularly linked back to Lenin and his idea of a vanguard party taking over state power in order to change society for the better. As John Holloway argues in Change the World Without Taking Power, ‘you cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power. Once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost’. And yet, these reflections overlook Marx’s own discussion of what the dictatorship of the proletariat may entail in practice. Most importantly they neglect his analysis of the Paris Commune in The Civil War in France (1871). For as Engels pointed out in 1891, ‘well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.

In this post, I will look more closely at Marx’s discussion of the Paris Commune and his ideas about how to organise popular government.

It is especially the third part of the Third Address, given by Marx to the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association in May 1871, which is relevant for our purpose here. First, Marx makes clear that the proletariat cannot simply take over the bourgeois state and its institutions, if it wants to change society. ‘The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes’. Parallel to the ‘pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified the class antagonism between capital and labour, the state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism’. In order to bring about a new society, therefore, the very institutions of the bourgeois state form have to be changed first. For example, ‘the police was at once stripped of its political attributes’ in the Paris Commune. Furthermore, Marx recognised the importance of education for a truly free society and praised the Commune’s steps in this area. ‘The whole of the educational institutions were opened to the people gratuitously, and at the same time cleared of all interference of church and state’.

Second, Marx highlights the governance structure, introduced by the Paris Commune. ‘The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms’. In other words, rather than representing authoritarian government, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ is a fundamentally democratic set-up, within which the individual has a direct impact on decision-making in that delegates have the task to transfer local decisions and can be re-called and replaced at any time. Equally, in relation to the judiciary, ‘like the rest of public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsible, and revocable’. The overall goal is the ‘self-government of the producers’. This system, once established in Paris, should then also be implemented in the rural communities, with delegates being elected to represent these districts to the National Delegation in Paris. Again, each delegate was ‘to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandate imperative (formal instructions) of his constituents’. In short, for Marx the dictatorship of the proletariat always implied direct participation by the people in all aspects of the decision-making process. It did not mean authoritarian rule.

Importantly, restructuring of the bourgeois state form did not simply focus on bourgeois institutions. For Marx, it was always clear that capitalist exploitation was rooted in the way production was organised around wage labour and the private ownership of the means of production. To overcome exploitation, therefore, it was necessary to abolish private property and this is precisely what the Paris Commune did. ‘Yes, gentlemen, the Commune intended to abolish that class property which makes the labour of the many the wealth of the few. It aimed at the expropriation of the expropriators. It wanted to make individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labour, into mere instruments of free and associated labor’. In other words, the economy cannot be regarded as separate from politics, if true change is to be accomplished.

Finally, Marx was aware of the importance of the Commune’s international dimension. ‘If the Commune was thus the true representative of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national government, it was, at the same time, as a working men’s government, as the bold champion of the emancipation of labour, emphatically international’. Thus, for Marx it was always clear that the defeat of capitalism could not only be achieved in one country or even one city – after all the Paris Commune fell after a couple of months – but must always have an international aspiration.

To establish ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ as experimented by the Paris Commune is not really on today’s agenda. And yet, perhaps developments in Venezuela are potentially one step into this direction? The so-called Housing Mission, for example, did not only succeed in building thousands of homes for the poor, but also managed to include barrio residents in their planning and construction, as argued by Steve Ellner in 2012. To conclude, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as envisaged by the Paris Commune, is an aspiration at best at this point in time, but an aspiration worthwhile to pursue and push further.

This post originally appeared on Trade Unions and Global Restructuring (14 September 2012) and appears here as one of the texts originally read in the Marxism Reading Group.