Post-Revolutionary Politics

Guy Yasko guyy at
Wed Mar 22 17:48:52 MST 1995

   I'd like to add just a few words to the debate between Paul and Darrell
Mollendorf over politics and socialism.  While I agree with Darrell's point
about politics continuing after the revolution, I don't understand why this has
to happen in a parliamentary mode.  One doesn't have to be a Carl Schmitt type
conservative or even a council socialist to find problems with parliamentarism.
(Schmitt argued that parliaments were inherently apolitical.  Of course, in
undermining the legal theory of the Weimar republic, Schmitt was trying to
promote his conservative Catholic politics and position himself as Nazier than
thou.  Schmitt has always had an enormous influence in Germany, but there was a
Schmitt boom a few years back with the Telos crowd and people like Mouffe.  For
more on Schmitt  see Peter Caldwell's article "National Socialism and
Constitutional Law: Carl Schmitt, Otto Koellreutter, and the Debate Over the
Nature of the Nazi State 1933-1937," in a recent or forthcoming issue of the
Cardozo Law Review.)  For instance, Habermas found that the disintegration of
the bourgeois public sphere uncoupled parliaments from rational-critical debate
in society at large, in effect, ripping them from their representative moorings.
After capital took over the press in the 19th c., people's talk and parlimentary
talk diverged.  Because the bourgeois reading public was no longer part of the
parliamentary conversation and vice versa, elections in "democratic" societies
have degenerated into plebiscites.  True, Habermas is talking about historical
developments in bourgeois societies, but he does point to the more general issue
of the relations between discourse, representation, and politics.  Still,
because any socialist society will start from within this one, simply
instituting a parliamentary order won't do the trick.  Moreover, it is at least
conceivable that a socialist mode and socialist structure of public discourse
would render parliaments unnecessary.

  As Paul mentioned, council socialists despise parliamentarism.  However, I
find Paul's arguments hard to accept.  In light of historical events like
Kronstadt or Hungary '56, I think it's rather difficult to defend the claim that
worker self-management leads to Stalinist repression.  Listen for a moment to
Castoriadis as he thinks over the socialist future:

The council is not a miraculous institution.  It cannot be a means for the
workers to express themselves if the  workers have not decided that they will
express themselves through this medium.  But the council is an adequate form of
organization: Its whole structure is set up to enable this will to self-
expression to come to the fore, when it exists.  Parliamentary institutions, on
the other hand, whether called the "National Assembly," the "U.S. Congress," or
the "Supreme Soviet of the USSR," are by definition institutions that cannot be
socialist.  They are founded on a radical separation between the people,
"consulted" from time to time, and those who are supposed to "represent" them,
but who are in fact uncontrollable and irremovable.  A worker's council is
designed so as to represent the masses, but may cease to fulfill this function.
Parliament is designed so that it never fulfills this function.

[from Cornelius Castoriadis, "On the Content of Socialism II" in _Political and
Social Writings_ vol.II, David Ames Curtis trans., (Minneapolis: U Minn Press,
1988), p.96]

This quote suggests to me that in order to attack the council socialists, one
must go after their claims about councils being an adequate and acheivable form
of political self-expression.


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