Hannah Arendt

rakesh bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Fri Sep 13 04:37:12 MDT 1996


Both Louis P and Russel P have posted on Hannah Arendt. In *On Revolution*
Arendt discusses workers' councils in the stimulating last chapter "The
Revolutionary Tradition and Its Lost Treasures"--which I read today in
between other things.

It does seem at points that Arendt's argument is quite similar to Paul
Mattick's defense of councilism against Leninism in *Marxism: last refuge
of the bourgeoisie* or *Anti-Bolshevik Communism*, though I know of no
political theoretic work comparing Arendt's political philosophy to the
council communists--almost makes me wish I was still a political theorist.
At any rate, I would recommend to Russell's former Leninist friend that he
check out Pannekoek's writings as collected by Serge Bricanier and
Mattick's works.

I do not have time to really think through a criticism of Arendt's
discussion of workers' councils.  My sense however is that Arendt as
theorist is playing the same function that she attributed to conservative
parties: "The enormous popularity of the councils in all 20th century
revolutions is sufficiently well-known. During the German revolution of
1918 and 1919, even the Conservative party had to come to terms with the
*Raete* in its election campaigns." (326)

I think Arendt comes to terms with the councils in this chapter by
attempting to dilute them of their revolutionary implications.

Why do I say this?

1. I am quite uncertain what sorts of transformative activity Arendt is
proscribing via  her restriction of council activity to politics only
(though of course Arendt's conception of politics is quite distinctive).
However, why does she suggest that councils should not advance certain
"social and economic claims"?   Also, by arguing against worker management
of factories  what dehumanizing aspects of the despotism of capital is she
building into her vision of a free society?

2. Arendt divides people up among those who will pursue political freedom,
those who will administer to necessities and those who will simply claim
the modern right of self-exclusion from politics.  This vision seems quite
impoverished compared to Marx's  idea that by social cooperation we can
minimize necessary labor time, on the basis of prior technological
developments, and open up to humanity as a whole the realm of freedom in
which the possibilities for the development of true social individuality
will flourish. Arendt seems not only to maintain certain elitist and
hierarchical divisions among people but also to fall quite short of Marx's
radical vision of a *universal* leap into the realm of freedom.

3. Why is Arendt so certain that councils and political freedom in general
will only appeal to certain elite workers?  Why is it that that the mere
mass of workers will never be interested in political freedom? This she
should have asked herself.  Perhaps mass workers will  be interested in
what Marx conceptualizes as the realm of freedom, though their sense of
themselves  *under capitalist conditions of production* may be at times too
undermined for Arendt as they have none of those special skills which
underpin the confidence and initiative Arendt takes as signs of the noble
and truly political person.

 Still the question of the freedom of the mass of humanity as the
abstract,easily replaceable proletarianized labor we have become cannot
simply be reduced to what Arendt reserves for us: the right of
self-exclusion from politics.  Perhaps for the mass worker there are
important and interesting 'political' questions which do have "social and
economic" content--in particular about what freedom would mean in terms of
how social labor *as a whole*  is organized and  minimized.  Also, what
presently socially necessary work would simply be abolished in a new
society; how much free time should people enjoy?   I don't see why these
questions would only attract the political interest of elite workers.

4. Arendt strongly criticizes the idea that councils are actually a form in
and through which class struggle is fought; she explicitly dismisses Max
Adler.  While Mattick would also argue against the subsumption of councils
to a Leninist party, he would not disagree that they are a form of class
struggle.  So this raises the question whether Arendt is dismissing more
than overcentralism in her attempt to separate council politics from class
struggle.  This may include questions of the internal organization of
factories. Moreover, there must be some way of coordinating our
interdependent activities, and I don't think Arendt or for that matter
Mattick ever take up this question systematically--the question cannot be
dismissed as one only for Leninists or a simple crude question about 'class
struggle.'    This is now a major topic of debate on the marxism 2 line,
however.

5. At times Arendt seems to suggest that the motivations truly political
must have are so lofty that one wonders that her political theory serves
not only as a counter-ideal to the Party destruction of the council forms
in which the really noble workers come to realize themselves through speech
and politics. One wonders in short whether this Athenian idea of democracy
really only serves to devalue the everyday mass struggles, with all their
manifest social and economic content.  No doubt the final goal is one of
free and equal participation among people and this will require new social
and political organization if people are to gain such power--and Arendt
must appreciated for having such vision to locate this fundamental question
given the vulgarity of American political science.   But that is the final
goal, and there seems to be no room or appreciation for everyday struggle
in Arendt's theory of the ideal political form.

Rakesh




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