[Marxism] "49 armed factions in Syria" was: Syria rebels, activists denounce IS attack on Paris - Yahoo News

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Sun Nov 15 22:26:18 MST 2015

Luko Willms distinguishes between "concrete democratic rights" and universal 
suffrage, and insists that Engels makes the same distinction. This is an 
important issue, and I will show below that he is turning Engels on his head.

Luko Willms wrote:

 >  No, that is wrong. Engels even took great pains to explain to the German 
>movement that the concrete democratic rights are indispensable, first and 
>foremost the freedom of the presse, the freedom of assembly and the freedom 
>of association, while parliamentary elections, even common and secret and 
>equal elections are mostly a trap. I think that I mentioned not long ago 
>this article, a veiled polemic against the Lassaleans in the article "The 
>Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party", in english in the 
>MIA at 
> > <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1865/02/12.htm 

>  For example:
> >{Engels]  If the government decreed universal direct suffrage, it would from
> > the outset hedge it about with so many ifs and buts that it would in
> > fact not be universal direct suffrage at all any more.

But Willms takes the argument out of context. Engels is talking about a 
particular situation: 1860s Germany. Let's look into this.

 Engels distinguishes what might type of elections might be conceded by the 
bureaucratic-absolutist government of Bismarck representing "the feudal 
aristocracy and the bureaucracy" and elections under different conditions. In 
Germany in the 1860s, there was still the question of whether there would be 
a democratic revolution. Engels analyzes the concrete situation of that time, 
and distinguishes the type transformation Bismark aimed at in order to stave 
off revolution, and the type transformation that would be of most use for the 

When one reads the entire article, one sees that Engels is fervently in favor 
of universal suffrage; it is absurd to say that Engels distinguished between 
concrete democratic rights, which were important, and universal suffrage, 
which was supposedly mainly a trap. If one wanted to condense and simplify  
Engels' argument, it would be that universal suffrage can be a trap and an 
empty facade *if* there aren't other democratic rights,  but is extremely 
important when there are these other rights. This is exactly opposite to how 
Luko Willms understands him.

Also, one will see that Engels was not afraid to champion the overthrow of 
bureaucratic-absolutist rule in favor of a democratic government, even in the 
situation that this government was bound to be a bourgeois government. That 
is relevant to various of the democratic movements today. 

In the 1860s, the Bismarckian system of government could only have been 
overthrown if the bourgeois strata had supported this. The working class was 
faced with what its attitude to this should be. Engels calls the general 
democratic movement "the bourgeois movement", to indicate the distinction 
from the socialist movement and because democracy in Germany at that time 
would put the bourgeoisie into power, but he knew full well that not only 
capitalists were in that movement.

The concrete circumstances facing the masses has changed since the 1860s. The 
class situation is more complicated. But the general principles put forward 
by Engels - of the distinction between the democratic and socialist movement, 
of the need for the proletariat to participate in the democratic struggle, 
and the need of the proletariat to have its own independent standpoint during 
this struggle - remain valid.

Now for the quotes:

Engels writes, as if to repudiate Luko Willms in advance, "...the bourgeoisie 
and workers can only exercise real, organised, political power through 
parliamentary representation; and such parliamentary representation is 
valueless unless it has a voice and a share  in making decisions, in other 
words, unless it holds the 'purse-strings'. That however is precisely what 
Bismarck on his own admission is trying to prevent. We ask: is it in the 
interests of the workers that this parliament should be robbed of all power, 
this parliament which they themselves hope to enter by winning universal 
direct suffrage and in which they hope one day to form the majority? Is it in 
their interests to set all the wheels of agitation in motion in order to 
enter an assembly whose words ultimately carry no weight? Surely not."

So much for Engels' supposed denigration of the value of universal suffrage 
and parliamentary representation. 

 Luko Willms cites the following passage, but doesn't consider that Engels 
isn't referring to a French republic, but to the repressive Second Empire of 
Louis Bonaparte which existed at that time. Engels is not talking about what 
universal suffrage is in general, but about the Bonapartist parody of it. 

> >
> > And regarding universal direct suffrage itself, one has only to go
> > to France to realise what tame elections it can give rise to, if one
> > has only a large and ignorant rural population, a well-organised
> > bureaucracy, a well-regimented press, associations sufficiently kept
> > down by the police and no political meetings at all. How many
> > workers' representatives does universal direct suffrage send to the
> > French chamber, then? And yet the French proletariat has the
> > advantage over the German of far greater concentration and longer
> > experience of struggle and organisation.

Here Engels refers to what universal direct suffrage might mean, "if one has 
only a large and ignorant rural population, a well-oganised bureaucracy, a 
well-regimented press, associations sufficiently kept down by the police and 
no political meetings at all." In other words, if Bismarck grants a universal 
suffrage while keeping the other conditions -- and that's all Bismarck will 
do -- then it will be suffrage just like under the Second Empire and Louis 
Bonaparte in France.

Engels considered what would happen if the bourgeoisie did take political 
power from the Bismarckian regime. He wrote, in this same article, "The 
bourgeoisie cannot win political power for itself nor give this political 
power constitutional and legal forms without at the same time putting weapons 
into the hands of the proletariat. ....To be consistent, it must therefore 
demand universal, direct suffrage, freedom of the press, association and 
assembly and the suspension of all special laws directed against individual 
classes of the population. And there is nothing else that the proletariat 
needs to demand form it. ... With freedom of the press and the right of 
assembly and association it will universal suffrage, and with universal, 
direct suffrage, in conjunction with the above tools of agitation, it will 
win everything else."

But what if the bourgeoisie wasn't consistent (and in fact preferred to 
preserve the bureaucratic-absolutist government). In that case, Engels said, 
"there are two paths left to the workers":

"Either to drive the bourgeoisie against its will and compel it as far as 
possible to extend the suffrage, to grant freedom of the press, association 
and assembly and thereby to create the arena for the proletariat in which it 
can move freely and organise. That is what the English workers have done 
since the Reform Bill of 1832 and the French workers since the July 
Revolution of 1830...

The alternative, said Engels, would be to

"withdraw entirely from the bourgeois movement and leave the bourgeoisie to 
its fate.  This was what happened in England, France and Germany after the 
failure of the European workers' movement form 1848 to 1850. It can only 
happen after violent and temporarily fruitless exertions, after which the 
class needs to rest. It cannot happen when the working class is in a healthy 
condition, for it would be the equivalent of total political abdication, and 
a class which is courageous by nature, a class which has nothing to lose and 
everything to gain, is incapable of that in the long term."

But what if the bourgeoisie betrayed utterly (as in fact did happen). Well, 
Engels said, "Even if the worst came to the worst and the bourgeoisie was to 
scurry under the skirts of reaction for fear of the workers, and appeal to 
the power of those elements hostile to itself for protection against them -- 
even then the workers' party would have no choice but, notwithstanding the 
bourgeoisie, to continue its campaign for bourgeois freedom, freedom of the 
press and rights of assembly and association which the bourgeoisie had 
betrayed. Without these freedoms it will be unable to move freely itself; in 
this struggle it is fighting to establish the environment necessary for its 
existence, for the air it needs to breathe."

Does this mean that Engels was a reformist who recommend the workers should 
trail behind the bourgeoisie. Not at all. He wrote: 

"We are taking it for granted that in all these eventualities the workers' 
party will not play the role of a mere appendage to the bourgeoisie but of an 
independent party quite distinct from it. It will remind the bourgeoisie at 
every opportunity [and no doubt he doesn't mean simply by words--JG] that the 
class interests of the workers are directly opposed to those of the 
capitalists and that the workers are aware of this. It will retain control of 
and further develop its own organisation as distinct, from the party 
organisation of the bourgeoisie, and will only negotiate with the latter as 
one power with another. In this way, it will secure for itself a position 
commanding respect, educate the individual workers about their class 
interests and when the next revolutionary storm comes -- and these storms now 
recur as regularly as trade crises and equinoctial storms - it will be ready 
to act."

Since there was a possibility of democratic revolution, Engels would 
denigrate the miserable facade that Bismarck was aiming to implement. But 
when the revolutionary situation of the 1806s had past, Engels held that even 
the type suffrage granted by Bismarck could be used by an organized workers' 
movement. In the his introduction of March 6, 1895 to an edition of Marx's 
"The Class Struggles in France: 1848 to 1850", Engels wrote:

"There had long been universal suffrage in France, but it had fallen into 
disrepute through the misuse to which the Bonapartist government had put it. 
After the Commune there was no workers' party to make use of it. Also in 
Spain it had existed since the republic, but in Spain boycott of the 
elections was ever the rule of all serious opposition parties.  ...  It was 
otherwise in Germany. The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the 
winning of universal suffrage, of democracy, as one of the first and most 
important tasks of the militant proletariat, and Lassalle had again taken up 
this point. When Bismarck found himself compelled to introduce the franchise 
as the only means of interesting the mass of the people in his plans, our 
workers immediately took it in earnest and sent August Bebel to the first, 
constituent Reichstag. And from that day on, they have used the franchise in 
a way which has paid them a thousandfold and has served as a model to the 
workers of all countries."

 Luko Willms apparently regards these tactics as betrayal. He thinks that 
there is a contradiction between organizing to break the power of the 
bourgeoisie, and yet supporting the democratic movement. So he writes:

  >  No, no, our comrades were very clear: we fight for material democratic 
>rights, for the workers to take power out of the hands of the bourgeoisie.

But Engels had none of the sectarianism of LW, and saw the value of 
democratic struggle even in situations where socialist revolution was still 
distant. Indeed, if workers don't organize in those situations, they will 
never be able to carry out socialist revolution..

Luko Willms goes on to quote Lenin, and similarly stands Lenin on his head.  
He cites Lenin's "The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to 
Self-Determination" (October, 1915). Here Lenin defends the struggle for the 
right to self-determination even though it won't by itself bring socialism. 
LW again takes the exact opposite meaning from the article.

He cites many passages from Lenin, but the essence is that Lenin says that

> > It is absurd to contrapose the socialist
> > revolution and the revolutionary struggle against capitalism to a
> > single problem of democracy, in this case, the national question. 

LW interprets this to mean that the democratic struggle is always simply a 
part of the socialist revolution. But Lenin's meaning was just the opposite. 
It's that participation in the  democratic struggle is *not* an obstacle to 
the eventual socialist revolution, but is in the interests of the preparation 
of the socialist revolution. Thus Lenin says that "The Russian proletariat 
cannot march at the head of the people towards a victorious democratic 
revolution (which is the immediate task)...without immediately 
demanding...for all nations oppressed by tsarism, the freedom to secede from 
Russia."  (The parenthetical words, "which is the immediate task", are 

Geez, Lenin repeatedly and extensively discussed the different class nature 
of the democratic and socialist movements, of the need for the socialist 
workers to take part in the democratic movement, of the value of democracy 
for them, and of what their independent role in that movement should be. To 
torture quotations to mean their opposite is hardly a serious occupation.

Theoretical work has to be taken seriously. One shouldn't simply tear things 
out of context, but examine the real meanings of articles. One may agree or 
disagree with an article, but one should understand it properly. If one wants 
to see what is still vitally important, what is outdated and should be 
revised, and what simply refers to conditions that no longer exist, one has 
to understand articles properly.

I discuss the relevance of Lenin's view of the different class character of 
the democratic and socialist movements in my article "Leninism and the  
Arab Spring", www.communistvoice.org/46cLeninism.html. The struggles of the 
Arab Spring were important even though they were not going to bring about 
socialism. <>

> > 
> > We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with a
> > revolutionary programme and tactics on all democratic demands: a
> > republic, a militia, the popular election of officials, equal rights
> > for women, the self-determination of nations, etc. 
> > 
> > While capitalism exists, these demands - all of them - can only 
> > be accomplished as an exception, and even then 
> > in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves 
> > on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its
> > incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of
> > capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary
> > basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for
> > the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms.
> > 
> > Some of these reforms will be started before the overthrow of the
> > bourgeoisie, others in the course of that overthrow, and still
> > others after it. The social revolution is not a single battle, but a
> > period covering a series of battles over all sorts of problems of
> > economic and democratic reform, which are consummated only by the
> > expropriation of the bourgeoisie. 
> > 
> > It is for the sake of this final aim that we must formulate 
> > every one of our democratic demands in a consistently revolutionary way. 
> > It is quite conceivable that the workers of some particular country 
> > will overthrow the bourgeoisie before even a single fundamental 
> > democratic reform has been fully achieved. 
> > 
> > It is, however, quite inconceivable that the proletariat, 
> > as a historical class, will be able to defeat the bourgeoisie, 
> > unless it is prepared for that by being educated in the
> > spirit of the most consistent and resolutely revolutionary democracy. 
> > despite capitalist property relations remaining. 
>  Capitalist property relations can't be done away with the stroke of a pen. Forming a workers and farmers government, i.e. one which results from a mass movement of working people, and which rests upon the mobilised masses of working people, is only the first step which is needed to transform the mode of production and to do away with capitalist property relations. And a government which doesn't progress along that path, will lose the support of the masses and will lose its power, as it happened in Nicaragua. 
>  There are certainly revolutionary people in Syria, and especially are there workers in Syria, but they do not call the shots. Occasionally there is a street demonstration. 
>  But in order to advance on the path towards a socialist revolution, they will have to chase away and disarm all those power-hungry armed factions, and chart a course which goes over into an all-Arab mobilisation against imperialism and imperialist intervention, including all the national minorities within the Arab nation, from the Kurds and Hebrews in the Mashraq (East) to the Imazigh in Maghreb (West), and also the workers from the Indian subcontinent, the Philipines and other Asian countries which constitued the majority of the proletariat in the oil dictatorships on the Arab peninsula. And of course break with all those false friends who in their safe US, Australian or European homes join in with the talking heads of the Corporate News Networks and other Faux News regurgitating the propaganda of the enemy, i.e. imperialism. 
> Cheers, 
> Lüko Willms
> Frankfurt/Main, Germany
> http://www.mlwerke.de  
> PS: Sorry for the second send of my previous message, the one which Louis P. replied to. I was confused with my new setup, and did the resend 10 seconds too early, when the message to the list arrived at my computers doorstep.
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Joseph Green
mail at communistvoice.org

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