Correspondence -
Does Capital Own Democracy?

We received various comments on our leaflet on the Occupy movement, most of them supportive. It was good to see that some pro-revolutionaries whom we don’t know personally, took the initiative to reproduce and distribute it in cities where we don’t have a presence. Some gave us constructive criticism. There was in particular disagreement concerning our use of the term democracy in the leaflet. For instance, comrades of the Peruvian CIP (Collectivo Insurreccion Proletaria) wrote us:

“What we didn’t agree with was with the line: ‘The change must go deeper and must emancipate the oppressed, make them part of a real democracy instead of the sham that exists today.’ Democracy has existed since there has been a society of classes. To ask for real democracy would be in vain. By democracy we understand that it is: the freedom of the ruling class to fulfill their interests through laws, political structure, etc., to exploit the way they want to. The very nature of democracy implies that there are classes. The objective of proletarian struggle is not democracy (not even the most real democracy); the objective is the elimination of class society and exploitative relations. We don’t understand why you use that term (..).”

In their own leaflet, CIP wrote: “Now there are those who want to sell us the illusion of real democracy; the struggle for democracy is both redundant and absurd. It’s redundant because we are already living in it, it is the right of the ruling class to play with us freely, and for us to chose who exploits us more or less, who pollutes there as opposed to here. Real democracy will not end the exploitation that exists globally, on the contrary, it lives within it. Why struggle for something that already exists, for a ‘real’ democracy, for a ‘real’ exploitation? Why struggle for an exploitation more legal than what exists already?”

(Our translation from Spanish)

To this, we replied:

You see the concept of democracy as exclusively owned by the bourgeoisie and equate it with the state and parliamentarism. Yet the Webster dictionary defines “democracy” simply as “rule of the majority.” So when you write about “real democracy” that “we are already living in it”, you are saying that the majority already rules today. That’s absurd. We, on the other hand, speak of “the sham democracy that exists today” because it is not the rule of the majority but of a tiny minority (albeit bigger than 1%). It’s important to make that critique. Surely, the revolution will fail if it does not lead to a real “rule of the majority” (the collective worker). If we don’t want to call that “real democracy,” what do we call it? We see no reason why the word is more tainted by capitalist “democracy” than the word “communism” is by capitalist “communism.” Many left communists have a dogmatic position on this. The growing understanding that capitalist democracy is a sham, and that a real majority rule is needed, is an important source of the protests today. The right answer to the understandable tendency in the movement to fetishize democratic forms, is not to reject democracy but to contextualize it, to show how forms and content are tied together, how real democracy is impossible in a context of exploitation; how impotent any democratic reform today would be against the demands of capital, the logic of the law of value, a point our leaflet made.

We don’t use the word communism in a leaflet without explaining it, because it is so tainted. We contrast our understanding of it with that of capitalist “communism.” In the same way, we contrast communist democracy with the sham that is capitalist democracy. The leaflet did that, placing “real democracy” in the context of “a world in which competing corporations and warring nations are replaced by a human community that uses the resources of all for the benefit of all,” without exploitation. In an article this point would have to be elaborated more but in a leaflet, you have to keep up the pace and stay within 2 pages.

We think this is an important debate and we would like to pursue it with you. A comrade has summarized our position on this issue in the following statement. Please comment.

Democracy – Theirs and Ours

The criticism of IP’s leaflet because of its use of the term and concept “democracy,” is one that we reject. IP’s leaflet was clear that our concept of democracy has nothing whatsoever to do with bourgeois democracy, with its constitutions, parliaments, elections, all of which are situated within the framework of the capitalist state, and the operation of the law of value; all of which are constitutive elements of capitalist rule and the real subsumption of labor to capital. The democracy to which the leaflet referred in opposition to the “democracy” of capitalist society, was the democracy of the collective worker, the forms of which have existed in embryonic form in all worker’s struggles, in strike committees constituted in wildcat strikes, and in more developed forms when the class struggle has assumed a generalized and political form directed against the capitalist state, in worker’s councils or soviets, the bases first of dual power and then of the overthrow of capitalist rule. What was the Paris Commune, or the Soviets in Russia in 1905 and then again in 1917, but the manifestation of the democracy of the working class and its organs of power?

Are we to substitute for that democracy, the “organic centralism” of Bordiga and much of the tradition of the Italian communist left (and its ideological residue in some of its theoretical heirs)? For all of the theoretical contributions that the Italian left has bequeathed to the pro-revolutionaries of the twenty-first century, that particular legacy, with its rejection of any concept of democracy, and the claim that democracy is for the exclusive use of the bourgeoisie, is one that must be unequivocally rejected. The tradition based on the concept of organic centralism, in opposition to democracy, both within the political organizations of the working class and in its class organs, leads straight to Leninism and then to Stalinism; it cannot constitute a basis for the political intervention of pro-revolutionaries in the emerging class struggles. Rather than recount the sad history of the rejection of democracy for the working class, one written in blood over the course of the twentieth century, from Kronstadt to Barcelona, from Berlin to Paris, a history that is all too well known, let us point to the theoretical bases for a proletarian concept of democracy.

The collective worker is not simply subjugated by capital and the operation of its law of value. The collective worker also possesses the capacity, through its praxis to smash capital and its social relations (the very relations in which it has historically been imprisoned). That capacity, the product of it own history and struggles, includes the power to create a world beyond capitalism, to engender new and revolutionary social relations beyond the value form, to produce themselves and a world beyond class oppression and exploitation. Democracy is the political form or mode of the collective existence of the proletariat, now in its historical form as a global collective worker. It can both make possible the revolutionary struggle against capital and the political organization of a human community beyond capitalism. It is a theoretical task of pro-revolutionaries to elaborate a theory of democracy adequate to those tasks.


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