Our advise: Look for (new?) glasses

J. Levi replies to Earl Gilman criticism that we apparently avoid the “dictatorship of the proletariat”… The letter exchange was published in the Weekly Worker on 5 September and 12 September and was originally a reply on Geary Middleton’s article that was published on the 29th of August.







We will start with comrade Gilman’s letter:

Geary Middleton has announced a new Marxist discussion group on the internet. His article refers to the need to “win the battle of democracy” and the need for a “democratic republic”.

However, the omission of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ does not seem accidental. If the phrase is offensive, we can use another one. But we need to be clear that workers’ democracy does not apply to our oppressors.

This discussion group seems to be a revival of the Menshevik and Bolshevik positions of 1905, when the tsar was forced by the mass movement to institute a congress or duma. Both factions then thought the tsar could be overthrown to institute a ‘democratic republic’. Trotsky broke with that position at the end of 1905 and proposed the process should lead instead to socialist revolution.

Though there are a few tsars and military dictators still left today that might justify focusing on a ‘democratic republic’, most capitalist regimes now maintain that they already have a ‘democratic republic’. But ‘democracy’ is a class issue. Democracy for whom? Democracy for what?

Earl Gilman

And our reply:

I first want to thank Earl Gilman for his letter “Class issue” in the previous issue of the Weekly Worker. As a newly-found website we will inevitably face issues some times or make mistakes. It is, therefore, great to get criticism and suggestions that can help us and we strongly encourage such criticism.

However, there are some particular issues with comrade Gilman’s letter.

Gilman accuses us of leaving out the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and neglecting the fact that democracy “is a class issue”. He says this in reply to the article by comrade Middleton announcing the Marxist Center.

In his article Geary Middleton referred to the articles that had already been posted on the website. He takes key-phrases from the articles to show what the article is about and arguing for. Comrade Gilman takes particular issue with the need to “win the battle of democracy” and the need for a “democratic republic”. This refers to the article “Programme: a compass to liberation” by Geary Middleton and the article “To win the battle of democracy” by me.

I assume that comrade Gilman has read these articles, but I want to repeat some key aspects of them to make clear why I take issue with Gilman’s criticism. Gilman, who, asserts we have omitted the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. In his article on programme, Geary Middleton explicitly notes that the minimum programme is “really nothing more than the programme that, given its full implementation, results in the political rule of the proletariat. Every aim though can be, in principle, concretely fought for under capitalism. So it is not some unrealistic maximalist “wish list”, but a concrete list of objective demands that lead to a weakening of the existing state and a strengthening of our class, with the logical conclusion of proletarian power, which would mean a radical form of direct democracy”.

In the article about democracy, I start by giving an outline of some of the key parts of bourgeois’democracy’ and conclude that bourgeois ‘democracy’ “is a system that is build up in ways that can only favour the bourgeoisie” and that “even the most democratic system runs in favour of the dominant class, in a class society”. In my outline the questions Gilman has: “Democracy for whom? Democracy for what?” are clearly answered when I note that with the abolition of class-society comes the need for new forms of democratic decision-making and give some ideas on what such decision-making could look like. I conclude that “we must struggle for the extension of democracy as far as is possible in bourgeois society. But we must also recognize its limits and conclude that for real democracy we must go beyond capitalism” I then end the article by citing a famous phrase Marx once wrote in an insignificant little piece commonly referred to as the Communist Manifesto: “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy”

It is clear why Gilman’s criticism is problematic. Not only is the class-nature of democracy mentioned numerous times, so are ‘phrases’ about the proletariat in “the position of ruling class”, “political rule of the proletariat” and “proletarian power”. I wonder how many times the dictatorship of the proletariat has to be mentioned before comrade Gilman is satisfied.

Gilman notes that democracy does not apply to “our opressors”. He then gives some information about the Bolsheviks and the democratic republic.

It is interesting how we are accused of old Bolshevik and Menshevik stances. Especially on the question that workers’ democracy does not apply to our oppressors. Is workers’ democracy a democracy that has a new state-form that is needed for the rule of the ruling class (the proletariat)? Yes, the proletariat is the new ruling class and proletarian democracy works in the interest of the ruling class just as much as bourgeois democracy does, the class that benefits is different and the way to make the proletarian state work in proletarian interests is to do away with the bourgeois state. This should not be new for comrade Gilman. However does the dictatorship of the proletariat by definition mean taking away any kind of possibility of participation for the former ruling class? I am afraid this has to be answered in the negative . Much like the ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ today, the dictatorship of the proletariat solely refers to the political hegemony of the working class, which can take various forms. This might be disappointing for people who want to re-enact the Russian revolution, however as Lenin said in Renegade Kautsky: “the question of restricting the franchise is a nationally specific and not a general question of the dictatorship. One must approach the question of restricting the franchise by studying the specific conditions of the Russian revolution and the specific path of its development” we must not take the events of the Russian revolution as dogma to be repeated again and again.In certain cases the restriction of franchise, as Lenin called it, might be needed but it is not per definition part of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

If comrade Gilman is interested in what is meant by the term “democratic republic” in the following weeks Geary Middleton will continue his series on the programme with articles about the transitional programme and the democratic republic.

While we welcome comrade Gilman’s criticism, we hope that next time you will either read the articles or pay better attention to what is being said rather than making assumptions and call us ‘Mensheviks’.

J. Levi