Boris Johnson and the Long Shadow of Stalinism
The capitalist bourgeoisie needs and defends democracy as a form of social freedom only as long as it is useful to its own class rule. Their understanding of democracy & freedom is structurally limited - only he is a full-fledged human being who is also a citizen of property. The real barriers of bourgeois democracy must be recognized & overcome. Learning from O Canada and imitating the 26 comunity centers in Vancouver could give us new perspectives on democracy & freedom.
ELECTION IN GREAT BRITAIN
The geese voted for Christmas.
A comment by Jörg Schindler
[This article published on December 13, 2019 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.spiegel.de.]
Boris Johnson has won the election house high and almost triumphantly, he can now govern through. Lost have decency, sincerity and integrity.
So one lies to his country and his queen from the first day in office. He meets opposition in his party by throwing the opponents out on edge. He mocks Parliament at every opportunity as a chatterbox, he makes fun of Members who fear for their integrity. He threatens the media with harsh consequences as soon as they become insubordinate. All of a sudden, he promises the people his party has cupped for almost ten years the blue sky. He avoids asking questions - or answers them with new lies.
And what do people do? They elect him back to office with an overwhelming majority.
So now Boris Johnson has finally reached his goal. And he has not only won this election, the third in four and a half years, he has triumphed in a way no Briton has triumphed before him for decades.
Johnson has plunged the Labor Party into a crisis from which it will not recover for years to come. He was the first Conservative in living memory to break through the red Labor wall in the centre and north of England and draw voters to his side, whose aversion to Conservatives seemed innate. He has swept away almost all the political rebels, including within his own ranks, who opposed his Brexit course.
From now on, Boris Johnson can practically do what he wants. He no longer has any natural enemies.
You don't have to be a social or liberal democrat to be shocked by the landslide that took place in England. Because the real losers of this election are not the Labor Party and the many voices of reason on all sides of the political spectrum. The real losers are decency, sincerity and integrity.
With this election result - and this winner - Britain has bid farewell to the growing club of countries that at best still regard democratic competition, the search for compromises and fact-based decision-making as a burdensome duty. They have now been replaced in the self-proclaimed motherland of modern democracy by the right of the strongest, the power of lies and the elimination of contradiction at all costs. Donald Trump sees it with goodwill. He has played his part in driving the British away from the old continent. He will continue to work on it with relish. And with Boris Johnson he has a now tremendously powerful ally who is not only outwardly similar to him.
No one knows what Johnson will do with his power. The man for whom it is so much easier to get to the top than to be to the top probably does not know that himself. He may indeed turn out to be the liberal, moderate conservative whom some still think he is. As one who cements what he has smashed to pieces. He is finally beginning to reach out to the 48 percent of Britons who voted to remain in the European Union in 2016. And who is really cautiously leading his Tory party on a new course so that it no longer ignores the growing poverty and grotesque inequality in the country.
But it may also be that the now finally unleashed Johnson is continuing the destructive course with which he has overrun the UK since taking office. That he continues to offend the Scots and Northern Irish.
And that he leads his country as far away from the EU as possible to continue the society-destroying deregulation and privatization work of his predecessors - with low tax rates and a hire-and-fire labor market like those on the other side of the Atlantic. Trump and the now strengthened Brexit radicals in his own party will push Johnson massively towards it. No matter what the price.
SIX THESES ON THE LONG SHADOW OF STALINISM
in UTOPIE (November 20. 2008)
[This article published in 2008 is translated from the German on the Internet, www.linksnet.de.]
The article takes up themes and theses that he presented in his latest book "The Long Shadow of Stalinism. Socialism and Democracy Yesterday and Today", Cologne 2007.
I. The intensifying transformation of democracy
The transformation of the ruling democracy that has been going on for decades - its internal erosion from a democracy in the sense of a government of the people by the people and for the people to the merely abstract-formal rules of a purely parliamentary democracy - has reached a new level under the conditions of neoliberalism and armed globalization, i.e. under the conditions of the so-called "war on terror". The democratic achievements and customs are questioned and dismantled by the rulers and the rulers. Central basic values of bourgeois enlightenment are severely shaken and eroded.
This crisis development of freedom and democracy promotes, on the one hand, a proliferating democratic fatigue and political apathy, a form of "disgust for democracy" that can take on extremely diverse forms.1 On the other hand, however, it also increasingly raises the question of the prospects for change and the alternatives to this process. This inevitably raises the question of a socialist alternative.
At first glance, then, the situation is not bad for socialists. The old doctrine of the classical labor movement is being updated before our eyes: The capitalist bourgeoisie needs and defends democracy as a form of social freedom only as long as it is useful to its own class rule, the rule of the free property rights of the individual, and the everyday functioning of capitalism. Their understanding of democracy and freedom is correspondingly structurally limited - only he is a full-fledged human being who is also a citizen of property. As soon as it has become the ruling class, the bourgeoisie takes the side of a merely negatively conceived freedom in order to be able to cling to its particular property egoism. It is their class interest to combat the insistence on social freedom of the lower classes.2
At second glance, however, we are faced with a powerful problem. For freedom and socialism do not fit together either - this tells us, with reference to the experiences with historical Stalinism and the communist world movement, not only the neo-conservatives and neo-liberals for decades, but recently also again leading representatives of the German left.
II Leo Kofler's three forms of freedom
In my opinion, what political-theoretical consequences do we have to draw from the experience of the 20th century in relation to the debate on democracy? I am concentrating here on a central aspect and refer here exemplarily to Leo Kofler, who already half a century ago poured the decisive democratic theoretical doctrine into his portrait of the three world historical forms of freedom.3
For classical socialism, the political freedom asserted in the bourgeois revolutions, i.e. freedom of citizenship and individual rights (i.e. freedom of coalition, assembly, religion and opinion, universal and equal suffrage, etc.), was the first world-historical form of real human freedom. The advancement of political to social democracy and freedom, which had been sued by the rebellious and fighting proletariat since the middle of the 19th century, is the second world-historical form of freedom for him, economic-social freedom.
But both forms of freedom, according to Kofler, are essentially conceived negatively - as "freedom from", as freedom from the feudal shackles, from personal dependence and political paternalism on the one hand, as freedom from material misery, from social oppression and deprivation of rights on the other. The third form of freedom in world history, the actual socialist idea of freedom, was, however, a positive one. Not the "freedom from" is in the foreground here, but the "freedom to", the freedom to an all-round development of the personality. For Kofler, however, this third form, this third stage of a world-historical freedom can only be achieved if the first two world-historical forms are not played off against each other, but inseparably united at a higher level.
Exactly such a synthesis, however, did not succeed in the 20th century. Civil liberty destroyed personal dependence in order to replace it with material dependence. Real-socialist freedom freed the working class from material insecurity and impoverishment at the cost of taking away its individual, formal level of freedom. While international social democracy in the course of the twentieth century confined itself to enforcing and defending the bourgeois stage of freedom by contenting itself with making the working class a formally equal component of bourgeois-capitalist rule, the communist movement limited itself to the enforcement of a certain form of social freedom that sharply opposed the bourgeois form of freedom.
So what was once conceived as a new synthesis of political and social freedom disintegrated into its two components with the integration of social democracy into late bourgeois democracy on the one hand and the Stalinist bureaucratization of the communist movement on the other. While some remained stuck in the first world-historical form of freedom, others barricaded themselves in the second. The third world-historical form, the actual goal of the socialist workers' movement, was "forgotten". In the course of the 20th century, both main currents of the movement thus abandoned their emancipative vision. The idea of emancipation and progress has turned into its opposite. There is no alternative to the social market economy, however it may be - this is called social democratic. In the case of historical real-socialism, on the other hand, this means that what it gave people economically, it took away politically. Where economically it went beyond bourgeois capitalist society, politically it has fallen behind its achievements.
With his theory of the three world-historical forms of freedom, Leo Kofler not only combined the critique of bourgeois freedom with the critique of real-socialist freedom in the 20th century. He does this also in the form of an actualization of the early bourgeois, radical-humanist goal for the socialist movement. According to Kofler, every new attempt at socialism will be democratic or it will not be at all. Every new attempt at socialism can only be victorious if it combines political freedom with social freedom in a practical and political way. Socialism thus proves to be the simple thing that is difficult to make.
III Luciano Canfora's understanding of democracy
With this Kofler interpretation scheme we have not only drawn one of the central lessons from the history of socialism in the 20th century. We also have the interpretation key to look critically at more recent discussions - for example, the discussion on Luciano Canfora's Short History of Democracy, which had a lasting impact on the left-wing feuilleton in 2006 and 2007.
While democracy in history is both - a centuries-old form of political and social freedom movement as well as a specifically institutional version of bourgeois-capitalist class society - the Italian left-wing professor Luciano Canfora writes his history of democracy as the history of a mere means of the ruling classes and strata to confuse the after-pressing. It lacks any real concept of what democracy is, or should be from the left, and does not write the history of struggles for social, political or cultural freedom, but the history of an increasing disgust for democracy. For him, freedom and democracy are "ultimately empty words".4 As a means of emancipation, democracy, more precisely democratic values, needs and forms, do not occur in him. He does not regard democracy as a conspiracy of the same, but only as a conspiracy of the rulers, as democracy from above. In a bad leftist tradition, Canfora absolutes the idea of a social democracy from the fundamental rejection of democratic forms. From the dialectical unity of freedom, equality and fraternity/solidarity he turns antagonistic, i.e. mutually exclusive, opposites into antagonistic, and accordingly feels compelled to abolish freedom and solidarity in order to propagate an equality in which, of course, on closer inspection, some are more equal than others.
To him, ancient and bourgeois democracy are no more than beautiful appearances, because they come from above as means of domination. Socialist democracy, on the other hand, can and must come from above as a means of domination. Ancient and bourgeois democracy is not one for him, because they are both inextricably interwoven with slavery. Socialist democracy, on the other hand, is such a democracy for him, even if, as in the case of historical Stalinism, it comes along with modern forms of slavery (the Gulag system). And because he does not understand the dialectics of democracy and socialism, that is, the special role that democratic values, needs and democratic political forms play in the struggle for socialism; because he unilaterally absolutes the idea of a social democracy in an undialectical manner and thinks he has to justify the educational dictatorial rule of a minority for reasons of historical philosophy, he makes himself the unambiguous apologist of Stalinism. In his history of the 20th century he reproduces the entire program of Stalinist logic, its arguments, prejudices and denunciations. He takes part in every historical turn of Stalin's political zigzag course and provides corresponding, historiographically charged justifications for all these turns.5
Canfora's arguments are anything but original. They have accompanied the socialism of the 20th century since it began to justify post-revolutionary conditions in the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the once "real existing socialism" - in which everything was real but socialism (Rudi Dutschke) - these arguments were represented only in small, marginalized circles of (N)Ostalgikern (for example in the discussion about the Weißenseer Blätter at the beginning of the 1990s) or in remainders of West German K-groups (for example in parts of the DKP and the MLPD). Today, however, the political and intellectual marginality of such theses on the left has been broken. Today, the same theses that once isolated Kurt Gossweiler or a Sahra Wagenknecht make intellectuals such as Hans Heinz Holz, Domenico Losurdo or Luciano Canfora into celebrated thought leaders who delight the left-wing mind and feuilleton. And for the first time one can hardly differentiate between the East and the West. What is also new here is that left-western traditions are clearly beginning to mix with left-eastern traditions.
Georg Fülberth, to quote only Canfora's most ardent advocate of the German left, sees in Canfora's work not only "a competent political textbook", but even "the historical foundation of a theory of democracy and its prevention in all previous societies of inequality". Even Uwe-Jens Heuer, who is much more credible in questions of socialist democracy, explicitly praised Canfora's work as "progress in democracy theory" in a contribution to the debate. And Oskar Lafontaine even upgraded it by an epilogue to the fourth edition.6 Thus someone is theoretically exaggerated who tells us in our struggle against the ongoing erosion of democracy that we cannot count on democracy in any form in this struggle, because it is only a means of domination of the elites.
IV. What is philistine or neo-Stalinism?
Among other things, a noticeably increasing general appreciation for Canfora and the other authors mentioned is reflected in a noticeably spreading philo- and neostalinism. What do I mean by that?
Stalinism was and is first and foremost a historical phenomenon and describes the Soviet Russian period under Stalin. Seen in this light, Stalinism was, in my view, a specific socio-political system of rule that was neither capitalist nor socialist - at least not according to the criteria of the socialist classics -, a frozen transitional society organized and directed by a bureaucratic layer coming from the workers' movement, the working class.7
But the social system founded by Stalin with violence and malice has not only survived its founder by decades, but has also been applied in other historical and geographical contexts. Stalinism in this context is not only a historical phenomenon, but also a political theory and practice, a specific kind of political thought and action, which as such can also be completely detached from the person of Stalin and from the Soviet Russian example.8
Despite this structural possibility of a detachment of Stalinist political forms from the Soviet Russian case study, neostalinism is all too often still recognizable by its relation to history. A contemporary philo- or neostalinist - I deliberately do not say: Stalinist - is thus in my eyes the one who historically or politically and theoretically adheres to this social system and its ideology of domination, who does not get rid of it in his thoughts either and who still today thinks he has to gloss over, defend, justify and reproduce both the theory and the practice of it.
And one recognizes it above all by two seemingly self-evident argumentation patterns. On the one hand, philo- and neostalinism repeatedly propagate a certain historical-philosophical "realism". For Canfora, his German Adlatus Fülberth and many others, this is the infamous Stalinist "Realism" - the supposed end of the world revolutionary process in the 1920s behind which the Stalinist myth of "socialism in one country" hides. Against the background of the supposed end of world-revolutionary processes in the early 1920s, the logic of the idea was that a proxy struggle between two world political camps had unfolded, in which above all the social goals count, not the democratic means. Here not only the real history of the 20th century as a century of permanent revolts and revolutions is turned upside down. Here, more than ever, an ideological theorem - and there is hardly any more - is used to play off the goal of social freedom against political freedom.
On the other hand, we are dealing here with a thoroughly bourgeois understanding of politics and, above all, of revolution. The socialist revolution is measured by the philo- and neostalinists (as by their predecessors) against the traditional understanding of bourgeois revolutionary processes. Socialist revolutions always come to these thinkers and leaders from above, in the form of a kind of educational dictatorship, because - just as in bourgeois thinking - the population is simply not mature enough for true socialism. Central to the transition to socialism was therefore above all the economic level of the development of productive power, on which the empire of freedom could then inevitably and mechanically build itself. And if only the economic and social goals of a supposedly well-intentioned bureaucratic ruling class are correct, then the crimes necessary for this must also be defended, because - according to the recurring figure of argumentation - the bourgeois revolutions also made use of such crimes.
V. And what does it feed on?
But why, materialistically speaking, does this past not want to pass away? Why does historical Stalinism continue to cast a clear shadow on the German left?
Part of the answer can certainly be found in the usual standard answer that philostalinism is a legacy of the past, an "eternal yesterday". Indeed, historical Stalinism continues to have an effect, both practical and theoretical. One cannot understand essential parts of the socio-political and socio-philosophical thinking of our time if one does not understand that in many ways, rightly or wrongly, it is an intellectual reaction to the history and ideology of Stalinist deformed communism. Even in Eastern Europe, which is now on its way to capitalism, Stalinism is still present more than just intellectually. Without an understanding of the once "socialist" bureaucracy, the mafiotic transitional capitalism of the East is hardly comprehensible. And the enlarged Germany has become a considerable part of the Eastern European heritage - politically, economically and culturally.
But it is precisely the still predominant "Ostalgia" that points to the fact that the long shadow of Stalinism, contrary to popular opinion, is not only fed by the long past history, but even more by the socio-political present. More than a desired return to the SED dictatorship, this (N)Ostalgia has something to do with "the desire to return to a period of social security and public welfare," as the British political scientist Peter Thompson emphasized once again in his decidedly inspiring (but unfortunately only available in English) book on the far-reaching crisis of the German Left a few years ago.9 The transitions to social authoritarianism and continuing Stalinist thought structures are, as Thompson also points out, especially fluent where there has been no real de-stalinization of thought - and this affects the German left more than other European leftists - and where this lack of de-stalinization mixes with the new realities of a socio-economic and socio-political barbarism that is spreading neoliberally. It is precisely in these processes that the recourse to Stalinist discourses finds its contemporary breeding ground.
Although this philo- and neostalinism does not yet embody an identifiable political-organizational current, it is above all a political-intellectual current.10 But precisely because, as a political reaction to the contemporary state of our now all-German social system, it is also the political theory of a latent political practice, it is time for a discussion of Stalinism that - as Peter Thompson has also pointed out conclusively - points far beyond a pure historical discussion. It should also not be repressed any further just because the political opponent likes to lead it - this argument has always been the gateway of all those who have sufficient reason to remain silent.11
This closes the circle at the beginning of my contribution. Contemporary discontent over the accelerating transformation of the ruling democracy has begun to politicize again in recent years. The question arises as to the perspectives for change and alternatives. Against this background, the philo- and neo-Stalinist tendencies are the political reaction to the contemporary state of our now all-German social system, an expression of an oppositional attitude as well as an expression of an at best halved emancipation, a structurally limited "force of negation", an unenlightened and politically counterproductive reflex and thus a political regression.
Against this background, we are confronted with a shadow that blows over to us not only from the past, but also from the future. For as long as social transformation processes beyond the bourgeois-capitalist form of society are considered, discussed and politicized, there will be the temptation of a sociopolitical substitutionism, i.e. of an authoritarian and educational dictatorial short-circuit, which has also and especially in historical Stalinism been as classically as fatefully reflected, but also, as already said, is able to largely detach itself from it.
VI No socialism without (radical) democracy
With their ideological offensive, the philistines or neo-stalinists I have called fall back into precisely that authoritarian, educational dictatorial form of politics that the left cannot convey a way out of its historical crisis simply because it was not least this authoritarian, educational dictatorial politics that brought them into this situation.
On the one hand, socialism thus becomes a continuation of bourgeois political methods, and it remains a mystery why people should commit themselves to socialism at all against this background. On the other hand, such an understanding of socialism cannot and will not realize that socialism can only become capable of hegemony and majority as a radical-democratic hegemony, that it can only win as the most comprehensive social and political self-activity of the majority of the population. And this can only happen if not only this spirit of universal democratic self-activity prevails in the minds of the people, but if this is also reflected in democratic forms of organization, in institutional organs of a socialist democracy, which are able to satisfy and perpetuate radical-democratic needs.12 Only when the people can recognize in their everyday practice that socialism means more democracy than capitalism, only then the breakthrough of a new socialism is secured.13
This is the simple socialism that is so difficult to make. And this is meant by the famous words of Rosa Luxemburg - written down on the occasion of the Soviet Russian Revolution - that socialist democracy "does not (begin) only in the promised land, when the foundation of the socialist economy is created, as a finished Christmas present for the good people, who in the meantime faithfully supported the handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy begins at the same time with the dismantling of class rule and the building of socialism. 14 When this was written 90 years ago, it was little more than a form of prophecy - albeit one resulting from the realization of proletarian learning and emancipation processes. Today one can regard these words as historically verified. And a left-wing discussion that does not draw this doctrine and falls back into the old templates of Stalinist thought is thoroughly regressive.
So also this womb is still fruitful. But the German left can only credibly begin afresh if it renews the difficult but necessary dialectic of democracy and socialism and does not allow itself to lose the key to political-intellectual renewal. The "disgust" for democracy, which also emerges in the philo- and neo-Stalinist currents, is not only a false, but even more a politically dangerous dead end in the reformation discussions of the left. For the half measures of bourgeois political emancipation are not overcome with the half measures of real-socialist emancipation.
Christoph Jünke - born 1964, lives as historian and journalist in Bochum, is chairman of the Leo Kofler Society e.V. and author of Sozialistisches Strandgut. Leo Kofler - Leben und Werk (1907-1995), Hamburg 2007. The article takes up themes and theses that he presented in his latest book "Der lange Schatten des Stalinismus. Socialism and Democracy Yesterday and Today", Cologne 2007. Most recently in UTOPIE kreativ: Off to the Last Battle? On the Critique of Domenico Losurdo's Neostalinism, Issue 118 (August 2000).
1 Jacques Ranciere: Hatred of Democracy, London 2006 (French original 2005), has dealt with this new form of disgust for democracy in an extremely stimulating way and has shown that under the new conditions of postmodern neoliberalism, classically conservative arguments have mixed with classically liberal and left-wing arguments to form a specifically new form of criticism of democracy.
2 Cf. Leo Kofler: Zur Geschichte der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft (1948), 8th edition Berlin 1992; ders.: Staat, Gesellschaft und Elite zwischen Humanismus und Nihilismus, Ulm/Donau 1960 (two-volume new edition under the title Vergeistigung der Herrschaft, Frankfurt/M. 1986 ff.).
3 I consciously speak of forms, and not, like Kofler himself, of stages of freedom, since I want to avoid the historical teleology that resonates with him here. See Leo Kofler: Perspektiven des revolutionären Humanismus (1968), Frankfurt/M. 2007. For the first time he formulated his teaching on the three stages of freedom in the article "Über die Freiheit" (On Freedom) published in 1951 in the left-wing socialist journal "pro und contra", reprinted in Leo Kofler: Zur Kritik bürgerlicher Freiheit. Selected political-philosophical texts of a Marxist loner, Hamburg 2000, pp. 30-39.
4 Luciano Canfora: A Brief History of Democracy, Cologne 2006, p. 331.
5 I have dealt extensively with Canfora's democracy book and the associated feuilleton controversy in my contribution "Luciano Canfora's understanding of democracy", in: Der lange Schatten des Stalinismus. Socialism yesterday and today, Cologne 2007, pp. 151-180.
6 Lafontaine's flamboyant plea for more direct democracy, published there, is quite apt and stimulating - but it cannot rely on Canfora's work, since it is a single (vulgar Marxist) polemic against the self-government of the populations.
7 In the first part of "Der lange Schatten des Stalinismus" (The Long Shadow of Stalinism), I presented an attempt at a critical reappropriation of the debate about what Stalinism actually was historically, with an exemplary view of leading thinkers of the socialist left such as Werner Hofmann, Isaac Deutscher, Georg Lukács, Leo Kofler and others.
8 The hegemonic parts of contemporary Stalinism research understand Stalinism as a purely historical phenomenon and explicitly reject an extension of the term beyond the focus on the Stalinist terror of the 1930s (cf. e.g. Jörg Baberowski: Der rote Terror. The History of Stalinism, Frankfurt/M. 2007). Even if this overlaps with certain traditions of left-wing historiography, I consider this to be historically and politically wrong.
9 Peter Thompson: The Crisis of the German Left: The Collapse of Communism, the Global Economy and the Second Great Transformation, Oxford 2005, p. 96.
10 What the British historian Edward P. Thompson formulated in the late 1970s still applies to them: "Historians should know that spinning, if tolerated - and even courted and cherished - can develop amazing efficacy and longevity. (After all, for any rational mind, most of the history of ideas is a history of spinning.) "The misery of theory. On the Production of Historical Experience, Frankfurt/M., New York 1980, p. 41).
11 The fact that my book on the long shadow of Stalinism sold well in the first three quarters of the year, but provoked hardly any significant discussions, is, in my opinion, part of this typical repression. Most of the journalistic organs of the left simply couldn't bring themselves to a meeting. The editor-in-chief of the Junge Welt even took a benevolent review (Joerg Boewe: "Trost für die Trostlosen", www.iablis.de/iab2/content/view/346/86) out of the paper again, even though it was already set, and instead published a short total summary of Robert Steigerwald, who explained my theses, which he did not present further, for outside discussion. It's hardly any different with Jürgen Meier's contribution in UTOPIE kreativ 212, June 2008, which also does not leave a good hair on my book and gives a far-reaching lecture on the precarious relationship between working class and peasantry in the post-revolutionary Soviet Union. Although my book is also about history, it is not a history book. One of the reasons why such reviews have to be called "slipping past the topic" is because of this, at best curiously, if such "misunderstandings" did not have their own logic. History still weighs like an album on the soul of the German left. That is also, but not only and not even above all - I like to repeat myself - a problem of history.
12 From here, the role of political organizations on the left could also be more strongly discussed.
13 "In reality, the socialist revolution in the West will only be able to triumph if it expands proletarian democracy as far as possible, far from restricting it. For only this experience, whether gathered in parties or councils, can enable the working class to recognize the real barriers of bourgeois democracy, can historically enable it to overcome them." Perry Anderson: Antonio Gramsci. Eine kritische Würdigung, West-Berlin 1979, p.99 (Emphasis: P.A.).
14 Rosa Luxemburg: Collected Works, Volume 4, p. 363.
in: UTOPIE creative, H. 217 (November 2008), p. 988-996
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion