Friday, September 24, 2021

Hopes and Fears for Democracy (1941)

From the September 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the present war the word democracy is continually being used by many who have different ideas as to its meaning. We are supposed in this country to have developed a means of democratic expression to a point beyond that reached by the people of other lands, but so long as the means of production are owned by the capitalist class democracy is worked in the interest of the exploiter. Bertrand Russell, in his book Power,” brings out a point or two in this connection.
  In democratic countries the most important private organisations are economic. Unlike secret societies, they are able to exercise their terrorism without illegality since they do not threaten to kill their enemies but only to starve them. By means of such threats, which do not need to be explicitly uttered, they have frequently defeated even governments, for example, recently in France.
The above is interesting and induces one to recall certain incidents nearer home, but the most striking statement in the book is the author’s contention that exploitation can take place in a country where the means of production are in appearance “commonly” owned if there is not full and free political democracy.
 Under any form of Socialism which is not democratic those who control economic power can, without ‘owning’ anything, have palatial official residences, the use of the best cars, a princely entertainment allowance, holidays at public expense in official holiday resorts, and so on and on. And why should they have any more concern for the ordinary worker than those in control have now? There can be no reason why they should have, unless the ordinary worker has power to deprive them of their positions. . . . To suppose that irresponsible power, just because it is called Socialist or Communist, will be freed miraculously from the bad qualities of all arbitrary power in the past is merely childish nursery psychology.
Of course the author is wrong in calling this a “form of Socialism.” The old Socialist was not far out when he wrote : “There can be no Socialism without democracy and there can be no democracy without Socialism.”

The suppression of democracy in Germany, Japan, Italy and Spain is an attempt to turn the clock back, and we are interested in the matter inasmuch as we are desirous of knowing to what extent the dictatorships are in line with the economic development. In other words, is there to be a curtailment of democratic privileges even in the so-called democratic countries? Capitalism is a system that will last until it is replaced, and those who live by exploiting labour power will not hesitate to use any means they may possess to safeguard their ownership of the means of life.

Who would have thought even five years ago that the French people, after over a century of democracy, would be compelled to submit to decrees of a dictator ?

Things slip back very quickly under certain conditions ; the privileges the working class are supposed to have enjoyed for generations may disappear overnight.

Some three years ago there appeared a book by Aurel Kolnai, “The War against the West,” which clearly depicted the dangers of “National Socialism.” The literature published by German writers was little read here before the present war, but a study of it shows that “National Socialism” is, and prides itself on being, the great counter-revolution against the Western revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

It is, according to Auriel Kolnai, an uprising against the ideas of 1789.
 Against liberalism and the rights of man, against any rational universal order and against the bare attitudes of Christian and Greek civilisation. The doctrines of National Socialism are deeply rooted in German history and expressive of some aspects of the German mind. Nazism is more than Prussianism has ever been, it is more than National Chauvinism. It bears within itself the seeds of pan-German Imperialism as well as a semi-religious pan-Fascist Imperialism. It is therefore not only a menace of war but a fountain head of propaganda. All economic and social issues in Germany have since the rise of Hitler been subordinated to one central thought—the approach of the epoch of the Germans on world history.
With the victory of the counter-revolution over the West, the nation “that will crush the humanitarian life of Europe and hoist the banner of true order,” will necessarily become the undisputed head and leader of Europe and all mankind—so runs the Nazi creed.

He concludes with Masaryk’s words: “Democracy is still in its infancy.” If we had to probe the subject more thoroughly we should in all probability find that the material conditions prevailing in Europe, and in Germany in particular, after the war 1914-1918, were in the main largely responsible for the appearance of Nazism and Fascism, but the ordinary writer does not look at things from a Socialist standpoint and considers that a particular ideology is responsible instead of reasoning the other way round.

The present struggle is spreading to every portion of the planet, and the ruling class of the democratic countries can only hope by arousing the working class of their own countries to be able to wage war whole-heartedly against the dictatorships.

To do this they must offer them something worth striving to attain, something worth the sacrifice, and Capitalism has nothing to offer. The question now arises, will democracy be maintained by the momentum of history by those people that are striving to subdue Hitler? Or will the working class of the democratic countries not only line up and fight Nazism but strive in the process to put an end to Capitalism and bring into being Socialism ?

We confess we do not know. Society springs many surprises upon us. Those who live by selling their labour power often take a course of action (generally a wrong one) which even Socialists do not anticipate. As stated before in these columns, events have taken charge and society is largely at their mercy. We cannot tell what is coming in the immediate future, but we know that Socialism must emerge in the long run. We also know what is our duty, and that is to boldly put forward Socialism as the only possible solution to the world’s problems. The common ownership of the means of life is now an economic necessity, and this, together with production solely for use under a democratic administration eliminates Nazism, war and economic worry.

When Socialism comes then is man free. Under Capitalism “the commodities control the producers.” Man is the creature of the mechanism of his own creation.

The war at bottom and in the last analysis is a blind attempt on the part of society to escape being crushed by the forces which man himself has developed and set in motion. Forces which he does not, and, under Capitalism, cannot control. He must understand the nature of these forces, and by understanding transform them from merciless masters into willing servants.

A knowledge of Socialism enables man to command by knowledge these social forces and change society for the benefit of all.
Charles Lestor

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Hat tip to ALB for originally scanning this in.