June 16, 2021
From Spectre Journal

[1] Crucially, as they put it one year after the Parisian uprising, the Commune demonstrated that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Preface to a new German edition of The Communist Manifesto as cited in Engels’s Preface to the 1888 English edition of that text. Available in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The Manifesto of the Communist Party” in Karl Marx, The Revolutions of 1848 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973), 66.

[2] David McNally, “The Return of the Mass Strike: Teachers, Students, Feminists, and the New Wave of Popular Upheavals,” Spectre 1, no. 1 (Spring 2020): 12-37.

[3] Colin Barker, Neil Davidson, and Gareth Dale, “Introduction” to Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2021), 5.

[4] To be clear, there are many different shades of opinion in DSA, not all of them embracing the legacy of Kautsky. The key popular text of the new Kautskyism is Eric Blanc, “Why Kautsky Was Right (and Why You Should Care),” Jacobin, April 2, 2019. I cannot discuss here the degree to which the new Kautskyism relies on tendentious criticism of the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg.

[5] See David McNally and Charles Post, “Beyond Electoralism: Mass Action and the Remaking of the Working Class,” Spectre 2, no. 1 (Spring 2021). As we point out there, it has been the overwhelming attitude of revolutionary socialists to favor participation in parliamentary politics, but not to support elevating such work above building mass strikes and struggles in working class communities.

[6] The term “passive radicalism” was used in 1912 by the left radical Anton Pannekoek to characterize Kautsky’s politics. Kautsky accepted the term with respect to specific forms of mass strikes and street demonstrations in an article entitled “The New Tactic.” See Kautsky, “Die neue Taktik,” Die Neue Zeit 30, no. 2 (1912): 695. Available at https://www.marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/kautsky/1912/xx/taktik.htm. For an English translation of this passage see Anton Pannekoek, “Marxist Theory and Revolutionary Tactics” in Pannekoek and Gorter’s Marxism, ed. D.A. Smart (London: Pluto Press, 1978): 64. For the record, I consider Pannekoek’s pre-World War 1 critique of Kautsky to be highly insightful, notwithstanding his later embrace of (“abstentionist”) positions on parliamentary activity and work in mass trade unions from which I dissent.

[7] For a few helpful critical pieces see Charlie Post, “The ‘Best’ of Kautsky isn’t Good Enough,” Jacobin, March 9, 2019; Mike Taber, “Kautsky, Lenin and the Transition to Socialism: A Reply to Eric Blanc,” available at https://johnriddell.com/2019/04/06/kautsky-lenin-and-the-transition-to-socialism-by-mike-taber/; Gil Schaeffer, “The Curious Case of the ‘Democratic Road to Socialism’ That Wasn’t There,” New Politics, April 24, 2020.

[8] A claim made by Blanc, “Why Kautsky Was Right.”

[9] Ralph Miliband, Marxism and Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 155, 166, 169.

[10] See David McNally, “Race, Class, the Left, and the US Elections, Studies in Political Economy, forthcoming 2021.

[11] See the detailed discussion in China Mieville, October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (London: Verso Books, 2017), 270-90. See also Alexander Rabinovitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd (New York: W.W. Norton, 1976), Ch. 13-15.

[12] Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin Press, 1971), 251-52.

[13] However, Miliband imagined organs of popular power, like workplace and neighborhood councils, acting in a “supportive” relation to a left-leaning parliamentary regime, not encroaching upon its powers. See Marxism and Politics, 188.

[14] I say this based on my own exchange with Miliband at an event, chaired by Ellen Meiksins Wood, at Glendon College, Toronto in early 1979. I will discuss this exchange at the special event for Spectre editors and sustainers on “Revolutionary Rehearsals” on June 30, 2021.

[15] Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism, new edition (London: Verso Books, 2000), 258, 261.

[16] Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism, 261-62.

[17] The exact relation between institutions of parliamentary and direct democracy is a concrete question that can only be resolved in specific circumstances. It is not terribly difficult to imagine, however, that a US Congress elected prior to a mass upheaval might become a deliberate block on the advance of popular power.

[18] See for instance, Ian Birchall, Bailing Out the System: Reformist Socialism in Western Europe 1944-1985 (London: Bookmarks, 1986).

[19] Contrary to a lazy claim, this has nothing to do with disavowing all forms of political representation. As the Paris Commune, the soviets of 1917, and other experiences demonstrate, council-style democracy involves elections. Recallable delegates of the people do indeed represent those who elected them. It is simply that they are subject to much more effective forms of mass pressure and accountability, including recall.

[20] Blanc, “Why Kautsky Was Right.”

[21] Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism, 265.

[22] The latter is true of Leninists as well. As Miliband noted (Marxism and Politics, 163), “Leninism was not a revolutionary strategy hostile to parliamentary participation.”

[23] See McNally and Post, “Beyond Electoralism.”

[24] Susan Buck-Morss, Revolution Today (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019).

[25] Spectre will be organizing quarterly web events exclusively for our sustainers and editors. To be a part of these events, you can become a sustainer here: https://spectrejournal.com/donate/

[26] Buck-Morss, Revolution Today, 62.

Source: Spectrejournal.com