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Democracy and Socialism: A Final Anticipatory Note

The fact that Structural Marxism is a modernist form of social theory does not mean that it is right, of course. It is the burden of this book to persuade, by argument, the value of what has just been asserted dogmatically. The reader must decide the extent to which the remaining chapters succeed as a useful synopsis of Structural Marxist theory and, more ambitiously, as a reassessment, synthesis, and defense of Structural Marxism. It is the reader who will decide whether or not the Structural Marxist concepts and positions discussed herein are as powerful as I find them to be and whether or not economic determination and class struggle will become once again central concerns for social theory. Despite its enormous explanatory power, however, I am under no illusions that Structural Marxism has resolved the "crisis" of Marxism. This crisis is not, after all, a crisis of scientific explanation but rather a political and ideological crisis of imagination manifested as the absence of a new vision of democracy and socialism that might serve as a feasible alternative to Fordism and Bolshevism. This book does not propose a political program, nor do I believe the presence or absence of a viable political strategy to be a valid litmus test for the claims of Structural Marxism as a science of history. However, Althusser and his followers do make a positive contribution to the resolution of the crisis


of Marxism, insofar as any revival of democratic socialist politics must spring from searching critique of existing capitalism and capitalist democracy and insofar as such a critique is contingent on our ability to see capitalism for what it is—a class-based mode of production that is inherently exploitive and fundamentally antithetical to democracy.

Ultimately, democracy and socialism are. indistinguishable. Any theory of democracy that fudges this elemental fact, in order to pretend that capitalist-representative democracy is of the same nature as socialist-participatory democracy or to argue that the former is evolving, slowly but surely, into the latter, is self-deluded and pernicious. Capitalist democracy is not simply a form of representation; it is a power structure that reflects and reproduces class inequality and exploitation by separating and delimiting those spheres that permit democratic principles from those that exclude democracy. No socialist strategy can be taken seriously that ignores or obscures the class barriers beyond which the extension of democracy becomes a challenge to capitalism.[13] No democratic strategy can be taken seriously that ignores or obscures the fact that real power in capitalist society does not rest on direct control of the state but rather on the existence of private ownership of the means of production and the exclusion of producers from control over them. Political rights may or may not be extended universally under capitalism, but if they are, the power of property depends on a rigid separation between the political and economic spheres and the relative autonomy of the state. Because liberal capitalism can never extend democracy into the economic sphere, "the people" can never have any real political power. Because the taproot of political power is economic, those with economic power decide what the issues are, what policies are acceptable, and who the candidates will be.

Participatory democracy rejects the separation of the economic and political spheres that is the mystical secret of capitalist hegemony. Participatory democracy does not mean that diversity and conflict will disappear from politics; it means only that class power will no longer be the structuring force behind political diversity and conflict. However, as C. B. Macpherson (1977) cautions, participatory democracy at the local level and delegated democracy at every level above that (with or without parties) will work only if decision makers and policy formulators elected from below are held responsible to those below by being subjected to reelection and recall. Participatory democracy must extend from the city council to the workplace, and thus socialism and democracy cannot be meaningfully dissociated. Socialism does not mean that market forces should not be permitted; it means only that the accumu-


lation process will no longer be controlled by a minority class responsible to no one in its pursuit of profits and possessing virtually unlimited powers over a working-class majority. Minority control over the means of production and the distribution of the social product, exercised by a capitalist elite (defined by private ownership) or by a bureaucratic class (defined by "public" ownership), precludes meaningful political participation by the majority of citizens by denying them responsibility and power. Distributive justice, even if such a thing were possible to decide upon and implement, is not enough: no matter how much class inequalities of income are reduced, class inequalities of power will remain to undermine, sooner or later, any merely juridical system of justice. The ruling class, Macpherson reminds us, does not vote primarily with ballots: it votes with money, influence, and power. Such a state of affairs produces and reproduces political apathy: inequalities of class power discourage mass political participation by rendering it virtually ineffective, while the absence of democratic control over the means of production completes the vicious circle by creating and perpetuating inequalities of class power.

A revival of democratic socialism can begin only with a scientific understanding of capitalism as a mode of production and representative democracy as an expression of class power. By insisting on the primacy of economic determination and class struggle, Structural Marxism not only explains more and better than its post-Marxist and postmodern rivals; it also makes possible, arguably inevitable, the emergence of a new vision of democratic socialism—a creative, utopian vision grounded in reality but aiming at its transformation and transcendence. Such a vision will not center on concepts of rights or justice, because these ideologies signify, at best, half-hearted, ineffectual efforts to protect a vast majority possessing formal rather than substantive freedoms from a small minority who actually exercise power and who actually are free. The new utopian ideology will center necessarily around the concept of equality, the only substantive concept of right and justice (a truism amply demonstrated by the virtual absence of equality from contemporary debates).

Despite the tragic absurdity of the notion that equality could be realized in the most backward regions of the world under the pressure of staggering internal and international obstacles, and despite the unfortunate (and oxymoronic) identification of equality with tyranny that has been successfully imprinted into the political unconsciousness of capitalist societies, only a fool can believe the ideal of equality can be eliminated permanently from a society where it represents the objective


interests of the majority. Capitalism itself necessarily keeps alive the ideals of equality, democracy, and socialism. Despite the misguided hopes of Althusser (and some of the others) that the PCF could be the agent of a viable renewal of the political ideology of equality, it remains the case that only the Marxist notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat—the ideal of the masses learning to govern themselves by the actual practice of governing themselves—that keeps alive the possibility that humanity might raise itself above the level of bestiality.

However discredited by the experience of Bolshevism, the ideal of equality remains the only ideological standard by which the social Darwinist kernel concealed by the humanistic husks of neo-liberal rationalism and postmodern dissidence can be exposed effectively. A commitment to equality is the only recourse for those who are truly concerned with democracy and socialism. The alternative is to accept the vision of the "end of history" being put forward by the New Right: permanent crises of overproduction and restructuring, permanent exploitation of a powerless working-class majority by a minority controlling the means of production, permanent subordination of human needs and social welfare to the exigencies of commodity production and capitalist accumulation, permanent domination of the people by an oligarchy monopolizing political power and controlling the political process; in short, the iron heel of capitalism stamping on the face of humanity—forever.

There is no point in pretending that democratic socialism is obtainable even in the intermediate term. At the same time, however, there is no reason to betray the possibility of such a future by intellectual backsliding and accommodation to the capitalist status quo. I do not believe that the humanist-moral-spiritual-ethical rebellion against capitalism expressed by figures as diverse as Bloch, Sartre, Marcuse, Thompson, Foucault, and Habermas is antithetical to the conviction of Althusser and his followers that an objective science of history, necessarily Marxist in orientation, is possible. I am, however, convinced that there is nothing useful to be gained by conflating the anticipatory principle of hope and the analytical principle of knowledge: the best hopes, it seems to me, spring from possibilities that actually exist. Said another way, it is also the responsibility of the reader to take a position for or against the renewal of social theory, for or against the contemporary evasion, if not outright repression, of the central task of any science, social or otherwise: telling the truth about its object.


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