14 February 2010

Article: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy

French communist political theorist Gilles Dauvé wrote his essay "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy" for the fifth annual "Vår Makt" seminar, organized by the Swedish group Motarbetaren in Malmö on 1-2 November 2008. The text surveys various theories and criticisms of democracy and discusses their respective limitations.

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Public opinion dislikes but understands those who despise democracy from a reactionary or elitist point of view. Someone who denies the common man's or woman's ability to organize and run himself or herself, logically will oppose democracy. But someone who firmly believes in this ability, and yet regards democracy as unfit for human emancipation, [...] gets the reputation of a warped mind who'll end up in the poor company of the arch-enemies of democracy: the fascists. [...] For all these reasons, the critique of democracy is a lost or forgotten battle. [...]

"Still, while most people go on at length about the failings of democracy, very few are willing to discuss its nature, because it appears as the best framework for human emancipation, and the only way to get it. [...] Communism opposes democracy because it is anti-State. Fascism only opposes democracy, because it is pro-State. We take on democracy as a form of the State, whereas reactionaries take it on as a political form they consider too feeble to defend the State. [...] Communists have had to deal with parliamentarianism as one of the forms (and not a feeble one) of government and repression. [...]

"[R]ejecting parliament does not sum up nor define our perspective, no more than despising the rich or hating money. [...] Dictatorship is the opposite of democracy. The opposite of democracy is not a critique of democracy. [...] [D]emocracy has been a distorted word ever since its return in the mouth of bourgeois revolutionaries from the 18th century onwards, and of most (but not all) socialists in the 19th and 20th centuries. [...] Democracy is not to be denounced and smashed, but superseded. Like other essential critiques, the critique of democracy will only become effective by the communizing of society. [...]

"The partial, confused yet deep communist movement that developed in the first half of the 19th century initiated an equally confused yet persistent critique of democracy. Both movement and critique were soon pushed in the background by the rise of organized labour that tried to make the most of bourgeois democracy. Yet every time the movement re-emerged, it got back to basics, and revived some aspects of the critique of democracy. [...] In the first half of the 20th century, new proletarian shock waves led to a reborn critique that (re)discovered these long-forgotten intuitions, but failed to be up to them. [...] The theoretical inroads made over 150 years ago have yet to be taken up. [...]

"Democracy is the most adequate political capitalist form. Whether we like it or not, democracy is an excellent expression of life under capitalism. It helps maintaining the degree of liberty and equality required by capitalist production and consumption and, up to a point, also required by the necessary forced relationship between labour and capital. [...] To put it bluntly, there's no practical critique of democracy unless there's a critique of capitalism. Accepting or trying to reform capitalism implies accepting or trying to reform its most adequate political form. [...]

"There's no point in sorting out bad (bourgeois) democracy and good (direct, worker, popular) democracy. But there's no point either in declaring oneself an anti-democrat. [...] There are no 'anti-democratic' specific actions to be invented, no more than systematic campaigns against advertising billboards or tv – both closely linked to democracy, actually. [...] So, in future troubled times, our best contribution will be to push for the most radical possible changes, which include the destruction of the State machinery, and this 'communization' process will eventually help people realize that democracy is an alienated form of freedom. [...] Democracy is the separation between action and decision."

In French, Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nesic in February 2009 published a book titled "Au-delà de la démocratie" (Beyond Democracy; my translation) with Éditions L'Harmattan:


The arguments of the book appear to be very similar to those of the above article.

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