Held’s claim that Marx’s future vision involved “the end of politics”

In Models of Democracy, David Held claims that Communism heralds the end of politics. This premise rests on the distinction that Held makes between politics, direct democracy and the conflation of politics with the state, and not on any claims made by Marx.  Further than this, I shall argue that we are already, under the modern liberal state in a post political order, where politics proper has been reduced to social administration. ( Žižek, Badiou, Rancière) and that communism far from being the end of politics, is simply a form of politics different to the concept  of politics and economics as two separate spheres of activity and that the conflation of politics with the existence of the state is false.

 

In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx tells us that “freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it” [1] and his assessment of the modern democratic state as a “state which is nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms” [2] makes clear that the state is a repressive force. But perhaps one of the clearest articulations of the purpose of the liberal state is made by Lenin in The State and Revolution, when he asserts that the state is “simply the machine for the suppression of one class by another.” [3] The class relations of the capitalist mode of production are depoliticized, with the liberal state claiming to only make and enforce laws that uphold the legal rights of man and the protection of the free market system. Bob Jessop in The Political Indeterminacy of Democracy asserts “separation is an essential precondition for the reproduction of class exploitation.” [4] Held states, that the “claim that there is a clear distinction to be made between the private and the public, the world of civil society and that of the political, is Marx maintained dubious.” [5] At root, there is a clear reliance upon the state to facilitate capitalist hegemony, whilst the state makes false claims to impartiality. Seen in this way, it is not a pre-condition of politics that there should be a state, it is though a pre-condition of the mode of production which exploits one class for the benefit of another. For it is upon the base structure that the superstructure of politics and ideology rests, with the political system indivisible from its mode of production. Not only is the “clear distinction” dubious, but its maintenance as accepted common sense necessary to perpetuate the idea that politics in any proper sense can take place under the dominance of the capitalist state.

 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, with capitalism and its attendant liberal democratic doctrine triumphant over socialism, there is no longer any illusion that the state acts as anything other than “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole of the bourgeoisie” [6] The state’s claim to democracy is illusory with the collapse of competing political demands and the total subsumation of all ideology into one single unified consciousness. Neo-liberal economics and the politics of “self” places a limit upon democracy, politics is no longer an arena in which conflicting interests are mediated. The role of the state in the civil life of its citizens is limited to the creation and perpetuation of property laws, which extend capitalist hegemony. The very suggestion that class is no longer the driving force in competing political discourse is in itself a concept born out of and functional to the ideology of neo-liberalism. “The new right has, in general, been committed to the view that political life, like economic life, is (or ought to be) a matter of individual freedom” [7] Neo-liberal thinking is concerned with the “cause of liberalism against democracy by limiting the democratic use of state power” [8] The state is reserved for and dependent upon accumulation, expansion of markets, collection of taxes, and the management of contradictory expectations. The obvious contradiction is that whilst neo-liberalism seeks to limit the power of the state its existence depends upon the mobilization of the state as a powerful ideological and repressive institution that extends free market rule. The mobilization of violence and ideology, and the commodification of all human activity enforce the domination of the ruling class. This makes clear that liberal and democracy are contradictory terms, an oxymoron.

Marx tells us that “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given” [9] and if the state is the vehicle through which one class asserts its dominance over the other, it is necessary that the proletariat establish a dictatorship over the state. The dictatorship of the proletariat we are told should be democratic, but it is clear that the state is not an impartial arena in which class antagonism can be mediated, but rather, it is still an instrument of class dictatorship, in this way, we can see that the existence of the state is a bar to politics in any proper sense. The withering away of the state can only happen with the transition to communism, when all class differences have been eliminated. Held wrongly assumes that communism heralds the end of politics, when the dissolution of the state is the condition on which politics in any proper sense can be said to exist.

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Drawing upon Marx’s writing on the Paris commune that “The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time” [10] it is clear that Marx was concerned with how man had become estranged from his labour and alienated from his social being. He goes on to say “The communal constitution would have restored to the social body all forces hitherto absorbed by the state parasitic feeding upon, and clogging the free movement of society” [11] Only when politics is reconciled with the social life of men, can man be said to be participating in politics, and only with the overthrow of both the state and the capitalist mode of production can a true democratic politics inalienable from all people be established.

____________________________

1, McLellan, D. Karl Marx Selected Writings (Oxford University Press 1990), 564.

2, McLellan, D. Karl Marx Selected Writings (Oxford University Press 1990), 565.

3, Hunt, A. Marxism and Democracy ( The Camelot Press Ltd 1980), 32.

4, Hunt, A. Marxism and Democracy ( The Camelot Press Ltd 1980), 69.

5, Held, D. Models of Democracy (Polity Press, Cambridge 2013), 103.

6, Held, D. Models of Democracy (Polity Press, Cambridge 2013), 107.

7, Held, D. Models of Democracy (Polity Press, Cambridge 2013), 201.

8, Held, D. Models of Democracy (Polity Press, Cambridge 2013), 201.

9, Marx, K. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm

 

10, Marx, K. The Civil War in France

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm

 

11, Marx, K. The Civil War in France

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm

 

 

Bibliography

Held, D. Models of Democracy (Polity Press, Cambridge 2013).

Hunt, A. Marxism and Democracy ( The Camelot Press Ltd 1980).

Marx, K. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm

Marx, K. The Civil War in France

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm

McLellan, D. Karl Marx Selected Writings (Oxford University Press 1990).

 

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