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Marxism and liberalism

Matt McManus, Andrew Arato, Donald Parkinson, and August Nimtz

Platypus Review 135 | April 2021

On December 12, 2020, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel titled “Marxism and Liberalism.” Panelists were asked to address the following prompt: Today, many on the Left, particularly the Marxist Left, seek to distinguish their politics from that of liberalism. Some criticize liberalism and others try to recover certain elements of liberalism. What was the relationship of Marxism to liberalism and how did the former emerge from out of the latter? How did Marx criticize or take up liberalism in his time and what can we learn from that today? The speakers were Matt McManus of Whitman College, author of The Rise of Postmodern Conservatism, Andrew Arato of The New School, Donald Parkinson of Cosmonaut magazine, and August Nimtz of the University of Minnesota, author of Marxism versus Liberalism. Printed here is an edited transcript of the event. Complete video of the discussion can be found online at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu5x0aklArw&t/>.

Opening Remarks

Matt McManus: One of the key things to stress is that my interpretation of Marxism and liberalism, as presented in my books and articles, derives a great deal from my reading of the conservative and reactionary tradition, particularly as presented in my book The Rise of Postmodern Conservatism, which came out a little while ago. As Žižek and Adorno amongst others have taught us, we can learn a lot about ourselves as leftists by seeing how we appear to others, including those in the reactionary tradition. Summarizing very briefly the reactionary worldview is complex, and it has in itself a very interesting and often dark history. But reactionaries tend to see reality as inherently chaotic and requiring the presence of order, sometimes human order, sometimes transcendent or divine order, in order to maintain its value. This order in an earthly setting can only be generated by superior individuals who rise above the morass of mass culture and provide stability and a sense that there is worth in the world. They can only do this when they are granted sufficient strength, which needs to be tied, of course, to various kinds of political authority. And the strength and political authority of reactionary icons is what enables them to hold the world together. Consequently, the deepest anxiety on the part of reactionaries is the democratic possibility that the demos will eventually become in charge, which will undermine the capacity of the superior people to enact the kind of changes and enforce the kind of order that is necessary. So the thinking of most reactionaries, consequently, tends to be deeply hierarchical rather than democratic.

Now of course, reactionaries frame their understanding of hierarchy, value, and all these kinds of questions in very different ways. Classic Aristotelians tend to pine today for a hierarchy of virtue, where the individual conforms to the needs of the Christian community as a whole and is of course directed by the grace of God. Christian Catholic Aristotelians are very different of course from Nietzschean Aristocrats, who want to return to Dionysian violence and animosity. And all these figures of course are very different from Catholic reactionaries, figures like Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, who claim to be liberals or libertarians, but whose support for freedom is very contingent on freedom being understood as a defense of capitalism. These kinds of figures tend to believe, contra earlier conservative figures, that the so-called freedom granted by capitalist societies allows all to compete in the market so that the truly superior and creative individuals will emerge — typically male figures. This is characterized by these reactionaries as more rational than the superstitious hierarchies of yore, which tended to be founded on transient or fragile belief systems like religion, but it is in fact oriented by a similar logic of naturalizing and defending inequality and similar limitations on social freedom. This is also why figures like Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand can turn on the ideal of freedom if they feel that it abets the wrong people “gaining power.” And you can see this, for example, when people like von Mises argued for limitations on workers’ rights to expression when they tried to use those rights to expression to go on strike, or when Ayn Rand argued that indigenous people were not entitled to property rights when it came to their land, because they supposedly were not using it properly.

So the central conceit of the conservative or reactionary mind is that the world must be organized hierarchically, and consequently, conservatism tends to serve as an ideological defense of power, as somebody like Corey Robin would put it. To the extent that conservatives feel the need to compromise with democracy and demands for freedom, it will always be in a limited sense. So, for instance, you see this with conservative conceptions of democracy, which tend to be highly stratified and populist. So the truly deserving people, which usually includes non-criminal elements, non-immigrants, and so on — they are the ones who are entitled to democracy and society and not the rest of us. And we see that now with the emergence of postmodern, conservative populism. By contrast, with the emergence of modernity, two new principles came to be emphasized that were very different from what reactionaries believed. These two principles were espoused in many different ways by statesmen like Jefferson, participants of the French Revolution, political theorists like Hobbes, and of course philosophers like Kant and Mary Wollstonecraft. I understand them as follows.

The first principle that is characteristic of modernity is a stress on the moral equality of all human beings. Now what this moral equality means and where it comes from, again, differ widely. Some defended it in terms of equality before the law, some defended it in religious terms by saying that all men are created equal by God, and other natural-rights theorists argued that everyone in a state of nature enjoys equal rights from the beginning. And flowing from this doctrine or principle of moral equality was the commitment that individuals should enjoy simple amounts of personal freedom. This flows from the first principle, since if all people are equal, contra the reactionary disposition, no one should be entitled to political authority to impose their vision of the good life on anyone else. They can try to persuade individuals to adopt their vision of the good life, but they cannot enforce it.

These two modernist principles were of course foundational to early liberalism. Now they were always imperfectly respected and implied, of course, even by liberal standards: Women were denied equality and freedom, as were ethnic and racial minorities. But the principles proved sufficiently powerful that there was a moral impetus to denaturalize power and to uproot many of the defenses of hierarchy given by the conservatives, and tremendous pressure was applied to reform. his became linked to a progressive vision of society as one of constant change rather than a naturalized equilibrium, as favored by conservatives. As the Canadian philosopher Will Kymlicka put it, these two principles created a moral impetus for greater change and inclusion over time. Now I believe that many liberals imperfectly systematized and understood these principles, and it was only with the emergence of someone like Hegel that they were raised to a level of sufficient self-consciousness and historicity. Obviously that is very complicated, so I will not stress it here. But where somebody like Marx truly innovated on all these figures was recognizing that the liberal demands for equality and freedom that were characteristic of modernity were highly idealized in the absence of a materialist critique of political economy. It is important to say here, when I say “innovated upon,” I mean in the dialectical sense. As Igor Shoikhedbrod points out, Marx is far too clever to think of himself as simply radically breaking with what came before, which was of course the era of utopian socialists like Fourier. He was very considerate of the fact that his innovations were derived from a historical interpretation of what came before.

How I think Marx dramatically improved upon liberalism is threefold. The first is his acknowledgment, following Hegel, that equality and freedom are valuable not just for abstract, atomized individuals, but because they allow us to recognize one another and self-consciously construct our social life together. This is where his well-known slogan, “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all,” comes in.

Secondly, Marx recognizes that we will never be free to recognize one another and self-consciously construct our social world together under the conditions of modern capitalism as they stand now. There are a lot of reasons for this, of course, but drawing on Axel Honneth, the key one I will stress is that the freedom and equality defended by liberals is incomplete. We are neither secure in our material needs, which is of course the condition for genuine and substantive freedom, nor are we capable of exercising meaningful social freedom in political democracy. And indeed many early liberals were either hostile to or cautious about the idea of democracy in a way Marx was not, which I think is a dramatic improvement that he made over early classical liberals.

And thirdly, Marx recognizes that the normative ideals of realizing freedom and equality in a genuine democracy can never just be argued for morally. This is the problem with bourgeois political theory and for that matter also with utopian socialism. In the absence of a sustained, dialectical critique of political economy linked to a deep understanding of the evolving operations of power both in the era of the nation state and neoliberalization, and what I'm now calling the postmodern conservative revolution, we are only pissing in the wind, as we say in Canada, intellectually, if we limit ourselves to simply postulating moral ideals and hoping that one day they will be realized in a more emancipatory society.

Andrew Arato: As a Marxist, of course, one should first and foremost focus on the great struggles of the time, of a given epoch, and I think at the present moment the battle between Marxism and liberalism is not that struggle. We see authoritarian populism's challenge to political democracy in lots of places, and I think those of you who are interested in politics should be first and foremost interested in that issue. Nevertheless, I will stick to the topic you have assigned me.

Of course, the problem is which Marxism, and which liberalism? Because ever since the early works of Marx, there have been many “Marxisms,” some of them his own and Engels’. And of course, since their deaths there are many more. There is a fundamental division in the Marxist camp between reformists, who follow in part the old Engels, and revolutionaries, who stick to the earlier perspective of the Communist Manifesto (1848) and of Marx himself. Marxism is divided first and foremost on those lines. Of course, in the revolutionary camp, there have been disagreements and fissures too. Let us say the most famous one: between Trotskyists and those who rejected Trotsky in the Soviet Union and their respective followers. So Marxism has fragmented into many, many versions. If we turn to liberalism for a second, the previous speaker mentioned Jefferson and Thomas Hobbes in the same heading this to me, of course, is an incredible oversimplification to the extent that the fundamental views of these are different, even if there is agreement on some topics. Indeed, all the various Marxisms do agree on some topics. Jefferson's highly political liberalism agrees with, ultimately, the economic liberal perspective on some issues, but they are different liberalisms from the outset. And then, of course, going into the twentieth century, liberalism too becomes many things. I think most of you guys here are British, but at least in the United States, those who are living here know liberalism has taken on a meaning which perhaps could be in some contexts described — and this is pretty much how the American press uses the term — as a kind of liberalized version of social democracy. So liberalism too is many things. And I think that, to the extent that this is a topic here at all, it should be made clear which liberalism and which Marxism are being compared and contrasted.

I do not want to get into that, especially because, given what I have just said, I am making my own topic very difficult by saying there's so many iberalisms, so many Marxisms, and their relations of course, then, would be even more multifarious and complicated. I would rather talk about some principled matters, following the first speaker, too, and arguing based on those principled matters that, today socialism and liberalism should be allies rather than opponents — rather than antagonists. Opponents, yes, they have to remain opponents, but antagonists, in the sense of friends and enemies, they should not be. And I think I base that on principled notions which I want to share with you. As the first speaker stressed, these matters have to do with the fundamental principles which were articulated at the time of the French Revolution already. You call them bourgeois revolutions, some of you. I call them democratic revolutions. As you probably all know, many populists tried to participate in those popular, democratic revolutions, and “bourgeois,” strictly speaking, is a component, not the whole, of the revolutionary struggle. Good Marxists, like Cebul, have demonstrated that in their writings.

But still, three slogans are shared by the various components of the revolutions, and you know what they are. I will use the non-sexist version: liberty, equality, and solidarity are the three fundamentals. And I think it is fair to say, as the first speaker already implied, that stress on one or another of these, perhaps even the exclusion of one or two of them, would lead to different political positions. But of course, that does not mean that if you share one, you do not share at least something important, which I think will justify my saying “opponents” rather than “enemies.” For example, Marxism and anarchism share solidarity, and in lots of historical settings, for good reasons, they have been allies. And indeed, from the French Revolution on, those who share only the idea of liberty — in other words, the sans-culotte and the bourgeois components of the revolution — were allies, too, for significant periods. Now, one could say with Marx, at some point, that the historical development of classes, capitalism, makes such an alliance more and more difficult. But I think that assumption is based on one false premise, which, by the way, liberalism also sometimes shares, namely, that there is a single subject of emancipation — a single subject, which, for the liberals, could be the individual, or for a Tocqueville, could be the associations of civil society. For Marxists, it is the proletariat of the industrial working class.

I think that those of you who are also interested in empirical matters and who like to contrast norms with evolving realities will know that neither of these subjects had ever existed as a single subject, and in our own time, decreasingly so. Society has a lot of actors, associations, movements, parties, even sometimes very influential individuals or significant social actors, but these are always a plurality. These are pluralities which have very specific locations in relation to classes; so these actors, of course, depending on their interests, their opinion concerning them, will make alliances at different times, as I have already shown for the bourgeois and the sans-culotte elements of the French Revolution. This is supposed to disappear with the universal class of Marx, but of course it does not, empirically. You think about the Marxist revolutions of the twentieth century, the ones that appeal to the theory of Marx; they all represent significant alliances across groups, and I would say the significant ones are the peasantry and the industrial workers, mostly something Marx never anticipated. You will remember how he describes the peasants in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852); they are not part of any struggle for socialism or anything like that, and yet that alliance is significant. And I would say, along with Gramsci and others, that the so-called bourgeois intellectuals are another segment and another group, and so in this sense politics becomes for even revolutionaries, radical reformists, too, a question of alliances and a question of cutting across boundaries.

Now if you agree with me that at least one fundamental value of Marxism and liberalism is shared, namely, freedom — autonomy from heteronomous and unjustifiable constraints — if you agree with that, that is the basis of a fundamental alliance. Now of course, within that alliance, there will be opposition, such as the first speaker described considering the meaning of equality. The liberal will accept equality as long as it is equal freedom. Those who are socialistically inclined will stress equality in a more substantive sense, and that is fair. Each side criticizing the other generally makes good points. But given the kinds of struggles we are involved in — and look around you, with the exception of one gentleman here and me, you're all young — you have lots of struggle ahead of you, lots of fights ahead of you. Will you do it on the basis of a dogmatic conception of the subject that does not really even exist in that sense and never has, either empirically or politically? Or will you do it on the basis of a politics based on your values? And, if your values are liberty, equality, and solidarity, how best do you foster all three of those? I submit that will mean alliances with solidarity people sometimes, and freedom people other times, and still other times focusing on people who are interested in equality.

In this sense, liberalism and Marxism are two children of the Enlightenment that have often been opposed and sometimes should remain opposed, depending on which one of them comes to power. Interestingly, when one of them comes to power, the opposition or role of the other becomes even more significant. But other times they must be allies and think cooperatively, and I hope you guys will, because if you are not, you are in for a lot of disappointments and a lot of losses, a lot of defeats. If you love defeat, maintain the dogmatic, doctrinaire position that some of you still, perhaps, are tempted by. But if you like occasionally to win, which means to serve the values that you think are important, then Marxism and liberalism are allies. Now of course, that does not mean Hayek. And of course it cannot mean Stalin if you are a liberal. So Hayek and Stalin get thrown out of the mix. But that does not mean that there is no alliance; it just means that some versions of each theory are to be excluded.

Donald Parkinson: There is one key difference between Marxism and liberalism, where I think there is a radical break, and this has not really been touched upon yet. This break exists in the idea of freedom itself that exists in liberalism and Marxism. It is correct that both Marxism and liberalism are concerned with freedom, but freedom in the abstract means a lot of different things. There are a lot of differences between the two doctrines, but I am going to focus here on how they conceive freedom. I am going to be working using the neo-republican theorists, like Quentin Skinner, Philip Pettit; I think that they explain what is at stake in this question very well. What we have here is, Marxism has a social-republican theory of freedom, not a liberal theory of freedom. And the confusion here is often we have these two notions of freedom, liberal and republican, which are often squashed into one thing, called the Enlightenment, liberal values, or modernity, and Marxism is making good on these promises.

But there is a split between republicanism and liberalism, and you can see this in embryo in the differences between people like Hobbes and Machiavelli, even. But this split is really formally completed in the sequence of the French Revolution and 1848, where this idea of the social republic comes into collision with liberalism, often violently, which you see in the French Revolution with the struggles between the sans-culottes and the Bonapartists. So we have to distinguish between these two notions of freedom.

The liberal notion of freedom is essentially one of non-interference. It is freedom from interference of political authority and the state, and a private realm of autonomy that is guaranteed by the rule of law. You see this, for example, in Hannah Arendt, where the individual has this sphere of autonomy from the state that is sacred and needs to be protected from political interference. Liberalism is about carving that individual sphere of autonomy that gives you a distance from the state, from political authority; it is seen as an ability to avoid constraint and interference. The idea of liberalism is creating a framework that allows every private individual to pursue their own private individual ends, to the extent that they do not interfere with the rights of others to pursue their individual ends. So what you have in liberalism is this idea that the state cannot have a singular idea of the good; it has to create a legal framework that allows every individual to pursue their private, ideal good.

The republican idea of freedom is instead based on a more radical idea of non-domination. We can define domination as subjection to an arbitrary will or power that one has no control or say over. We are social beings, and we exist in an inherently interdependent society. So we have to move away from this liberal ontology of atomized individuals and see that we are all interdependent. Since we live in an interdependent society, freedom cannot simply be understood as autonomy from interdependence; it has to be understood as control over this interdependence, as the ability to exercise control over those we are dependent on, so that these relations are not arbitrary but free relations cleansed of domination. You see this in the republican idea of this plebeian radical democracy, and you see it in the utopian socialists, like Owen, Proudhon. You see all kinds of social republicans that Marx is engaging with. Marx is building upon this idea of freedom as non-domination that the social republicans have.

But the social republicans did not truly break from liberalism because they still accepted a lot of the commercial market-based ideas that are the basis of liberal ideology. Marx develops a social scientific critique and a materialist conception of history that allows for a theory of revolution and freedom to be based on scientific grounding rather than moralistic appeals to ancient virtues or the Christian moralism of utopian socialists. What Marxism really does is to allow a radical break from liberalism and to build on the republican ideal of freedom. By combining these two, we have a worldview that is not merely a realization of the promises of liberalism but is a radical break from liberalism.

This is important today, because today the main political contradiction is between authoritarian, neo-populist figures, like Trump or Putin, versus the liberal order that needs to be protected from this authoritarian populist threat. So the argument is that as good Marxists we need to align with the liberals and defend society from the fascist threat, but I think that is the wrong approach, because liberalism today is part of what is hollowing out civil society, creating this atomized, consumer-based society, that gives the far Right an opening. By allying with liberalism, we do not actually show that we are offering an alternative to this corrupt, liberal order that the right-wing populists are revolting against, but that we are simply its most radical defenders. We have to reject this Popular Front notion and see that liberalism itself is responsible for hollowing out our democracy. The liberal ideal of freedom would allow for a community where people have no democratic say over the state, but as long as the state allows the individuals the correct rights and guidelines to act, so that they are all engaged and voluntary, it is completely fine. So what we need to do is reject this liberal idea of freedom and embrace a more robust, social idea of freedom that can act as an alternative to the populist Right, the liberal center, and the liberal Left.

August Nimtz: At the core of my project, beginning 20 years ago with my Marx-Engels book, has been a campaign to bring Marx and Engels back into the world of politics, to free them from the clutches of political theorists and political philosophers. My claim is that they were first and foremost political activists. That's how the team came into existence, and that's how it continued to the end of their lives. In my first book, Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (2000), I get at the Marx-Engels team. I should say, the reason why I treat them as a team is exactly because they were political activists, and I see no space between Marx and Engels when you treat them as political activists. It did not mean they were always in agreement. There was an important disagreement they had that lasted for about two years, and I will talk about it shortly.

In my Marx and Engels book, I argue that Marx and Engels made a major, perhaps the most important, contribution to the democratic breakthrough in the nineteenth century, and that is because they helped organize and put in place the mass working-class political parties. And by the 1870s and 1880s, those political parties could trace their origins to the activities of Marx and Engels. It has been widely accepted in political science literature and comparative politics that it is the formation of the mass working-class political parties in Europe, Western Europe initially, that explains the breakthrough in liberal democracies: when the working class begins organizing itself. And so what I show in the first book is the indispensable role of Marx and Engels in that breakthrough.

To claim that Marx and Engels were the foremost contribution to the democratic breakthrough, that is implicitly comparative, because I would have to compare Marx and Engels to other individuals of that period. I begin my first comparison in that book by looking at Marx and Engels on one side and Alexis de Tocqueville on the other side, and what I do is look at a particular set of events: the 1848–1849 revolutions. And what I show is that Marx and Engels's democratic credentials were far more deserved than the author of Democracy in America (1835–40). In fact, Tocqueville proved to be a reactionary. Tocqueville played an important role: He helped lead the state to crush the working class. I'm referring specifically to the June Days uprising of 1848.

What I say in my first book is that Marx and Engels made the most important contributions to the democratic breakthrough, and I alluded to John Stuart Mill, but never got around to actually looking at Mill. What I do in my most recent book is to look not only at Tocqueville, but also at Mill, as well as two other liberals. And the two other liberals that I look at are Max Weber and Woodrow Wilson. So what I am doing in the book is fleshing out a central premise, and that is: the test of politics, of political perspective, is: how does the perspective respond to developments that are taking place in real time? I call it real-time political analysis. Just as I looked at 1848–1849, a moment and process that was in motion, and how Marx and Engels responded to it on one hand, and Tocqueville on the other hand, I looked for other examples to do a similar kind of test. What I did in the second book is to look at the United States Civil War, which was truly the most important democratic process, the most important opening in the democratic press in the nineteenth century. Not only did Marx and Engels pay lots of attention to it, but Mill did also. So what I'm doing in the first book, is I go back and look at Marx and Engels compared to Tocqueville in 1848–1849, and then the second comparison is to compare Marx — mainly Marx, because Engels had moved to Manchester at that time, so Marx is the main protagonist — and on the other side, Mill, and how both of them responded to the US Civil War. Both of them were on the same side, the side of the Union, on the same side of Lincoln, but how did they actually respond? What were their actions and activities, their interpretation of what actually took place? And again, as is the case with the Tocqueville comparison, how effective was Marx's involvement with the US Civil War in terms of advancing the democratic process in comparison to Mill?

Fast forward to Lenin, to the twentieth century, and in that comparison I'm looking at Lenin compared to Weber, looking specifically at the 1905–1906 Revolutions in Russia. I would also classify Weber as a liberal, perhaps a bit more of a conservative liberal, but I think most political theorists and philosophers would include Weber, certainly in the German context, as a liberal. Weber's most detailed political analysis was on the 1905–1906 Revolutions, so he is looking very closely at it, provides lots of details, and is a great contrast with Lenin, who is a participant, mainly from afar, of 1905, and then only at the end of 1905 was Lenin able to get back into Russia to become a participant. So that's the third comparison.

And then the last comparison is Lenin again on one side, and Wilson on the other. Both Lenin and Wilson had major roles in the First World War, and in fact I argue that you cannot understand the Bolshevik Revolution without understanding the First World War. Both Lenin and Wilson are compared in terms of how they responded to the war, what their activities were, and how effective they were, particularly with the question of advancing the democratic quest.

In the Weber-Lenin comparison, I include an appendix, about the end of the First World War and the German Revolution in November of 1918. Weber was an activist — one of the things in particular I should mention, in order for the comparisons to be fair: I needed to have liberals who were actually activists, that is, liberals who somehow sought to shape political outcomes. That was fully the case with Tocqueville, who was very much an activist. That was also the case with Mill, and in the Mill-Marx comparison, I include an appendix also, looking at how Marx and Mill acted with regard to extending the suffrage, or perhaps how to extend the vote, to the working class in England. It makes for a fascinating contrast, and we see Marx and Mill on different sides of the question, whereas in the Civil War, Marx and Mill were on the same side of the barricades, the same side of the question, that is, in support of the Union and Lincoln. When it comes to extending suffrage to the working class in England, Marx and Mill have very opposite views on this question. And with Weber again, when it comes to the 1918 German Revolution, Lenin and Weber are very much on opposite sides of the barricades, literally. Finally, again, Wilson was very much an activist — as President of the United States, he was a political activist from very early.

My conclusion is that Marx, Engels and Lenin had far better, more deserved democratic credentials than the liberals. And one of the main conclusions I make is that class — without sounding like a class reductionist, as we sometimes talk about these days — class matters. Class and class orientation matter in explaining why it is that Marx, Engels and Lenin had better democratic credentials than Tocqueville, Mill, Wilson and Weber.

Marx and Engels in The Young Karl Marx (2018)

Responses:

MM: The one difficulty all liberals have when it comes to reconciling themselves to a Marxist analytic is committing themselves to democracy, and this is the point that both Donald and August raised very saliently; we should be critical of liberalism for that. One point where liberals actually say something relevant when it comes to the democratic problem is that Marxists, socialists and republicans have never really done a particularly good job of theorizing on how it is that we can establish a more democratic lifeworld while at the same time providing protections for individual rights that so many liberals hold sacrosanct. This was pointed out by Irving Howe in a seminal 1977 article, “Liberalism and socialism, articles of conciliation,” which I responded to in Jacobin. So I am absolutely committed to the idea that we need to democratize beyond liberalism. I think that is especially important when we talk about the establishment of something like workplace democracy, for a variety of different means, but I think that we also need to be not cautious, but considerate in those kinds of instances of how we are going to avoid an anachronistic reduction of democracy to pure majoritarianism or mass rule, because I think that would pose substantial dangers that many liberals have rightly warned us about for a very long time.

AA: We are not supposed to draw up the balance sheet on the liberal and Marxist sides: “How many episodes of authoritarianism?” and so on, and then we have not got a debate about whether Stalin is a Marxist at all or not, which of course he was in some sense clearly at some point. But we have to actually look at symptomatic matters, and I think we kind of agree here — and Donald’s very good presentation does not diminish this — that freedom for us is opposition to authoritarianism, and I think that it is better to have this in the version of Arendt and Benjamin Constant and even Isaiah Berlin than in the version Donald presented it, which means the unity of negative and positive freedom. But on the whole I agree that you need that dimension, the positive or the republican dimension, if freedom is to be free at all. And of course both of those freedoms are violated in the history of both liberalism and Marxism repeatedly, pretty often. So what is the reason for it? I just want to say that these are the two things we have to be concerned about.

In the history of liberalism, it is pretty obvious if you go all the way from what you described with John Stuart Mill all the way down to Pinochet and the liberal economists who worked for him, the reason for the temptation of authoritarianism is the stress of the economic principle of negative freedom. It is not only negative freedom as such — after all, like freedom of privacy, each one of us values some aspect of negative freedom — but a very specific kind of negative freedom: entrepreneurial freedom of property owners. And that stress is so strong in a lot of liberals, including Tocqueville in 1848, that they are willing to accept and support authoritarianism which otherwise, normatively, they would not. So the Achilles heel is economic liberalism and the extremely market-oriented understanding of negative freedom.

But since we are equal opportunity critics here, what's the Achilles heel for Marxism? Exactly what I said before: the idea that there is a single universal class for whom I can speak, or we can speak, or the vanguard can speak, that is the Achilles heel. There are elements of this in Marx, but of course Lenin is the one who really develops this theory. If you reread it, August, carefully, you'll see that What is to Be Done? (1902) is an authoritarian project. His activity in any case is authoritarian from January 1918 on. What's the reason for it? Because he has to speak for the class that is not yet able to speak, the subject that does not yet exist must be virtually created by the vanguard internally and the leaders of the vanguard. And this idea, which could be found in Marx in a very vague sense — but it is not  an important aspect of it — is very strong in Lenin, and this is the Achilles heel. When we think about alliances between liberals and Marxists, we must be conscious of being critical of exactly the dimension in each that then leads to authoritarianism.

DP: The concern about individual liberty and freedoms is a valid one. You have Benjamin Constant’s framework of the liberty of the ancients, which is the ability to be part of a political governing community that you have control over; it would be the rule of the masses, popular sovereignty. And you have the liberty of the moderns, which is the kind of negative, liberal liberty that I was talking about earlier. Often these are counterposed and seen as two separate things we have to pick between. I would definitely put an emphasis on positive republican freedom and positive liberty. Negative liberty on its own is really hardly worth anything at all. And I do not think that we need to get rid of all these individual liberties, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, a lot of these liberal freedoms that are often counterposed to this kind of mob, mass rule. We should understand these liberal freedoms, not as this space of autonomy from the state, but as conditions that allow for the exercise of positive freedom. So if you want to have a political community that is based on the sovereignty of the governed, you have to have open political discussion, you have to have freedom of speech. You can have a vision of positive freedom that still leaves in a lot of these liberal rights but sees them as a means of securing the kind of positive social freedom, that liberty of the ancients as Constant calls it, or that Rousseauian political governance of a community.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, portrait painted by Maurice-Quentin La Tour (1754).

AN: I wanted to mention my second comparison, with Mill. Marx and Mill were on the same side in the biggest, most important democratic breakthrough in the nineteenth century, that is, in supporting Lincoln and the Union. What the comparison reveals, however, is that Mill was never willing to put in the same amount of time and energy to do what Marx did. That is, from afar, both of them supported Lincoln in the Union, but it was Marx rather than Mill who was willing to drop everything — including his research on Capital. One of the reasons Capital never got completed is exactly because of all the time and energy that Marx devoted to supporting the Union cause. So that comparison reveals that while liberals and Marxists could be on the same side of a particular struggle, the question is whether or not are you willing to put in the time and effort to defend democratic rights, to advance the democratic process, that is what what the Civil War reveals.

As for Lenin, 1905 is really important because the fight is how to bring liberal democracy to Russia for the first time. So here you get a chance to see Lenin in action, and what you see is that Lenin has far better credentials than the liberals, any of the liberals in Russia. Lenin is constantly trying to urge them to act, so it's the Russian Social Democrats, especially the Bolsheviks, who are leading the way for bringing about a liberal democracy in Russia. And nothing better captures what Lenin is doing than his comment to another Bolshevik in the middle of all of this, in October of 1905. The debate is, how will we bring liberal democracy, how will we bring parliamentary democracy to Russia for the first time? Lenin’s response was, “We must fight in a revolutionary way for a parliament, but not in a parliamentary way for a revolution.” We must fight in a revolutionary way to bring about a parliament, in other words, to bring about a liberal democracy, but not in a liberal democratic way to make a revolution.

Q&A:

How did Marx understand liberalism’s relationship to capitalism?

MM: Once upon a time, my understanding of Marx was that he was a critic of liberalism precisely for being the ideology of capitalism, or an ideological defense of capitalism, and there are a lot of dimensions to this of course, and a lot of dimensions to Marx's critique that I think still hold. But I think that one of the points that comes out in this book and in a more sustained analysis of his work, is that he recognizes that there are certain features of liberal society that are deeply valuable and historically significant. And I think you see this in Engels’s partnership with him as well, for instance the kind of praise they give of liberal capitalist society in the Communist Manifesto while at the same time critiquing it; the acknowledgement that that is the highest form of society thus far, that people have been raised to a level of self-consciousness that was not possible before, that certain kinds of freedoms are available to individuals that would have been denied in the old aristocratic societies of yore — all that kind of nuances this kind of one-dimensional ideology critique that we usually associate with Marx.

Whether that means there would be elements of liberal society that would carry on into the socialist and then communist societies to come, I think that is a much more difficult question to answer, in part because Marx and Engels provided very little theoretical guidance on what the socialist and communist societies to come would look like. But I do think, following Marx’s reference in “Critique of the Gotha Program” (1875), where he describes how it is that any society to come will inevitably be stamped with the features of the old, we have to assume that at least some things will carry on.

Qua Donald’s comments, we have to assume that there are things like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom to dissent from prevailing liberal views, and I actually see these not as compromises with liberalism, but a more consistent understanding of what democracy should entail. Democracy should not just entail one party rule, on behalf of a single class — it should not be pure majoritarianism. Rather, democracy for me is fundamentally about the equal respect that needs to be shown to each individual as a member of the political community, which ideally should be cosmopolitan as well. All these rights to expression, religion, participation are necessary in order to secure what I think would be a more meaningful democracy than the alternatives we sometimes see in this world. Oh, and of course it is important to also extend them to the workplace.

Given that liberal society is already based on formal cooperation and mutual interdependence, how is Marxism a critique of liberalism? Or is Marxism merely the left of the progressive wing of liberalism itself?

AN: If I can go back to the previous question in answering this one. For Marx and Engels, there was a fundamental incompatibility between democracy and capitalism. Yet at the same time, liberalism was seen as an important means by which the working class could take political power. Liberalism provided the weapons for the working class. This is clear in the 1848–1849 revolutions: the importance of elections, using elections not as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end, the end of taking political power. Around the electoral or parliamentary process, Marx and Engels are concrete in explaining how liberalism can be a means for the working class to take political power.

At a certain moment in the 1848 and 1849 revolutions, Marx and Engels described themselves as being the most extreme democrats. The Marxists were the left wing of the democratic movement; the communists were the most radical of the democrats. And so, yes, they saw themselves working with the democrats in an alliance called the People’s Alliance, which was an alliance with the petty bourgeoisie, an alliance also with the peasantry. Workers, peasants and the petty bourgeoisie were called the People’s Alliance. And in 1848–1849, this is what they tried to do, although they were critical of that alliance, in that they subordinated the working class to that alliance. In a very important self-criticism, Marx and Engels argued that if you have that alliance, it means coming together working with peasants, the middle class, the urban middle class, in order to bring about the fight for liberal democracy. As it states in The Communist Manifesto, you want to make sure the fight for liberal democracy continues. liberals want to bring the liberal revolution to an end, but communists want to make sure it continues — to keep it permanent, in other words.

AA: As for the question of bourgeois democracy: it’s interesting how August says of course the liberal rights are important tools, means of making political progress for the working class or for the Left. Of course, that was the view of Rosa Luxemburg, Bernstein, and Lenin in 1905 also. You are right about that. It is kind of interesting you need those things after the Bolshevik Party takes power. As Luxemburg put it, freedom of speech is for those who think differently. That was no longer necessary because we already have council democracy, which is a higher form. Council democracy in a country of maybe 150 million or 170 million people, where maybe 20 percent are industrial workers, and maybe 25 percent of those are organized in councils. That’s the democracy you say we have, because of which we no longer need these other things. That’s the substitution this authoritarian model supports. That’s Trotsky on substitutionism. You need to explain the link between What Is to Be Done? and the activities of suppressing all left-wing parties. By the 1930s Trotsky eventually thought left-wing parties should not be suppressed, but they were indeed suppressed in 1918 and 1919, and mentioning the Social Revolutionaries (SRs) on the Left, not to speak of anarchists, as Emma Goldman found out in jail.

So this is the thing that apologists have to confront, and they cannot, but it is okay because it is all right for you to live in your private world. Sometimes one even becomes president of the US by living in a private world, so it is not necessarily that detrimental to you personally. But not in politics — if you admire Marx and Engels as activists, your views, August, are not those of an activist but those of a religious person with a new religion, namely Marxism-Leninism.

DP: We all have misgivings about how the Russian Revolution went, and how this kind of ideal Soviet democracy that Lenin envisions in State and Revolution (1917) does not exactly come to fruition. This kind of vision of multi-party socialist democracy does not work out. And what you get is one-party rule, a bloody civil war, and the Red Terror. But I think that if you’re going to make these critiques of Bolshevism, you have to be able to lay out an alternative path that they could have taken. And I do not believe that a multi-party democracy was necessarily in the cards during the civil war. You can look at Lenin’s attempts to form an alliance between the left Mensheviks and the left SRs, to get them to collaborate and form a coalition. Infighting just tears them apart and you have to deal with the left SRs’ terrorist campaigns, and all kinds of unexpected and not ideal circumstances that any revolution will have to deal with. This is a real contradiction. How do you establish a democratic republic, which Marxists wanted to establish, while also fighting off counterrevolution and defeating those who want to prevent the full achievement of democracy for the working people? And has this problem been figured out yet? I do not really think so.

AA: Just the opposite of what you say is true. Because it was the move against the parties and the constituent assembly that has pushed so many people on the side of the counterrevolution. It was not the counterrevolution that forced those illiberal things. It was the counterrevolution far worsened by the fact that those things were done.

DP: I don’t agree with that perspective. The constituent assembly was not illegitimate. The alliance with the left SRs was broken because of the Treaty of Brest-Litov. That was the issue at play. It was because the left SRs and left communists wanted to continue the war with Germany and create a Red Army ad hoc and send it into Germany to help Luxemburg overthrow.

AN: The most important fact is that the counterrevolution was defeated. It was defeated, the masses, the majority of the population, came over to the side of the Bolsheviks.

AA: I am very old; I’ve done too much of this thing in my life. I think you guys can continue doing this if this is what you enjoy, being in your own little church — go right ahead. I’ve done it too much and I know the real fight is elsewhere, so I am saying goodbye to all of you and good luck in your church. Good luck with your never-to-happen revolution.

To what extent do the panelists feel that Marxism is still haunted by the experience of Stalinism in the twenty-first century? What lessons can be learned from that, and what would the relationship between a genuine socialist democracy and bourgeois liberal democracy be? Would it be a multi-party state, and above all, what meaning do the panelists give to the expression “dictatorship of the proletariat”?

AN: I think the Marxist project is haunted by the Stalinist outcome and counterrevolution. Much of what I have written is from the perspective of how to address the Stalinist outcome. Stalinism was first and foremost a counterrevolution. It happens in revolutions that there are counterrevolutions. Think about the Arab Spring, which came to an end because there was a counterrevolution. The first example in Marx’s time was what happened with Bonapartism: the coup d’état. Then, with the US Civil War, Reconstruction came to an end because there was a counterrevolution, and of course, the Paris Commune too. It behooves us to explain what happened, why it happened, not the least insignificant being the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution to spread to an advanced capitalist society like Germany. It tried three times to spread. Donald raised a question about what could have been. The failure of the revolution to spread to Germany is of major importance.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is the majority, the proletariat, imposing its will. That is what a dictatorship means, to impose one’s will.

MM: The more interesting question for me, is what elements of Marx’s analysis can be entirely disconnected from the totalitarian history of the Soviet Union? And I think there’s a lot that can be. One of the theoretical moves that I think is necessary to make, that has been made very successfully, is stripping away teleological dimensions of Marx’s approach to dialectical theory that you sometimes still see in the rhetoric of Marxism, certainly Marxism-Leninism. And you’ve seen some theoretical innovations in that respect from people like Adorno, down to someone like Žižek or Wendy Brown, through the advent of the negative-dialectics approach to the study of social reality. When you are a negative dialectician rather than a teleological dialectician, you recognize that struggle is always contingent. There is no inevitable arc to history that will ensure our victory, one way or another, which is why you need to be sensitive to the need, as August put it, to make alliances, to not necessarily make compromises, but to be self-critical of your viewpoint and to view things, as he puts, “in real time.”

There are a lot of ways that we can dramatically improve upon bourgeois representative democracy, some of which we are seeing being experimented with in the European social democracies. These are of course inadequate in many respects since they are so tied to the older social form, but they might be ways that we can think about improving things going forward. One example that I can give is the Citizens Initiative that you see in Denmark. This is an opportunity where citizens are actually able to pose legislation and vote upon it directly rather than having this all organized through the auspices of parliamentary democracy, with the elitism that’s associated with that. Are these enough? No. Do they actually deal with the kind of significant problems in the achievement of economic democracy that we face in the neoliberal era? No. But I think that by empowering the people in this way, we take a step, maybe even a dramatic step, towards the achievement of our moral long-term goals. So those were the two points I wanted to make on that matter.

DP: The shadow of Stalinism is still cast over us and it is obviously part of this conversation because we are discussing liberalism and democracy. A big part of the problem of Stalinism was the lack of democracy. And one of the lessons, to me, is the importance of democratic republicanism to Marxism. Sith Stalinism, the Stalinist experience, that kind of aspect, that critique of political domination as well as economic domination, was lost with Marxism. Part of what we have to do as Marxists today is to recover that aspect of Marxism against the Stalinist grain. That means that we have to look to the radical democratic tradition as well as the Marxist tradition. And with Stalinism what you have is the nationalization of the means of production in a single-party state. The kind of divide between politics and economics that exists in capitalism is broken up, and the political and the economic are fused into one.

Everyone seemed to pose Marxism versus liberalism as a version of freedom to positive liberty versus a freedom from negative liberty. To what extent is this a reflection of capitalism, and therefore an obstacle to socialism? For Marx, liberalism was the political expression of commodity exchange buyer and seller respect each other’s property, each other’s autonomy, treat each other as equals. The industrial revolution socialized property capital that allowed one to appropriate another’s labor. Not just the capitalist but the workers appropriate each other’s labor, for instance unemployment insurance, higher education, etc., through the state. The Republicans and Democrats claim both freedom to and freedom from, but based on their voter base. To pose the difference between Marxism and Liberalism as a variation of freedom from negative liberty/freedom from coercion versus freedom to social republicanism, access to economic rights, etc. seems to be bound still to capitalist politics.

AN: The only thing I would like to say — and I cannot emphasize it enough — is that the question must be coupled with a perspective, that is, “How does the working class actually take political power?,” The premise, the assumption of Marx and Engels’ project is that only if the working class is actually in political power is it possible for there to be a “freedom to.” And so politics — that is, what is the political strategy? What is the political strategy of actually ensuring that the working class not only takes power but actually remains in power?

DP: I can see what they are saying — how this kind of Isaiah Berlin “positive liberty” versus “negative liberty” type framing can feed into this political spectacle between the Republicans and the Democrats. The Republicans want free markets and they want government off your back. The Democrats want government to step in and help everyone. So it does kind of fall into this trap. I think the solution is to reject this liberal framing itself and to see freedom as composed of both those positive freedoms — to have a say in the political community and the economic community that you are a part of, to have control over your destiny.I think that in order to secure that freedom, like I said earlier, you also need some of those negative liberties, those liberal rights. You have to be able to have freedom of speech and expression, to have a political community that can actually be an expression of the people who constitute the political community.

If we move away from this liberal idea of freedom as non-interference, and to an idea of freedom as a critique of domination, as non-domination, then we can kind of incorporate both those liberal rights, liberties of the moderns, with the liberties of the ancients, and overcome this dichotomy with a more expressive, social, and robust idea of freedom based in communism.

I think that we have lost track here of the transformation of the “freedom problem” that lies at the center of the crisis of liberalism in 1848, out of which Marxism arises. Marx is making a case for the dictatorship of the proletariat the obvious point to add is that it was tested in practice. When Tocqueville appealed to the French republicans in power to put down the June Insurrection, it was made clear that the bourgeoisie in power meant the end of the liberal promise for freedom. I do not want us to get lost here on some kind of rehashing of the arguments of the 1970s, of liberalism versus republicanism. Donald, you are getting caught up in an unhelpful argument which misses the point: the freedom problem. So let us just call it “the freedom problem” instead of getting caught up in this old argument of the 1970s. In that spirit, it seems to me that the Soviet councils, and the proposal by Lenin, of the “withering away of the state,” builds on Marx’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Within that framework, the problem of freedom, the transformation of the freedom problem, and Marxism as coming out of this particular problem, I’d like to ask the following question: August, you seem to say that liberals have been tested in practice, in 1848, 1861 and 1918. In the case of 1861, you said that liberals and socialists agreed, while in the cases of 1848 and 1918 they appear divided. Could you talk about what divides them in 1918; what vision of the liberal free society is challenged by the revolution in 1917 and 1918? What, in the early twentieth century, to get specific here, divides liberals and Marxists? That is, what are the defining questions that divide the early twentieth-century liberals from Marxists?

AN: There is a a thread, a commonality between someone like Tocqueville, Weber especially, and to a lesser degree maybe Wilson, but it is the fear of the mob. If there is one common denominator, it is this fear of the mob, and Tocqueville, to his credit, is very clear about it.e’s very honest about this. He would rather take a Bonaparte than see the masses in power, and you see this too with Mill with regard to extending suffrage to the working class in England: it’s the fear of the mob. Certainly in the case of Weber, in 1918, this is the thing that concerns Weber the most, that the Bolshevik revolution may be spreading to Germany, and the fact that the soldiers and sailors begin to serve Soviets; in other words, it’s very clear that they are inspired by what happened with the Bolshevik Revolution. This alarms Weber to no end, and so Weber comes out, in many ways, like Tocqueville: he really is afraid that the mob will take over. Thinking about commonalities, and so on, and the thread, the core, thinking about what Tocqueville and Weber certainly have in common, and to a lesser degree, at least less obvious in the case of  Mill — it is the fear of the mob.

I wanted to ask about the specificity of the revolution of 1917, since, as we saw, it made our colleague here, Andrew Arato, step down, and so it seemed to rehash some historical break, some illogical obstacle, that we may still be living with, and so I wanted you to get specific about the division between liberals and Marxists in the revolution of 1917, and the German revolution of 1918. As in, what are the defining questions that divide the twentieth century? And maybe I could add in response to what you just said, in terms of the fear of the mob: the fear of the mob, that the mob leading society would lose something, right? That the workers being in charge would do away with certain gains, with certain bourgeois liberties that have been fought over? I mean, what’s the fear of the mob about?

AN: Tocqueville sees the main problem as the property question: private ownership of the means of production. He is smart enough to recognize that if the mob is in power, private ownership of the means of production is threatened, and that issue is what is at the heart of 1917. Specifically with regards to 1917, remember that there’s two competing perspectives on representative democracy: Is democracy best served by parliamentary democracy, or is it best served by Soviet democracy? And that is the debate: Which of these two forms of representative democracy will be hegemonic? Lenin is fighting for Soviet democracy because Lenin sees — remember, the most important political question in 1917 is how to bring the Great War to an end. Lenin’s argument was that Soviet democracy was much more representative of the masses — think about the Soviets of soldiers and peasants. Soviet democracy was much more representative than the doom of democracy, than parliamentary democracy, so this is why Lenin is arduously fighting to make Soviet democracy hegemonic. He knew that if Soviet democracy was hegemonic, the war would come to an end. Parliamentary democracy would not do it. In parliamentary democracy, this is where the capitalists and the liberals were hegemonic, and so they had no interest in it because of their economic interest in bringing about an end to the war.

I do not know if that answers your question, but that is the fight. That’s the major fight in 1917: Which of these two forms of representative democracy would be hegemonic? And that’s what Weber is afraid of, that Soviet democracy is about to be instituted in Germany in 1918, and Lenin, of course, and the Bolsheviks, are doing everything they can to spread the Soviet model to Germany. Fraternization with the German troops is something that alarms Weber; Weber is aware of this, so Weber is afraid of the mob for the same reason that Tocqueville was, because if Soviet democracy is actually instituted, it’s a threat to the private property interests upon which capital rests.

DP: August pretty much hit the nail on the head, that if you are invested in property rights, you are going to prefer the rule of law to popular sovereignty, because popular sovereignty, when it gets to a certain point, starts to interfere with those property rights. Liberals basically prefer a strong rule of law that enshrines those property rights, and so they have a vision of those rights as this kind of eternal, transcendental thing. If you have a view of these rights as being these eternal, transcendental things that are embodied in the law, you are going to have a lot of problems with a revolution. I think it could not even just be the property question; liberals might just be worried about general norm-erosion, and that if we let the masses into politics too much, too fast,  they will weaken these liberal rule-of-law norms that are necessary for political stability. But you have to take that risk, and you have to be willing to side with popular sovereignty, with the struggling masses, against the kind of sacred nature of these liberal norms in the time of revolution. You are not going to be able to maintain all of your perfect liberal norms in a moment of social upheaval.

So is Marxism just popular sovereignty?

DP: I would say it is a very important part of Marxism. If you want to have a dictatorship of the proletariat, Engels and Marx said it is a democratic republic, so I think it is necessary but not sufficient, yes.

It is clear that an important third term has arisen in these discussions: that of authoritarianism as a sort of shared enemy of Liberalism and Marxism both. Historically, however, the rise of fascism in particular was predicated upon the failure of Marxism. How, if at all, does the fight against authoritarianism, often framed today as that against populism, continue to express the failure of Marxism? How does this fight clarify or obscure the political horizons of Marxism vis-à-vis the fulfilment of or break with liberal desiderata?

MM: One of the key normative insights of Marxism is precisely captured in the slogan that I mentioned earlier: that the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. This needs to be understood not just at the national level, but also locally, in terms of a kind of socialist cosmopolitanism. What we are seeing right now is a push against that universalistic spirit of emancipation and democratization by many of the right-wing populists, who invoke the rhetoric of democracy but only in order to advance a fundamentally exclusionary politics that will service global capital in the long run. This obviously has an authoritarian dimension to it, in many ways increasingly overt, through seeing Trump’s attempt to co-opt the election, or Victor Orban’s attempt to essentially wipe out Hungarian democracy. Law and Justice is doing something similar in Poland. Modi is doing something in India. I’m sure Bolsonaro is just waiting his turn. I think that, in this respect, we share a lot of the same interests with liberals, classical and contemporary. Maybe not right-wing liberals like the Hayekians and the neoliberals. In the short-term, it is important for us to look at articles of conciliation, as Howard put it, in order to confront their shared enemy. Going down through the long run, I think this could be a more sustained project, if we could get enough liberals to start accepting that the achievement of the modernist project as they understand it would be best realized in ultimately a socialist society.

DP: In today’s political perspective, you have this clash between two worldviews: You have a universalist, global, liberal market, cosmopolitanism; then you have this idea that we are going to take back our national democracy as a bulwark against this universalistic, liberal order that is breaking down the nation state. I think these two clashing views need to be rejected, and we need to find a vision that is both universalistic — as Matt said, we want to embrace the entire world in a shared vision of emancipation — but is also democratic, based in creating a global political community that is an expression of the self-governance of the governed. If we let ourselves fall into this idea that the only game in town is this authoritarian populism, or this universalistic liberalism, then Marxism is pretty much finished. I think we are in a unique historical position right now, where you have these two clashing political ideologies: We can offer an alternative to this kind of repressive dialectic that is throwing humanity into a death spiral. Because of its universalistic vision of emancipation, while also being critical of private property and the negative effects of capitalism, Marxism is uniquely suited to provide an answer to society’s ills that neither side of this current populist-versus-liberal conflict, or whatever you want to call it, can offer. I think we have to develop a robust idea of freedom that goes beyond liberalism, and I think that that is the current philosophical work that twenty-first century Marxists have engaged in. We need to find a way to turn this into a concrete political vision that we can basically win people to in the millions, and have mass communist politics.

AN: As always with me, I think it is important to concretize, in politics, these kinds of questions. The lessons of history; the rise of Bonapartism; the fear of the mob by the liberal bourgeoisie — that’s the first appearance of the modern authoritarian regime. Fast-forward to the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism, the question I think framed it in terms of the failures of Marxism, and I think we have to concretize exactly what it is we are talking about, and I begin with the betrayal of the Second International: the failure to act on the Basel Manifesto of 1912, that if a war breaks out, socialist parties are obligated to turn the war into a civil war, and of course that did not happen.

The betrayal of the historical Marxist program set into motion all kinds of developments, and then the failure of the revolution to spread westward into Germany – although they tried three times. You must never forget that three times there was an effort to duplicate, to carry out a Bolshevik revolution in Germany, and it was on the ashes of those failures that fascism came about. We must always remember, never forget, the name of Hitler’s party. Hitler’s party was called the German National Social Workers Party: They were for socialism as long as it was for German workers. So, if you are talking about failures of Marxism, we have to concretize. We have to concretize in terms of the actual politics: decisions that were made, decisions that were not made. |P

Transcribed by Justin Spiegel, Diaz Mathis, Wentai Xiao, Desmund Hui, and Mike Atkinson.

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