Problems of Leftwing Democracy

Repost from the old site.
In the comments section, astute commenter huy remarks on the conundrum of socialist democracy when capitalists retain control over the media and culture::

The only problem is that a socialist revolution would probably require a dictatorship and repression.
This is because without dictatorship and repression, rich capitalists would be able to prevent significant social services and state planning in a democracy via their control of the media and peoples’ thoughts.
I’m not for socialism as a long term thing, but only as a way to quickly develop a country’s infrastructure and economy, before gradual privatization of suitable sectors.

I respond:
huy is are correct as far as his first two sentences go. I will deal with the third sentence at the end.
This conundrum is why Communists opted for the dictatorship of the proletariat, not because they are lovers of repression and haters of freedom.
The rich capitalists, through their media control and also their cultural construction and fertilization creating Gramscian cultural hegemonies (what huy referred to as “control over people’s thoughts”), are typically able to prevent social services and state planning in a democracy.
This is why Communists say that you never really have a democracy in capitalism. You always have a dictatorship of capital. Be that as it may, most folks nowadays do not seem to want to live under a dictatorship of the proletariat.
Nevertheless, the roadblocks in the way of socialist democracy present a a serious problem.
Not only are the capitalists able to thwart significant progressive change via media and cultural control, but the same capitalists, via control over the economy, are able to stage lockouts and capital strikes, to send their capital out of the country, to artificially create shortages, and to send wealthy housewives out into the streets beating pots and pans in a middle and upper class strike, etc.
These housewife pot-banging strikes occurred in Chile under Allende, Venezuela under Chavez, and just recently occurred again in Argentina when President Kirchner tried to tax booming agricultural exports.
The big ag producers in Argentina responded by trying to starve the cities by staging ag strikes and refusing to ship produce to the cities so the people would have nothing to eat.
What is ominous about this is that these same rich housewife pot-banging demos and a latifundista (large landowner elite) strike presaged the coup that brought the death squads into power in Argentina in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
The generals stayed in power for several years, during which they murdered 30,000 leftwing Argentines, the vast majority of whom were just idealistic young people working with the poor and had not taken up arms at all.
The capitalists will usually try to stage a coup through their control over the military too.
That is why Hugo Chavez is correct in cleansing the corrupt bosses’ oil workers’ union, in cleansing the officer corps of the military of reactionary elements, and putting in some state media.
The corrupt state oil workers union was a white collar union of well to do managers who had been operating the state oil company as a personal ATM for decades. They were behind the owners’ lockout strike that followed the coup, and after Chavez fired those who had been behind the lockout and sabotage, they destroyed much of the records and paperwork of the oil company before they left. Clearly they had to go.
In the previous coup attempt, the middle and upper-class officer corps supported the coup, but the enlisted men, who came from the poor, did not. The poor rank and file military refused their officers’ orders, and the officers backed down. Hence, cleansing the officer corps of coup supporters was a must.
Getting a foot in the door of the Right’s media monopoly was also important. Previously, the rich had all of the papers, magazines and especially TV stations and they used these to wage continuous lying propaganda war against Chavez.
Furthermore, the entire rightwing media not only supported the coup attempt against Chavez but was actively complicit in it. For that treason, Chavez is perfectly within his rights to shut down the entire rightwing media. He only does not do this because of the international outcry it would arouse.
The Right did the same thing with their media control during the Allende regime in Chile, printing wild lies about Cuban armies offshore and hiding in Chilean bases ready to invade Chile and impose Communism at gunpoint.
Middle class and upper class capital strikes can be devastating to the economy, and most folks, no matter how revolutionary, just get tired of the economic pain after a while and vote to put the reactionaries back in power.
Sanctions work the same way. The US and UK and sometimes France and Canada (when those two latter states are in an imperialist mood) usually slap sanctions on democratic Left states as soon as possible.
Recent examples are Nicaragua, Haiti and Zimbabwe (at first democratic, now increasingly dictatorial), and this alone is enough to devastate the economy and cause the people to vote out the Left and put reactionaries back in power.
What happens is that in an effort to get some control of the country back and fight back against all of this US plots, the Left regime often starts becoming more authoritarian and less democratic. Then the US says it’s a dictatorship and needs to be overthrown on that basis.
If that doesn’t work, the US forms a reactionary contra counterrevolutionary army that goes around killing any civilian that is pro-Left, murdering teachers and health care workers, burning down schools, ag cooperatives and health care facilities and just making the place ungovernable. In order to fend off contras and coups, Chavez has built up his military and even armed the population.
One more thing the US does is to flood money into the democratic Left country to buy the election of the reactionaries via all sorts of fake civil society groups. A good way to stop this is to ban all money coming to political groups from outside the country, but that is easier said than done. The money seems to find its way in anyway.
The US and its reactionary allies also stage bombings, shootings, riots, etc, against democratic Left states, and then often blames them on the Left. This is what they did in Chavez’ Venezuela, Aristide’s Haiti and Mossadegh’s Iran.
If worse comes to worse and none of the above works, the Left regime is overthrown by a coup and replaced by a reactionary dictatorship. This dictatorship typically then institutes a reign of terror in which anywhere from 100’s to 1 million progressives are killed all over the land. This is what happened in Indonesia in 1965, when 1 million Leftists were killed in a CIA coup.
What is even creepier is that while the Left is in power, the CIA is usually running around the country making up lists of leftwingers. As soon as the coup comes, the CIA hands over the lists to the death squad Right now in power, and they use these lists to hunt down progressives and murder them.
So if a Left regime is in power, there is always the terror of a future coup followed by a murder spree against anyone politically active in the regime. This is enough to make people afraid to get politically active.
The reign of terror itself so so terrorizes the population that most people are afraid to get involved in progressive politics for years or even decades afterwards. Why get involved? Who is to say when the death squads will come back in power and try to kill you for being politically active in Left politics?
All of this makes socialist democracy or even social democracy in backwards states almost impossible to achieve.
On the other hand, lots of leftwingers are trying to figure out a way to have some sort of socialist or even Marxist democracy, despite all the challenges. The Sandinistas had a democratic socialist revolution, and Hugo Chavez is having one too. The Nepalese Maoists support 100% democracy. There’s new thinking with a lot of Communists nowadays that socialism is not really possible without total democracy.
When I look at Cuba and I think about a few dissidents getting thrown in prison, is that really worse than masses of people dying early from preventable death or not having enough food to eat, or living in shantytown hovels, or prostituting themselves, or homeless kids sniffing glue, turning into criminals and getting killed by cops as happens all over Latin America?
Third World capitalist nightmare states punish an awful lot of innocent people too. Doesn’t Cuba punish a lot fewer innocent people by clapping a few dissidents in prison than are harmed in these failing 3rd world capitalist states?
In India, capitalism is killing 4 million people a year. That’s a five-alarm fire right there. If we had a socialist revolution there even with a dictatorship and saved 4 million lives a year, would it be worth it for a few folks slapped in prison?
I do think that the new way of Chavez, the Sandinistas, the FMLN of El Salvador and the Nepalese Maoists is the better way to go. Nothing wrong with democracy. If the people reject socialism at the polls and go back to capitalism and lots of them go hungry, go homeless, drink sewage water, get sick, get crippled and start dying, I guess we can say that they made a choice to have that happen to themselves.
Most socialist countries did go socialist for a while (usually decades) to develop the economy and then go towards capitalism after they were pretty well developed.
People have no idea how much of China’s economic growth is based on the foundations laid by decades of Maoism. At any rate, most do not realize China is still a very socialist country in many ways.
The Communists in Russia built that place up from nothing. Without the USSR, Russia would probably be like India or Afghanistan. The Vietnamese and Laotian Communists are also putting in a lot of capitalism, and North Korea now has joint partnerships for foreign investors. I support Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela in their experiments at mixed economy. I also really like social market of Belarus.
Really what we ought to look at is does the system give us the outcomes that we want? If it does, it doesn’t matter what mixtures of socialist, collective and private ownership it has.
There are also all sorts of ways of enterprise ownership.
We can have nonprofits, labor collectives, family-run businesses, single owners and ownership by neighborhoods, towns, cities, states and nations. All of these forms of ownership are operating all over the world as you read this.
The cooperative sector in particular is a great way to go, and most do not realize it is a non-capitalist economic system. Worker-owned firms compete with each other, and there is no exploitation of labor as in capitalism.
One of the best examples of that is the Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque Country. Most Cuban agriculture is now run by cooperatives. In the cooperative model, you get away from the management-labor conflict you see in capitalism.

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0 thoughts on “Problems of Leftwing Democracy”

      1. Great piece Robert. I wish a lot more Americans were aware of the facts that you have written about above. We in the Third World are always at the receiving end of the US’s machinery of terror and we need more allies like you.
        I guess corporate control of US media is so tight, that most citizens are unaware of what’s really happening. Take this piece from the New York Times for example:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/opinion/07kristof.html?_r=1
        “From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.”
        Why aren’t more Americans outraged at the blatant inequality of it all?

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