Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

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Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by Egalitarian on Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:01 am

I can see in the USSR it being an effective mean of achieving socialist goals.
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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by Celtiberian on Fri Jul 06, 2012 12:52 pm

There actually are certain (eccentric) individuals who continue to advocate authoritarian forms of socialism, e.g., Stalinists and Hoxhaists. However, I would argue that they either haven't fully thought through the implications of authoritarianism, are ignorant of the historical examples of the theory in practice, or are simply sadomasochists.

You're correct in stating that the USSR achieved a few socialist objectives throughout the duration of its existence, though it's debatable as to whether or not they were achieved because of authoritarianism or in spite of it. For example, prior to the Bolsheviks attaining state power, independent soviets had been spontaneously emerging throughout Russia, and it's possible a form of syndicalism could have developed from that movement. (For more on this history, see Maurice Brinton's The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control.)

To answer your question, the reason many leftists (myself included) reject authoritarianism is because it violates the principle of self-management—a central tenet of syndicalism—and frequently leads to unacceptable abuses of authority. Moreover, the reason the USSR itself was eventually dismantled is directly attributable to its authoritarian governing apparatus, as I've explained elsewhere.

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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by Rev Scare on Sat Jul 07, 2012 2:03 am

My inner Stalinist notwithstanding, I believe that socialism is inherently democratic and was always intended to be. The appropriation of surplus product must be undertaken by the workers who created it collectively for exploitation to cease. Public ownership and allocation are theoretically sufficient to socialize production, but syndicalist self-management most adequately and justly resolves this.

The authoritarian nature of the Soviet Union is what allows many of its left-wing critics to dismiss its existence as merely a manifestation of "state capitalism." While I disagree with such a simple characterization (modern China more accurately resembles a state directed capitalism), I basically agree with Trotsky in his assessment of the USSR as a "degenerated workers' state." It was not progressing toward "true" socialism, let alone communism.

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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by DSN on Wed Jul 11, 2012 3:06 pm

I can't remember who it was that posted it, or what the text was, but I read something on here yesterday written by Lenin in which he claimed that the USSR was not yet socialist, but rather a form of state capitalism used in favour of the proletariat instead of as a weapon against them by the bourgeoisie. (If anyone could tell me where it was that Lenin said this I'd be grateful.) Although I do enjoy reading what little of Lenin's work I have read so far, I fail to see how this falls into place with his emphasis on the need for the proletariat to organise itself straight after a revolution.

Anyway, I do assume that by authority you mean a smaller group of people exercising authority over the people. This is counter productive to a socialist movement as the aim of the workers during and immediately after a proletarian revolution must be to organise themselves and suppress the bourgeoisie and prepare society for communism. Authoritarianism in the sense of the USSR trains people not to lead, but instead how to be led.


Last edited by DSN on Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:54 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by Egalitarian on Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:01 pm

Did Engels not write an essay justifying authoritarian socialism?

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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by DSN on Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:49 pm

Egalitarian wrote:Did Engels not write an essay justifying authoritarian socialism?

I'd give it a read if I knew what it was called, but again, it all comes down to what we mean by authoritarian. I honestly don't know how a dictatorship could be seen as libertarian, so going by this, a workers' state (the dictatorship of the proletariat) can only ever be authoritarian:

In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at the earliest possible moment, until such time as a new generation, reared in new and free social conditions, will be able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap-heap.

Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
The Civil War in France

To be more precise, I'll say that I reject the notion that one can be a libertarian Marxist. If one disagrees that a state is needed to transition to full communism and disregards the dictatorship of the proletariat, then the "libertarian socialist" or "libertarian communist" label(s) would make sense to a considerable degree. People often say that self-proclaimed libertarian Marxists are simply anarchists who read Marx, or closet anarchists, and this would explain those assertions quite well. When people label socialism as "authoritarian" in the negative sense they tend to be referring to a solid top-down system in which the workers have no control.

The free people’s state is transformed into the free state. Grammatically speaking, a free state is one in which the state is free vis-à-vis its citizens, a state, that is, with a despotic government. All the palaver about the state ought to be dropped, especially after the Commune, which had ceased to be a state in the true sense of the term. The people’s state has been flung in our teeth ad nauseam by the anarchists, although Marx’s anti-Proudhon piece and after it the Communist Manifesto declare outright that, with the introduction of the socialist order of society, the state will dissolve of itself and disappear. Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one’s enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people’s state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore suggest that Gemeinwesen ["commonalty"] be universally substituted for state; it is a good old German word that can very well do service for the French “Commune.”
Engels to August Bebel In Zwickau

Feel free to correct me if I'm not understanding this properly so that I don't look like the crazy guy standing in the corner talking nonsense to himself...

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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by Celtiberian on Fri Jul 13, 2012 5:49 am

DSN wrote:Feel free to correct me if I'm not understanding this properly so that I don't look like the crazy guy standing in the corner talking nonsense to himself...

The various disagreements Marx and Engels had with the progenitors of anarchism—namely Proudhon and Bakunin—were typically attributable to misinterpretations and semantics. With respect to the subject of authoritarianism in particular, it was a combination of semantics and ethics. It should be noted, however, that Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx held very different views regarding ethics, as Eugene Kamenka aptly demonstrates in The Ethical Foundations of Marxism. (Engels especially departed from Marx's early philosophical writings.)

To summarize the issue, Engels misunderstood the anarchist opposition to authoritarianism as being tantamount to a fanatical advocacy of a system characterized by complete personal autonomy, which would obviously render the division of labor necessary for industrial manufacturing to transpire to be impracticable. Such autonomy could only be exercised within the confines of small scale enterprises, and that was the chief reason Marx and Engels considered anarchism to fall within the ideological tradition of the petite bourgeoisie, and also why Engels accused anarchists of harboring Luddite sentiments. However, unlike Marx—who had argued that mankind was endowed with a Gattungswesen impervious to material forces—Engels further considered virtually all ethical sentiments to be relative and fluid. Consequently, he dismissed any social movements which were based upon ethical principles (e.g., anti-authoritarianism) as being idealistic and needlessly dogmatic.

The reason Engels's criticism was invalid is because he considered every instance of individuals submitting before a direction to be "authoritarian." He literally made no distinction between orders given by individuals or committees and the physical compulsions on labor by nature or machinery. Anarchists don't oppose any and all delegations of authority; they simply support the principle of self-management, whereby individuals participate in decisions in proportion to the degree they're affected by them. As Noam Chomsky explains, anarchism is basically the encouraging of authority which is incapable of rational justification being dismantled. In God and the State, Mikhail Bakunin had already sufficiently addressed the criticisms Engels leveled against anarchism in On Authority. For example, on the subject of authority and subordination, Bakunin argued,

"Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.

If I bow before the authority of the specialists and avow my readiness to follow, to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their directions, it is because their authority is imposed upon me by no one, neither by men nor by God. Otherwise I would repel them with horror, and bid the devil take their counsels, their directions, and their services, certain that they would make me pay, by the loss of my liberty and self-respect, for such scraps of truth, wrapped in a multitude of lies, as they might give me.

I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed upon me by my own reason. I am conscious of my inability to grasp, in all its details and positive developments, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labor. I receive and I give—such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination
."
Bakunin, Mikhail. God and the State, pp. 32-33.

I can only assume that Engels was not familiar with that text. Marx and Engels also vehemently disagreed with anarchists on the matter proletarian participation in politics and the question of the state, so the animus generated from those feuds clearly contributed to both sides unfairly criticizing each other on other subjects as well—authoritarianism obviously being among them.

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"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by DSN on Fri Jul 13, 2012 12:02 pm

Celtiberian wrote:The various disagreements Marx and Engels had with the progenitors of anarchism—namely Proudhon and Bakunin—were typically attributable to misinterpretations and semantics.

This has been said many times by many people and I am coming to understand what they mean by it now. After I'm done with The State and Revolution I think my next read will be something from the syndicalist/anarchist side of the fence.

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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by Jim Profit on Tue Oct 02, 2012 12:50 am

What do you mean by authoritarian? As described by Wikipedia, authoritarian typically is a regime that is very rigid, but based on a legitimate authority either mandated by a branch or "voted in". Another words... should we be cut-throat about communism in order to achieve it?

Well that's a philosophical connundrum for any discussion isn't it? While on the surface the answer may seem yes, you should execute those traitorous to the cause, jail them, subvert them at every front... it can easily be manipulated into a new class. There is a reason anarchists don't trust communists, and that is because they think we simply want or at least are content with making the class struggle a linear slope. With an all powerful state to command those at the bottom. Indeed while this is still preferable to the criminal and violent nature of imperialism/"totalitarianism". It should not be a communist's longterm or even immediate goal. It is contrary to the principles of Marx, and in my opinion INVITES that strong class distinction.

Now these sorts never last. Eventually social imperialism degenerates back into full blown capitalism. Because of the very nature of class strife, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, people within this all powerful state have their own ideas of what is right, or have selfish motives... and eventually it deteriorates into a corrupt circus act ruled over by a hegemony that picks and chooses where the law applies. I could simply say "fascism", but I don't want to sound like some nasal revleft occupant, dancing around in a Guy Fawkes mask...

The fact is, it is in the very nature of authority to be greater then those without the authority, or those whom the authority needs to "punish" in order to "correct" something. So while I would say authoritarian socialism is very possible, I would not say it can last, nor hope to achieve communism. In fact... the bourgeois will whisper among themselves the idea of turning to authoritarianism in order to save their capital.

Rules imply rulers, once you have rulers... the concept of communism is lost. This is why communism is a difficult political philosophy to educate people on, and they just throw their hands up in the air. "It can't work!" No... it works. But you're looking at it wrong. Trying to achieve communism in your specific lifetime is a fool's game. But we can be pragmatic about it. And move humanity in a better direction. I see communism as a process of human evolution. We can either evolve to be more compassionate, homogenous species that seeks to better ourselves and each other without the use of violence, oppression, deceit, or manipulation. Or we can continue to just give up, say "it doesn't work!" and waste time as imperialist scum kill more of us, isolate us, degrade us, as the technology advances and very soon that despicable nature poses a threat to the entire cosmos.

Perhaps it is a bit of a leap, but I have no doubt one day man will travel the stars. And the last thing I want is for man to infect the rest of the universe with such concepts as monetary value, slavery, repressive laws, and privileged classes to some alien species.
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Re: Why is authoritarian egalitarianism rejected?

Post by Red Aegis on Tue Oct 02, 2012 1:19 am

It seems like you made a bit of a swing from being a Bolshevik there Jim.

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