A small history of republicanism: the American “democratic republic”

Marx Engels

Marx and Engels referred to the United States as a democratic republic even though the United States never called itself a genuine democracy before the Second World War. Still now popular usage of the word democracy in the US is contested. Were Marx and Engels wrong? And what does “democratic republic” actually mean?

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Nigeria places general strike on the agenda

On January 9 a series of strikes hit Nigeria in an event now known as #OccupyNigeria. In many countries the global scale of the economic crisis puts the general strike back on the agenda. The strike may provide an opening for Nigerian workers and poor to organize a political opposition to neoliberal policies and capitalist crisis management. Continue reading

A new year, a new blog! Introducing a new project: Republican Democracy

The DemRep is a project of two marxist socialists who want to illustrate the centrality of (the absence of) radical political democracy in today’s world. While we both are members of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), probably one of the bigger international revolutionary socialist organisations in the world, we do not speak in its capacity. Instead our purpose here is to start a debate on several questions: Democracy within the workers movement, Marxist programme, Party and – not to forget our namesake – the Democratic Republic.

But who are we? Let us briefly introduce ourselves:

Emil

I’ve been a member of the Dutch CWI section since late 2005 and still closely involved in its operation, such as maintaining the website, among other things. I’m fully employed and part-time student. I’m 27 years old and live in the south of the Netherlands.

Thomas

I’m a student and a member of the Belgian branch of the CWI since 2006. As a history student I have studied bits of the Belgian and German socialist workers’ movement. From there I started a search for the programmatic record of both marxist and classical social democracy and the early Comintern.

So, what is this blog about?

As Marxists we think there is no way forward from capitalism other than the self-emancipation of the working class from exploitation. The ‘working class’ here means the whole social class dependent on the wage fund, including employed and unemployed, unwaged women ‘homemakers’, youth and pensioners. This class has the potential to lead society forward beyond capitalism because it is separated from the means of production and hence forced to cooperate and organise to defend its interests in trade unions, co-ops, workers’ parties and various other forms.

The self-emancipation of the working class requires the working class to lay its hands collectively on the means of production. This does not simply mean state ownership of the means of production. It means that the working class through democratic and republican principles collectively decides how the means of production are used against private ownership by state bureaucrats. The self-emancipation of the working class therefore means in the first place the struggle for the working class to take political power.

The only form through which the working class can take political power and lay collective hands on the means of production is a democratic republic. It is based on democratic-republican principles such as election and recallability of all public officials; universal military training and service, the right to bear arms, and political rights in the armed forces; the election of judges and generalised trial by jury; freedom of information; and so on. It is also based on the extension of democratic forms of decision-making like workplace committees and so on.

The working class can only organise its cooperation through unity in action on the basis of accepting diversity of opinions; and there cannot be a common, cooperative appropriation of the means of production where there is private ownership of information, of institutional powers or of ‘political careers’. Without the principles of democratic republicanism there is precisely private ownership by individuals or groups of information, of institutional powers and of ‘political careers’.

Thus, the working class can only engage in the fight for its emancipation through the political organisation of it as a self-aware collective, a class for its own purpose, acting in its own interests on a global level and along democratic lines. This political organisation is inevitably a multitude, but can only be a politicised movement through a party that has as its core a programme about the political take-over of our class over society.

Because the programme is about the political take-over of the working class over society, it stipulates the strategic, objective, steps needed to reach our goal and overcome the undemocratic barriers that the ruling class – a minority – put into place to keep itself in power.

The left however is “stuck” in different priorities than programmatic clarity; it is busy with a numbers game of recruitment and competition with other left groups vying for “market share” in the working class movement. At the same time and because of this politics gets narrowed down to agitation on (mere) economic issues. So it seems as if the political-democratic record of the working class movement got expunged from history.

It is the purpose of this blog to start to engage in a theoretical discussion on political democracy, programme and republican values as a contribution to a cultural change within the left and the whole of society, so we can start to take our responsibilities seriously.