Reformism or Revolution: 11. The state and revolution

The question of the state is the most fundamental question for all revolutions and has therefore occupied a central position in Marxist theory. The state is a special repressive force standing above society and increasingly alienating itself from it. However, on this keyquestion Heinz Dieterich manages to display utter confusion, and this is not accidental.

The state of 21st Century Socialism

The question of the state is the most fundamental question for all revolutions and has therefore occupied a central position in Marxist theory. The state is a special repressive force standing above society and increasingly alienating itself from it. This force has its origin in the remote past. The earliest forms of class society show the state as a monster, devouring huge amounts of labour and repressing the masses and depriving them of all rights. At the same time, by developing the division of labour, by organizing society and carrying co-operation to a far higher level than ever before, it enabled a huge amount of labour power to be mobilized, and thus raised human productive labour to undreamed-of heights. This in turn permitted a giant leap forward for culture and science.

Reformism or Revolution
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"These actual relations [the economic structure of society] are in no way created by the State power, on the contrary they are the power creating it. The individuals who rule in these conditions, besides having to constitute their power in the form of the State, have to give their will, which is determined by these definite conditions, a universal expression as the will of the State, as law - an expression whose content is always determined by the relations of this class, as civil and criminal law demonstrate in the clearest possible way..." [1]

The state bureaucracy has powerful interests of its own. One can find similar features in every state, even the most democratic. The state, in the final analysis, consists of special armed bodies of men the purpose of which is precisely to regulate the class struggle, and to keep it within acceptable limits. The ruling class in normal periods exercises control over the state. But there are certain periods, when the class struggle reaches a pitch of intensity that goes beyond the "acceptable limits". In such revolutionary periods, the question of power is posed. Either the revolutionary class overthrows the old state and replaces it with a new power, or else the ruling class crushes the revolution and imposes a dictatorship - the state power in an open and undisguised form, as opposed to the state power in a "democratic" guise.

However, there is a further variant, which in different forms has been seen at different moments in history. Where the contending classes have fought themselves to a standstill with no clear result, and where the struggle between the classes reaches a kind of state of unstable equilibrium, the state itself can rise above society and acquire a large degree of independence. In modern times this phenomenon is known as Bonapartism, and in the ancient world it assumes the form of Caesarism.

Dieterich and Peters display utter confusion on the question of the state, and this is not accidental. On page 101 of El Socialismo del Siglo XXI we arrive at yet another contradiction in the theory of 21st Century Socialism. Marxism explains that the state is always an instrument for the oppression of one class by another. Yet Arno Peters informs us that "as long as society has a hierarchical structure, and therefore continues to maintain a military organization that requires its activity." What this means is that under 21st Century Socialism we will not only have capitalists but also the capitalist state. The state, as Lenin explained, in the last analysis is groups of armed men in defence of property. In Arno Peters' vision of 21st Century Socialism we have the state in all its glory: a standing army, a police force, judges, prisons organized on strictly hierarchical lines. Naturally, all this requires a sizeable bureaucracy, which will undoubtedly devour a considerable amount of the wealth produced by the working class, and not just the "wages of equivalence".

Although Arno does not go into detail, it is not difficult to see what this military organization will look like. It will be hierarchical he says. But if it is a hierarchical organization, in which the general staff can only receive the wages of equivalence, how can this hierarchy be identified? It is clear that under 21st Century Socialism, the generals, field marshals and brigadiers will be dressed in the most extravagant uniforms and covered with military insignia - just like now, in fact. In the same way that Dieterich wants to maintain a capitalist market economy but combine it with democracy and socialism, so he wishes to retain the state but also to render it harmless - like a bulldog with rubber teeth. We are informed on page 61 that the state is necessary, and will always be necessary in order to "attend to certain general necessities of society, such as health and public order but all its general functions pass through the filter of its class character and class". We are further informed on page 62: "The particular interest of the bosses of the system determines and distorts all the general functions of the State."

According to Dieterich, the state is necessary, and presumably will continue to exist in 21st Century socialism, not only to provide doctors and hospitals, but also 21st Century policemen equipped with truncheons to give a friendly lesson to 21st Century delinquents who disturb public order and cause distress to decent citizens - just like now. We are assured, however, that under 21st Century Socialism, the state will be completely different to the state as it exists at the present time: "This is the meaning of the class State, which historically substituted the proto-State about 6,000 years ago, and which will disappear with participative democracy. In its place there will be a new public authority which will prioritise the general interests and, having lost its class functions loses its repressive identity." [2] Confusion is piled upon confusion. Dieterich once again distorts history. What is this "proto-State" that was supposed to have been abolished 6,000 years ago? Only Arno Peters knows.

Dieterich and Engels on the state

Marx, Engels and Lenin explained many times that every state is an instrument of repression. How is it possible to retain the state, which by definition is an instrument of repression, and remove its repressive features? Only somebody completely ignorant of the ABCs of Marxism could suggest such a thing. It is about the same as "democratising" capitalism, introducing socialism without expropriating the capitalists, or teaching tigers to eat lettuce. At every step Dieterich contradicts himself on the question of the state. On page xvii of Hugo Chávez y el socialismo del siglo XXI the state is overcome and consigned to the rubbish bin of history. We are told that a certain Mr. Robert Kurz ("a masterly pen") has solved the question in the following way:

"Humanity's last adventure, therefore, consists of ‘overcoming the market economy beyond the old ideas of State socialism', which are no longer valid." But on page 21 the state is back again - this time as "a State of majorities". In capitalist society the majority is made up of workers, peasants, the urban and rural poor and the middle class. These are ruled over by a minority of exploiters: the landlords, bankers, capitalists and their families and hangers-on. In order to abolish capitalism and move towards socialism it is necessary for the majority to expropriate the minority.

How is this to be done? The working class must put itself at the head of society, rallying all the other oppressed and exploited layers to its side. A workers' government will nationalize the land, the banks and the key industries and begin to reorganize the economy on socialist lines. Having expropriated the capitalists, it will be possible to institute a socialist planned economy. Freed from the fetters of private ownership, the productive potential of industry and agriculture will be realized to the full. This is the prior condition for raising the living standards and cultural level of the masses, which is the prior condition for the participation of the working class in the running of industry, society and the state.

In the transitional period between capitalism and socialism the state will still exist, along with money, wage labour, certain inequalities and other remnants of the old society. But a workers' state is fundamentally different from other states. It is a state that is dedicated to its own extinction, or, to use the phrase of Engels, a semi-state, like the Paris Commune. In his masterpiece State and Revolution, written in the heat of the 1917 Revolution, Lenin brilliantly summed up the Marxist theory of the state. Basing themselves on the experience of the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels pointed out:

"...One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes'..." [3]

Engels explained that the working class could not simply take over the existing state and use it to transform society:

"The proletariat seizes state power, and then transforms the means of production into state property. But in doing this, it puts an end to itself as the proletariat, it puts an end to all class differences and class antagonisms, it puts an end also to the state as the state. Former society, moving in class antagonisms, had need of the state, that is, an organization of the exploiting class at each period for the maintenance of its external conditions of production; therefore, in particular, for the forcible holding down of the exploited class in the conditions of oppression (slavery, bondage or serfdom, wage labour) determined by the existing mode of production. The state was the official representative of society as a whole, its embodiment in a visible corporate body; but it was this only in so far as it was the state of that class which itself in its epoch, represented society as a whole: in ancient times, the state of the slave owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, of the feudal nobility; in our epoch, of the bourgeoisie. When ultimately it becomes really representative of society as a whole, it makes itself superfluous. As soon as there is no longer any class of society to be held in subjection; as soon as, along with class domination and the struggle for individual existence based on the former anarchy of production, the collisions and excesses arising from these have also been abolished, there is nothing more to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act in which the state really comes forward as the representative of society as a whole - the seizure of the means of production in the name of society - is at the same time its last independent act as a state. The interference of a state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then becomes dormant of itself Government over persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished', it withers away. It is from this standpoint that we must appraise the phrase ‘people's free state' - both its justification at times for agitational purposes, and its ultimate scientific inadequacy - and also the demand of the so-called Anarchists that the state should be abolished overnight." [4]

On the question of democracy, comrade Dieterich also shows a superficial and philistine point of view. By formal democracy he means bourgeois democracy, which is only another word for the dictatorship of the banks and big monopolies. By referring to the alleged gulf that separates modern bourgeois democracy from the original ideas of the "founding fathers" he makes a double mistake. Already in the pages of The Communist Manifesto, Marx explained the true nature of bourgeois democracy: "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." [5] Incidentally, the "founding fathers" of bourgeois democracy of which Dieterich speaks in such reverent terms believed in a restricted franchise, excluding not only women and slaves but the majority of the working class. It took decades of struggle by the working class to conquer the right to vote and other democratic rights. As a result, in most countries there is more democracy than in the past, not less. However, the reality of bourgeois formal democracy is just the same now as what it was in Marx's day: a convenient fig leaf to conceal the crude reality of bourgeois class rule.

Democracy and dictatorship

Naturally, having conquered democratic rights, the working class will make full use of them to further its interests, develop the class struggle, and fight for the socialist transformation of society. We will make use of every democratic opportunity that is opened to us, not only the right to strike and demonstrate, but participation in elections. The Venezuelan revolution shows the importance of the parliamentary struggle. Under certain conditions, it would even be possible to carry out the socialist transformation of society through parliament. But only on one condition: that the revolutionary socialists, having won a majority in parliament, mobilised the workers and peasants outside parliament to expropriate the landlords, bankers and capitalists.

Marxists do not reject the parliamentary struggle in principle. The parliamentary struggle is one aspect of the class struggle, just like any other. However, we must always bear in mind the limitations of parliamentarism. It must never be forgotten that the fundamental issues can never be resolved by parliaments, laws and constitution. In the last analysis, the fundamental questions are always settled outside parliament: in the factories, on the streets, in the villages, and in the army barracks. If any proof is required for this assertion, we need only refer to the events in Venezuela in April 2002. Dieterich makes a passing reference to this:

"If in certain circumstances, the majorities manage to elect a truly popular and democratic government, the ruling class ignores its own constitutional rules and carries out a coup. This cynical mechanism is known in ‘political science' as the paradox of democracy. The democratic institutions are only for the friends of democracy, not for its enemies. Translated into good Spanish: formal democracy is only for the friends of the bourgeoisie, not for the people who want to change society structurally and peacefully. A lesson for which Salvador Allende paid a high price."

All history shows that no ruling class has ever surrendered its power and privileges without a fight. When the "democratic" ruling class sees that its power and privileges are being threatened by an elected government, it will result to extra-parliamentary action to undermine, subvert and overthrow the government. Under such circumstances, appeals to legality, constitutions, and so on are useless and counterproductive. This is all very true, but what conclusions does comrade Dieterich draw from it? He makes a brief reference to the fate of Salvador Allende, but does not tell us what Allende ought to have done to prevent the victory of the counter-revolution.

The conclusion that Dieterich wants us to draw is the following: that the mistake of Allende was to go too far, too fast, thereby provoking the anger of the ruling class and the powers that be, who responded with a coup d'état. That is why Heinz Dieterich is continuously advising President Chávez to moderate his policies, not to go "too far", not to nationalise the land, banks and industries, not to touch private property at all, for fear of provoking the anger of the oligarchy and imperialism. Dieterich reminds one of the little boy in the fairy tale who is always crying wolf. The point is how do we stop the wolf from coming? To this question our friend has no answer.

Anyone who knows anything about Chile, knows that it was perfectly possible for Allende to have defeated the counter-revolution. He had the support the millions of workers and peasants and a large part of the army, not just the common soldiers but also many officers, who warned him in advance of the coup and begged him to act. The mistake of Allende was to trust in the good faith of supposedly democratic army generals like Pinochet, in the force of law, the constitution, etc. Consequently he refused to arm the workers to defend their government, even when the masses were demanding arms in the period before 11th September.

The result was a bloody defeat and ferocious coup which cost tens of thousands of lives. The real lesson of Chile is this: that it is impossible to pacify the counter-revolution with beautiful speeches about democracy. It is necessary to disarm the counter-revolution and force it to submit to the will of the majority. It is not possible to make half a revolution. Ultimately, one class must win and another class must lose. In order to succeed the working class must take the power into its own hands. This means that it must expropriate the oligarchy. There is no other way.

"But this means civil war and bloodshed!" the reformists will protest. On the contrary, the only way to avoid bloodshed and civil war is to go onto the offensive. If the working class and its leadership show themselves to be firm and implacable, the reactionary forces will be weakened and thrown onto the defensive. But if the revolutionary forces show themselves to be weak, vacillating and indecisive, the counter-revolution will be strengthen and go onto the offensive. We see this lesson repeatedly in the course of the Bolivarian revolution.

Counterrevolutionary oligarchy

From the very beginning, the oligarchy and imperialism adopted a belligerent attitude towards the revolution. On at least three occasions they attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Hugo Chávez. But on each occasion they were defeated by the revolutionary movement of the masses. In April 2002, the Venezuelan landlords, bankers and capitalists, together with reactionary army officers, corrupt trade union leaders and the reactionary hierarchy of the Church, overthrew the legitimate government and seized power with the active support of American imperialism. President Chávez was arrested and would probably have been murdered, if it were not for the magnificent uprising of the people of Venezuela which defeated the coup in 48 hours.

There is no doubt whatever that if President Chávez had appealed to the masses to take power on the 13th April, they could have done so peacefully and without civil war. The counter-revolutionaries were shattered, split and demoralised. The streets, factories and army barracks were fully controlled by the revolutionary forces. Unfortunately, at that stage, the Bolivarian revolution still remained within the framework of capitalism and had no perspective. The President attempted to negotiate with the opposition. What was the result of this policy of moderation? Did the opposition adopt a more moderate stance? Did they abandon their counter-revolutionary plans? On the contrary, they saw only weakness on the part of the government and immediately began to prepare for another counter-revolutionary offensive.

The bosses' strike, which begun at the end of 2002 and lasted for two months, represented a serious threat to the Bolivarian revolution. Its aim was to create economic chaos and prepare the way for a second coup. They might have succeeded, except for the marvellous movement of the workers, who occupied the factories and oil installations, expelled the counter-revolutionary elements, and introduced workers' control. This is what saved the revolution. Unfortunately, the same mistake was repeated. President Chávez attempted to reach an agreement with the opposition. What was the result of this attempt to conciliate? Did it halt the counter-revolution? No, it enabled the opposition to regroup and reorganize. The counter-revolutionaries recovered their nerve and began to prepare a new counter-revolutionary offensive. They used the Bolivarian Constitution to campaign for a recall referendum of 2004. Only the marvellous revolutionary spirit of the masses defeated them once again.

What does all this prove? Only this: that the counter-revolutionary oligarchy and its imperialist backers will never be satisfied until Chávez is overthrown and the Bolivarian revolution destroyed. They cannot be won over by pleasant words and smiles, or by appeals to legality and constitutions. The opposition boycotted the legislative elections in December 2005 because they knew they would be overwhelmingly defeated. This indicated that the oligarchy was preparing to resort to extra-parliamentary measures. It is true that, after three consecutive defeats, the opposition leaders adopted a more moderate image. But that was only a tactic. They mobilized seriously for the Presidential elections and if Rosales had won, the smiling democratic mask would soon have been cast off. Encouraged by a victory, the counter-revolutionary forces would have gone on the offensive.

The masses once more ensured that this would not happen. The overwhelming victory of Hugo Chávez in the presidential elections in December 2006 created favourable conditions for a decisive advance of the Bolivarian revolution. The masses want change. They are demanding firm action against the oligarchy and the counter-revolutionaries. President Chávez has repeatedly indicated that he wants to make the revolution irreversible and advance to socialism. But not all the Bolivarian leaders are happy with this. There is a fifth column within the Bolivarian movement, especially at the top level, which wants to halt the revolution and reach a deal with the counter-revolutionary opposition. This would be a recipe for disaster. It would demoralise the masses and play into the hands of the counter-revolution. If it is to succeed, there is only one way for the revolution to go, and that is forward.

The conditions in which the revolution unfolds will differ from one country to another and from one period to another. That is obvious. And it is also obvious that the specific tactics of the revolutionary party will also differ according to these conditions. Such questions as the specific weight of the proletariat in the population, its relations to other classes, the strength of its organisations, its experience, cultural level, national traditions and temperament, all enter into the equation. The conditions for carrying out the socialist transformation of society in Venezuela at the present time are particularly favourable. Hugo Chávez has used elections to mobilize the broadest layers of society for socialism and has thereby raised their confidence and fighting spirit, while demoralizing and disorienting the forces of reaction. This is very important, but it only poses the question of power; it does not solve it.

The writing of a progressive Constitution creates a legal framework to regulate the class struggle, but it is by no means sufficient to guarantee a peaceful outcome. On the contrary, such an arrangement merely serves to delay the final conflict and to give it an even more violent and convulsive character in the end. The expectations of the masses are heightened and concentrated, and their aspirations are given ample scope to develop themselves. Thus, in modern times, the masses develop great illusions in their parliamentary representatives and the possibility of solving their most pressing problems by voting in elections. However, the most fundamental questions of society cannot be solved in this way. In reality the ruling class will only tolerate it to the degree that it does not threaten their power and privileges. The propertied classes are not interested in laws and constitutions and will not fail to prepare illegal conspiracies and coups behind the backs of the democratic institutions.

What is necessary to carry the revolution through to the end in Venezuela? An appeal should be made to the workers, peasants and soldiers to take over the land and factories, set up democratically elected committees, and arrest any counter-revolutionary elements. What is necessary is to pass an enabling act to expropriate the land, banks and key industries under democratic workers' control and management. This would suffice to eliminate the power of the landlords, bankers and capitalists and establish a nationalised planned economy. The President should use the television to appeal to the masses to support these measures and to take direct action to overcome the resistance of the counter-revolutionaries. A workers' and peasants' militia should be established to keep order and to prevent any provocations on the part of reactionaries. Immediate measures should be introduced to raise pensions and wages, lower the working day and improve the living standards of the small peasants and shopkeepers.

Such measures, resting on the revolutionary movement of the masses outside parliament would be more than enough to ensure a peaceful transition, with a minimum of conflict. To his credit, Chávez has already taken a number of steps in the direction of nationalization. But advisers like Dieterich are constantly urging him to halt the process, to desist from further nationalizations and so on. Reformists and bureaucrats surround him and exert pressure. If these elements prevail, the outcome will not be a peaceful transition but the opposite.

How Dieterich ‘helps' Chávez

In 1999, Dieterich, according to his own account, predicted that that the military would conduct a coup against Chávez, a prediction the President at that time did not take seriously. Probably the reason why Chávez did not pay much attention is that Dieterich has been making the same predictions with tedious regularity. Every few months he predicts that the President will be overthrown or assassinated. Such predictions have the same scientific value as a man who continually repeats: "It is nine o'clock". He is certain to be proven correct at least twice every 24 hours. However, unlike the prediction concerning the time of day, predictions concerning counter-revolutionary plots require some kind of countervailing action to be taken. The question is what action?

As a matter of fact, it does not require any special prescience to predict that the counter-revolutionaries are plotting a coup or that the CIA would like to see Chávez dead. That there is a threat from the counter-revolutionary forces in Venezuela is self-evident and has been from the very first day. But how are we supposed to react to this threat? Do we take measures to disarm the counter-revolution and expropriate the oligarchy, or do we retreat, water down our programme to please the opposition - in other words, do the work of the counter-revolution ourselves? Here we will find a fundamental difference between what Heinz Dieterich wrote thirty years ago and what Heinz Dieterich writes now. It is the difference between somebody who is prepared to fight and defeat the enemy and a timid bourgeois reformer who is frightened of his own shadow and wishes to communicate his fear to everyone around him. This is living proof that the statement "older and wiser" is not always true.

On the 6th March 2005, Heinz Dieterich wrote an article in Rebelión entitled The World Revolution advances through Hugo Chávez. The title of the first section is thoroughly "Hegelian" in character: Towards 21st Century Socialism with the Help of the World Spirit. Dieterich begins:

"In an audacious commando operation, Hugo Chávez, on February 27, 2005, established his ‘beachhead' of world vanguard in the ideological battlefield with the bourgeoisie, in proclaiming the necessity of ‘inventing Socialism of the 21st Century' and ‘to continue to distance ourselves from capitalism'. Following this, the Commander consolidated his position with two indestructible armoured divisions when he emphasized that Venezuela's socialism would be democratic and participative in character, ‘in accord with the original ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels'."

Hugo Chávez was indeed audacious and courageous when he declared to the world that the Bolivarian revolution could only achieve its objectives by fighting for socialism in accord with the original ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For the first time since the fall of the USSR a leader of world stature had the courage to speak of socialism and Marxism. This was something that deserved the most enthusiastic applause of socialists everywhere, and the author of these lines greeted it with all possible enthusiasm. However, not everybody was equally enthusiastic about it.

I was present at the mass meeting in Caracas where the President publicly declared that he was a socialist. The thousands of working class chavistas present stood up and cheered. But I was sitting next to the Bolivarian ministers and I noticed that not all of them applauded, and others did so with little enthusiasm. Evidently the declarations took them by surprise. The next day the counter-revolutionaries ranted and raged. That was to be expected. But other circles on the "Left", although they applauded politely, were also not very pleased about Chávez's advocacy of revolutionary socialism. The ink was not even dry on the text of this speech when a host of reformists, Social Democrats and assorted revisionists came running to "correct" the President and modify his message, adding generous quantities of the purest tap water to it.

The above comments of Heinz Dieterich are a classical example of this kind of thing. In the first place, what we are dealing with here is not a "commando operation", but a speech. There was no "beachhead" and no "armoured divisions" were present. Yet again, comrade Dieterich makes use of high-sounding rhetoric and r-r-r-revolutionary phrases to cover up the timid reformist essence of his own message. Whenever he refers to President Chávez he always resorts to a sort of sycophantic flattery, which is merely a device by which he hides the fact that he is actually contradicting what Chávez said.

This is not the straightforward and honest method of debate that we find in workers' meetings. It is the method of tortuous and indirect argument that has characterized university seminars ever since the medieval Schoolmen who used to argue about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. More correctly, it is the method of a courtier, who flatters in order to deceive. We will later see what comrade Dieterich's real attitude is towards real revolutionary commando operation, armoured divisions and beachheads. For the present, let us remember Lenin's warning that talk and flattery have destroyed more than one revolution.

Let us hope that such things will not destroy the Bolivarian revolution. In order to prevent this it is absolutely necessary that the cadres of the Bolivarian Movement should turn their backs on those who wish to water down the ideas of socialism and halt the revolution. They should make a careful study of what Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky really said and then make up their own minds on what socialism is, dispensing with the interpreting services of Dieterich and others like him. Since Heinz is inordinately fond of lists, let us make a brief list of his central argument. What is Dieterich's central message? Stripped of all rhetoric, it is basically this:

1) What we want is not socialism, as advocated by Marx and Lenin, but Socialism of the 21st Century as invented by Heinz Dieterich;

2) This "socialism" essentially is the same as "capitalism with a human face";

3) In order to bring about such socialism it is not necessary to expropriate the bourgeoisie; under Socialism of the 21st Century the landlords will own the land, the capitalists will own the factories and the bankers will own the banks - just like now;

4) Therefore, no revolution is necessary;

5) Therefore, the Bolivarian revolution has already gone far enough (rather it has gone too far) and must be halted before it provokes the bourgeoisie.

Thus, in only a few lines, the "beachhead" is dissolved, the "indestructible armoured divisions" have been destroyed, the "commandos" are in full flight and General Heinz Dieterich is demonstrating his revolutionary audacity by waving the white flag with every possible enthusiasm. What perspective does comrade Dieterich offer us? He does not put forward any concrete programme for achieving socialism, either in the 21st century or in the 31st. He tries to frighten us with the spectre of counter-revolution and coups d'état, implying that we should not expropriate the capitalists for fear of provoking them. On the other hand, he writes:

"Just as feudal political and economic absolutism was democratised through formal democratic rights, so the political and economic absolutism of big capital must be democratised through the extension of majority decisions to all social spheres. Nevertheless, the democratisation of the bourgeois system is equivalent to its negation, because its predominantly plutocratic character is incompatible with real democracy in the military, cultural, economic, and political fields. Real democracy is the end of the civilisation of capital." [6]

What is this supposed to mean? In his usual unhistorical manner, Heinz Dieterich completely distorts the history of the bourgeois democratic revolution. How was feudal absolutism "democratised"? Dieterich implies that this was achieved by some kind of gradual and peaceful process. This is entirely false. The absolutist regimes in France and England were overthrown by revolutions. In both cases the absolutist monarchs were "democratised" by having their heads separated from their shoulders. If comrade Dieterich means that capitalism will be "democratised" in this way we could at least understand him. But he means no such thing.

What Dieterich means by "democratisation" is, to quote his own words, "the extension of majority decisions to all social spheres". What social spheres is he referring to? "Military, cultural, economic, and political fields". This sounds very fine, but what does it mean in practice? How is it possible to introduce democracy into the army, the schools and universities, the factories and the government on a local and national scale, while the ruling class continues to hold economic and state power? The answer is clear: it is not possible.

Let us begin with the clearest example: the army. How does Heinz Dieterich propose to democratise the army? Is he in favour of election of officers? Is he in favour of giving soldiers full civil and political rights, including the right to join trade unions and go on strike? Certainly not, since this would be "going too far and provoking reaction". How does he propose to "democratise" the economy? Is he in favour of workers' control of the factories, the abolition of business secrets and other measures to abolish the dictatorship of the bosses? Certainly not, for that would be to question the sacred rights of management - the 21st century equivalent of the Sacred Right of Kings.

What Heinz Dieterich wants is to maintain capitalism but remove from it all its negative and oppressive features. He wants a democratic capitalism, a pleasant capitalism or "capitalism with a human face". In other words, he wants to square the circle.

Counterrevolutionary role of the bourgeoisie

As we know, comrade Dieterich is very generous with his advice. Seated at his desk in Mexico City he meditates on all the problems facing the peoples of Latin America and then delivers his verdict with all the gravitas of a high court judge handing out sentences. In an article entitled The Trap of Constituent Assemblies in the Latin American Revolution, he writes:

"The theory of constitutional law is essentially the result of the bourgeois revolutions of France, Germany (?) and the United States. It was born under the spirit (Zeitgeist) of the Enlightenment, which propagated the illusion that power can be contained in Reason. This was an illusion against reality, soon to be converted into ideology. Thus, the Code Napoleon expressed the exploitative interests of the bourgeois ruling class, its Magna Carta that gave form to its domination.

"Applying the logic of military science, we may understand the Constitution as a final objective of war, but never as the theatre of operations of war nor as an instrument of war. The Constitution is always the result of the struggle for national macropower (macropoder nacional), and therefore it is not, nor can it be, a means of conquering power.

"The Constitution is the Palace of Versailles, where the First World War ends and the victors define the postwar order. But before signing the Magna Carta of the postwar order, it is first necessary to win victory on the battlefields of Verdun and the eastern front."

Comrade Dieterich works himself up into a paroxysm of rage against the original sin of "Latin American constitutionalism". He thunders:

"It is obvious that Latin American constitutionalism, as a product of the Atlantic bourgeoisie (burguesía atlántica), is Eurocentric, bourgeois-colonialist, racist and state-ist, and that, as such, must be changed root and branch. Theoretically, this task does not present a problem, because both the historical critique of the Left, for example, that of Karl Marx in The18th Brumaire, [and] the historical critique of the Right, e.g., that of the national socialist Carl Schmitt, have exposed the class character of bourgeois constitutionalism. To recognize constitutional change as a programmatic element of the struggle in the future is correct; to convert it into the political battlefield of the moment, however, may be a grave error." [7]

After all this revolutionary thunder and lightening the reader is left feeling dazed. With a stroke of the pen our Heinz has consigned every constitutional reform and every constituent assembly in Latin America to the dustbin of history. He denounces any idea that the Constituent Assembly can be the arena of the class struggle and insists that the battlefield of the class struggle is situated elsewhere. The precise location of this battlefield, however, is left unclear. This is very revolutionary stuff - at least it sounds very revolutionary, which is surely the same thing. In one of the plays of Richard Sheridan, the 18th century Irish satirist, a character who is addicted to gambling says: "I never lose at cards, or at least, I never feel I am losing - which is the same thing." Unfortunately for this character, it is not at all the same thing. And unfortunately for comrade Dieterich, to sound revolutionary is not the same as to be revolutionary.

Heinz refers to the constitutions established by bourgeois revolutions in France, Germany and the United States, and points out that these documents merely "expressed the exploitative interests of the bourgeois ruling class". That is quite true and was pointed out by Marx and Engels long before Comrade Dieterich ever thought of it. Nevertheless, the struggle for democratic constitutions in the past was an important part of the revolutionary struggle against the old autocratic regimes of Europe and played a most important role in the arousing the masses to fight against the old feudal order.

That was true in both France and United States, though it was not true of Germany, where the bourgeoisie betrayed the democratic revolution in 1848-49, as Marx and Engels explained. They pointed out that the German bourgeoisie played a counter-revolutionary role that led to the defeat of the revolution. They were particularly scathing in their criticism of the German bourgeois Liberals who played at constitutionalism in the Frankfurt Assembly. In fact, Germany only got a democratic constitution in 1918, but that was not the result of a victorious bourgeois democratic revolution but the defeat of a proletarian revolution as a result of the betrayal of the German Social Democracy.

The bourgeoisie has played a counter-revolutionary role ever since, and this has led to the betrayal of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in one country after another. The consequences of this have been particularly serious in Latin America. Almost two hundred years after the death of the Libertador, have the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution been carried out in Latin America? In most cases they have not. What are the main tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution? Agrarian reform, national independence, modernization of the economy and society, the separation of church and state, and the introduction of a democratic constitution. Have these tasks been carried out?

In most cases they have not been carried out, or carried out only partially. The very fact that we are still talking about constituent assemblies in Latin America in the first decade of the 21st century is itself a complete condemnation of the bourgeoisie, which has been unable to carry out the main tasks of its own revolution. Everywhere the rotten and corrupt bourgeoisie of Latin America plays a counter-revolutionary role. The tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution (or, to use Lenin's more correct expression, the national-democratic revolution) can only be carried out by the working class together with its natural allies, the poor peasants and the urban poor and the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie.

If we say "a", we must also say "b", "c" and "d". The working class must include in its revolutionary programme the tasks that were left undone by the bourgeoisie. This includes not only a revolutionary solution to the land problem and national independence, but also a democratic constitution. The struggle for the Bolivarian Constitution in Venezuela played an important role in mobilizing the masses in the struggle against the oligarchy. It is an important weapon in the hands of the workers and peasants. Is this true or false, comrade Dieterich? On this question, the professor shuffles about uneasily. He issues an utterance that would be worthy of the Sybil, who answered the questions of the ancient Greeks in incomprehensible and ambiguous terms. He says: "To recognize constitutional change as a programmatic element of the struggle in the future is correct; to convert it into the political battlefield of the moment, however, may be a grave error."

What does this mean? That we should postpone the struggle for a democratic constitution to the future means that we should not fight for democracy today. That would be fine if the democratic demands had already been carried out, but that, as we know, is by no means the case in every country south of the Rio Grande. Comrade Dieterich does not say that parliamentarism in general is useless, but he argues against calling a Constituent Assembly in Bolivia. We agree with him. But we strongly disagree with the reasons he gives, namely that there is an alleged unfavourable balance of forces in Bolivia. Still less can we accept the "solutions" he suggests (deficit spending and calling of new elections).

There is something else he has said in writing about Bolivia. In an article called Evo Morales, Communitarian Socialism, and the Regional Power Bloc, [8] he mentions a conversation with García Linera (Evo Morales' vice-president), in which he explained his ideas about socialism based on "Andean capitalism". This is how Dieterich understood it: "If we translate the formulation to a more precise language, we have to say that we are treating with a model of third-worldist Keynesian developmentalism, that is, a market economy with a strong developmentalist and protectionist function of the State, within a bourgeois political superstructure and an environment of abysmal neocolonial socio-economic destruction."

To retranslate from Dieterich's "more precise language" into something understandable, García Linera's socialism is not socialism at all but capitalism with reforms. Dieterich then goes on to argue that this is very positive and that nothing else could be expected from Evo Morales and the MAS: "In such a situation it would be preposterous to hope or ask that the MAS convert itself into a socialist vanguard which would pull Latin America to post-capitalism."

What is the reason for this? That all of Latin America is capitalist (with the exception of Cuba), he tells us: "What doesn't exist is a socialist economy. Neither is there a socialist superstructure. Nor the ‘socialist will' of Lula, Kirchner, Tabaré, and Duarte, nor mass movements, nor socialist structures." Comrade Dieterich's logic is clear for all to see: it would be foolish for the MAS in Bolivia to move towards socialism because there are no other countries in Latin America where there is socialism. If we follow this logic then there will never be a situation in which it is right to move towards socialism!

What if Bolivar, San Martin, Sucre and the other liberators had followed such a logic? They would have never even started the struggle for independence. We can almost hear Dieterich saying in 1800: "There are no independent countries in the Patria Grande, in such a situation it would be preposterous to hope or ask that Bolivar converts himself into an independence vanguard which would pull Latin America to post-colonialism." So what is socialism in Latin America today, according to Dieterich? "The concept of Latin American socialism today, with the exceptional paths of Cuba and Venezuela, is an evolutionary idea which provides the strategic horizon of the mass struggles and of the progressive leaders of the Patria Grande." Ah, socialism is something in the horizon, to be achieved through evolution in the long and distant future!

The bourgeoisie and democracy

Dieterich assumes that the bourgeoisie always prefers dictatorship, but this is not the case. The forms with which the ruling class exercises its rule can change very easily according to circumstances. As a matter of fact, one of the features of the current situation in the colonial world is the shift of imperialism from supporting military rule to supporting "democratic rule" wherever that has been possible. In the last period Washington has withdrawn its support from puppets on whom Washington based itself in the past (Papa Doc, Mobutu, Noriega, Fujimori, Saddam Hussein, etc.)

The two main reasons for this change are on the one hand the fact that Stalinism is no longer a threat and therefore, under the pressure of the masses, the imperialists are able to concede formal democracy, as long as it does not threaten their economic and strategic interests. On the other hand dictatorial rule tends to acquire a dynamic of its own. Dictatorships create a massive and expensive bureaucratic apparatus, and the dictators themselves have a tendency to cronyism and to luxury which eats up part of the cake which the multinational companies are able to extract from these countries. Some of them even dare to challenge their masters and cause trouble for the Americans. This was the case with Noriega in Panama and with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, to name just a couple.

As long as the pressure of the mass movement does not threaten the very existence of the capitalist system, democracy is the most economical means of government from the capitalist point of view. In any case, the most important decisions will still be taken in Washington, Paris and London. The fact that, for the time being, imperialism prefers "democratic" rule does not mean that it is always able to achieve it, or that they cannot change back to supporting dictatorial regimes if it suits its interest to do so. If the coup of April 2002 in Venezuela had succeeded, does any one seriously doubt that the bourgeoisie would have soon introduced a ferocious dictatorship to "teach the masses a lesson" or that Washington would have supported such a regime?

The latest "love affair" of imperialism and democracy will only last for as long as formal democracy is able to guarantee their economic domination. In any case, what sort of "democracy" is this? At most, we can consider it as a semi-democracy, a fraud and a fig leaf to cover the domination of the banks, monopolies and imperialism. And as soon as the working class and the peasantry present any serious challenge to capitalist rule, they will resort again, without hesitation, to the same old methods of ruthless dictatorships.

In Latin America, most of the dictatorial regimes fell and we now have "normal" bourgeois democracy in almost the whole of the continent. But for the bourgeoisie and imperialism there is only one step from formal democracy (that is, a disguised dictatorship of Capital) to open dictatorship. As long as the ruling class in these countries does not oppose the interests of the big transnationals, they will get the full backing of US imperialism. They will not hesitate to take this step when conditions demand it. They will only resort to this when the movement of the workers fundamentally threatens the rule of capital, as is the case in Venezuela. But Venezuela also shows the problems they will face. At the moment, not only in Venezuela, but in all Latin America, the pendulum is swinging to the left. We have seen massive movements of the working class in the last period. Strikes, general strikes and virtual regional insurrections have taken place in Bolivia. In Ecuador and Peru the revolutionary movement is advancing and growing stronger by the day.

The only problem is the lack of a clear political alternative in the form of a revolutionary Marxist party able to give an organized expression to the revolutionary aspirations of the masses. Confused talk about a struggle for democracy and social justice cannot help the movement of the masses to raise itself to the level of the tasks posed by history. Only a revolutionary socialist programme can point the way forward to victory. Of course, the working class must fight for democratic demands, but it must do so with its own methods, under its own independent class banner, and it will see them as part of the struggle to overthrow the oligarchy and take power into its own hands.

But to pose the question as Dieterich does - to postpone the struggle for democratic demands to some vague programmatic demands "for the future" - is completely false and would (like all his other positions) tend to demobilize the mass movement and deliver it into the hands of the bourgeoisie. It goes without saying from a Marxist point of view that the struggle for democratic demands in general is always subordinate to the struggle for socialism. But from that correct statement to the argument that the working class must abstain from the fight for a democratic constitution, or must postpone it to a remote future, this has nothing in common with Marxism or revolution.

This is what Lenin had to say about the struggle for democratic demands and the relation between this struggle and the revolutionary struggle for socialism:

"We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with a revolutionary programme and tactics on all democratic demands: a republic, a militia, the popular election of officials, equal rights for women, the self-determination of nations, etc. While capitalism exists, these demands - all of them - can only be accomplished as an exception, and even then in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms. Some of these reforms will be started before the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, others in the course of that overthrow, and still others after it.

"The social revolution is not a single battle, but a period covering a series of battles over all sorts of problems of economic and democratic reform, which are consummated only by the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It is for the sake of this final aim that we must formulate every one of our democratic demands in a consistently revolutionary way. It is quite conceivable that the workers of some particular country will overthrow the bourgeoisie before even a single fundamental democratic reform has been fully achieved. It is, however, quite inconceivable that the proletariat, as a historical class, will be able to defeat the bourgeoisie, unless it is prepared for that by being educated in the spirit of the most consistent and resolutely revolutionary democracy." [9]

‘Local minipower'

Marxism is not anarchism. Marxists have never renounced the parliamentary struggle or the fight for democratic rights. But we understand very well the limits of bourgeois legality and parliamentarism. That is another matter. If what Dieterich means is that it is impossible to solve the fundamental problems of society by parliamentary means, then it would be correct. But that is not what Dieterich is saying. Let us look again at what he writes: "Applying the logic of military science, we may understand the Constitution as a final objective of war, but never as the theatre of operations of war nor as an instrument of war. The Constitution is always the result of the struggle for national macropower (macropoder nacional), and therefore it is not, nor can it be, a means of conquering power.

"The Constitution is the Palace of Versailles, where the First World War ends and the victors define the post-war order. But before signing the Magna Carta of the post-war order, it is first necessary to win victory on the battlefields of Verdun and the eastern front." [10]

Despite all the bluster and rhetoric about battlefields, war and the conquest of power, we see that the professor's real aims are far more limited. But before we deal with these aims, we cannot pass by two little details of a terminological nature. He refers here to the "struggle for national macropower (macropoder nacional)". The term macropower is not to be found in the Diccionario de la Academia Real. It has been invented especially by comrade Dieterich, who, not satisfied with revising Marxism is also determined to revise the language of Cervantes.

What is the "struggle for national macropower"? It must be something different from the struggle for "local minipower", a concept so beloved by all the army of semi-anarchist, semi-reformist ex-Marxists who have recently descended on Latin America like a swarm of hungry locusts. With all the fervour of recent converts, the missionaries of the New Left preach the gospel of non-state socialism to the unconverted. Following in the footsteps of Toni Negri and others, they try to dissuade the workers from taking state power, advocating instead all kinds of local initiatives, community politics and co-operatives.

This kind of politics has the extraordinary merit of suggesting that it is possible to build a new kind of society, abolishing forever the exploitation of man by man (not to mention woman by woman) without challenging the state or the rule of the big banks and monopolies. It can be achieved, they say, purely by ignoring the state and building up all kinds of things that bypass the market altogether. Thus, they say, socialism can be brought about without revolution, without even trimming the fingernails of the bourgeoisie, and everyone will live happily ever after. This is what the struggle for "local minipower" signifies.

Here we see that Dieterich's "new and original" formulae are only the warmed-up scraps borrowed from other, mainly pre-Marxian writers who expressed the same ideas far much more clearly than he does. There is absolutely nothing new in these threadbare ideas, which have been copied word for word from the old pre-Marxian texts of Proudhon, Saint-Simon and Robert Owen. The only difference is that when these great pioneers of socialism first wrote their utopian socialist works, they were original and imaginative, whereas our 21st Century utopians are mere plagiarists - and very clumsy ones at that.

In the early 19th century, when the proletariat had not yet developed as a powerful independent force, the utopian socialists played a most progressive role, despite the deficiencies of their views, the undeveloped and immature nature of which reflected the undeveloped and embryonic state of the proletariat. But to try to drag us back to that same undeveloped and embryonic stage now, after the colossal discoveries of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, after the experience of the Russian Revolution and the titanic events of the past hundred years, that is entirely reactionary.

The intellectuals of the so-called New Left - the well-meaning and completely harmless people of Le Monde Diplomatique, Attac, the World Social Forum, etc. -  imagine themselves to be radicals but in practice remain firmly rooted to capitalism. Maybe that is why capitalist institutions like the Ford Foundation pay the bills of the World Social Forum. It is quite a good investment since it pays to divert the attention of the masses into endless talking shops where nothing is ever decided. This kind of thing is far worse than a bourgeois parliament, where occasionally some things are decided and even some laws are occasionally passed that benefit the working class. By contrast, the kind of "miniparliaments" represented by the World Social Forums, NGOs and the like, decide nothing at all, yet they give the impression that they are making very important decisions indeed. They are a substitute for revolutionary action "at the grassroots level"; they are "closer to the people" and so on and so forth.

This is just the kind of empty demagogy and gesturing that has been pursued by Marcos and the Zapatistas for years. They have attempted to establish "local minipower", complete with an "economy of equivalence". They demand autonomy for Chiapas. This is a substitute for the revolutionary struggle for power and a trap for the oppressed peasants of Chiapas. If the people of Chiapas got autonomy tomorrow, what would it solve? Would it solve the most pressing problems of the masse? Would it solve the problem of poverty, landlessness and unemployment? No it would not. The workers and peasants of Chiapas would be living in a ghetto, a kind of Bantustan, cut off from the real sources of wealth and power and completely dependent on the bourgeoisie of Mexico and the United States. They would be even worse off than they are today. The reactionary-utopian nature of the Zapatista's "local minipower" was glaringly revealed during the revolutionary crisis that shook the bourgeois state in Mexico during 2006.

In Mexico the bourgeois democratic revolution was carried out long ago. The Mexican bourgeoisie has had almost a century to show what it can do. The result has been a complete disaster for the Mexican people. The programme of the EZLN is not at all socialist but at best a bourgeois-democratic programme, but even their limited demands cannot be achieved within the limits of capitalism. This is a confirmation of the theory of the permanent revolution. The leaders of the EZLN do not have a programme which could appeal to the workers and their efforts to go beyond their basis of support amongst the peasants have been oriented mainly to the petty-bourgeois intellectuals and middle classes in the cities. We must remember that in Mexico today, 70 percent of the population live in urban areas. The key to the revolution in Mexico, and in the rest of Latin America lies, not in the peasantry, but in the multi-millioned ranks of the labour movement.

In theory there is a democratic regime in Mexico, but in practice the oligarchy denies the people their democratic rights. We saw this in the recent elections when López Obrador was cheated out of victory. Was it correct to struggle against electoral fraud in Mexico? Of course, it was. Not to have roused the masses to fight fraud - that is to say, to assert their democratic rights - would have been an abject surrender. Everybody in Mexico knows that López Obrador won the election and that Calderón has not been democratically elected. The workers and peasants wanted to get rid of the reactionary right wing government of Fox and the PAN. They rallied to López Obrador and the PRD. The reaction of the Mexican ruling class, obviously in agreement with Washington, was to try to prevent López Obrador from standing. The reason why Bush was determined to stop López Obrador from winning was that he feared another Chávez on his doorstep.

On the 31st July 2006, three million people were on the streets demanding the recognition of the PRD candidate López Obrador. In Oaxaca there was an insurrection that lasted for months, including the setting up of a soviet (the APPO - Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca or Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca), people's militia and the taking over of the television. The Oaxaca insurrection was crushed by brute force with hundreds of people arrested and an unknown number murdered by the security forces. There was, of course, not a word about this in our "free press", which only starts shouting about "dictatorship" when the interests of the rich are threatened. The limitations of the Zapatistas were clearly exposed in the course of this revolutionary movement that shook Mexico to its foundations. Heinz Dieterich is living in Mexico. And he is a great admirer of the Zapatistas (the EZLN and Subcomandante Marcos). However, lately he seems to have changed his mind. In the interview in Revista Mariátegui (15/08/06) we read the following interesting exchange:

"Why do you say that the Sub Commander Marcos works for the Mexican right?

"Because when Marcos left Chiapas and it made the call for the Other Campaign, protected by an escort of the Federal Police, he said that it was not necessary to vote, that the social movements should not vote for any of the three political parties in the election. Calling for non-participation obviously favoured the right, if he had called for a vote for López Obrador, who is the candidate of the people, perhaps we would have won. That is to say, he has done the work of the right."

For once we are in agreement with Heinz Dieterich. Marxists always set out from the real movement of the masses fighting for their most urgent and immediate demands. We participate in the mass movement, fighting in the front line, but at the same time we explain to the most advanced elements the need to go further, to transform the fight into an all-out assault on the capitalist system. In Mexico millions of workers and peasants came onto the streets to protest against electoral fraud. The masses wanted a change and voted for López Obrador. The Zapatistas and all the ultra left pseudo Marxist groups in Mexico refused to support the PRD. When the masses came out onto the streets, what was the position of the Zapatistas? They backed the so-called Other Campaign - that is, in practice, they acted in the interests of Fox and the PAN. This discredited them in the eyes of the mass of ordinary Mexican workers and peasants. This is a good example of how revolutionaries should not act.

Parliamentary struggle

To return for a moment to the "struggle for national macropower" (which is Dieterichese for the struggle for state power), we must now ask what this struggle consists of? Since the professor has denounced bourgeois constitutionalism in such contemptuous terms, we must assume that he advocates the struggle of the masses outside parliament, the class struggle in its purest form, the struggle to overthrow the bourgeois parliament and replace it with the rule of the proletariat. Surely his stern revolutionary message can mean nothing else but this? Well, not exactly... He goes on to explain: "Every Latin American party or movement that wins the elections on the basis of a developmentist and Bolivarian programme (un programa desarrollista y bolivariano) must choose the centre of gravity of its policy of transformation. The object of choosing this centrum gravitates is the consolidation and broadening of its own power, at the expense of the power of the imperial-oligarchic forces." [11]

Nobody understands what exactly is meant by "choosing the centre of gravity of its policy of transformation". Heinz tries to help us by translating the phrase into Latin, where it becomes centrum gravitatis. But this still gets us no further, since muddled ideas never improve, even if they are translated into Mandarin Chinese. Insofar as it is possible to translate the above mentioned passage into intelligible language of any sort, it means the following: if you win an election, you must try to decide the best way to win the next election. Now, this is a very sound piece of advice and one that every politician in the world would say amen to. It does not, however, appear to add a great deal to the sum total of human knowledge, even when expressed in Latin. Having once embarked on his course, comrade Dieterich sticks to it with grim determination:

"The determination of this political centre of gravity of the new government is a function of the centres of gravity of the enemy, that is to say, the points where the enemy concentrates his greatest mass. Having correctly understood the correlation of forces, their nature and situation in place and time [sic!], between the transforming government and the Right, the government must decide if it is obliged to adopt: a) a defensive strategy or if it can go over immediately to a strategic offensive, and b) if it decides to attack, which what forces and against which centres of gravity of the enemy. Let us remember that the relation between defensive and offensive is, of course, dialectical." [12]

This "of course" is really priceless! Having lost himself (and his readers) in this shapeless mass of prose, Comrade Dieterich is not really sure where he has come out, but he is sure (of course) that he has come out somewhere. What all these words mean, however, is anyone's guess. Let us again attempt a translation into the language of ordinary mortals: once elected, the government must understand what it can and cannot do. Such profundity! Such a grasp of politics and military strategy! What is the real correlation of forces and what are these points of gravity of the forces of reaction? Comrade Dieterich now enlightens us:

"The points of greatest concentration of mass, and therefore, of greatest power and danger, of the bourgeoisie that has been electorally defeated, are: its Armed Forces; its national mass media, its big capitals; the church hierarchy; the judicial superstructure, particularly the corrupt and reactionary Supreme Courts; the legislative superstructure and sectors of the civil executive; the ideological control of certain social classes; the international mass media; the transnational corporations, and the interests of US and European imperialism."

At this point Comrade Dieterich has his readers shaking in their shoes. Against such a fearsome array of enemy forces, what is left for us to do but to raise the white flag and beg for mercy? Particularly as Comrade Dieterich insists that it is not the same "to win with 75 percent of the votes, with two thirds, with an absolute majority (51 percent) or with a relative majority; the centres of gravity of the enemy will still determine the battlefield and the form of the war that the newly elected government will have to chose, if they do not wish to be defeated in the medium term."

It is true that the class struggle can never be decided by the parliamentary arithmetic. Such things do not impress the ruling class. In general, the landlords and capitalists (and also the imperialists) prefer a formal bourgeois democracy because it is the most economical and effective way to express its class rule. But the bourgeoisie only abide by the rules of democracy insofar as it does not threaten their power and privileges. The moment it does, the smiling mask of democracy is cast to one side and they resort to conspiracies and coups designed to overthrow the democratically elected government.

Yes, all this is perfectly true and is confirmed by the recent experiences of both Venezuela and Bolivia. But is it true to say that the results of elections are a matter of indifference, that they tell us nothing about the real class balance of forces? No, it is not true at all. Lenin, who was very far from being a parliamentary cretin, paid a lot of attention to parliamentary statistics (and to every other kind of statistics that could shed light on the class correlation of forces). It is true that the results of an election only provide us with a snapshot of the mood of the masses at a particular time and that this can change and does not exhaust the question of the relations between the classes. But within these limits electoral statistics can tell us quite a lot about the state of the class struggle.

The electoral struggle can play an important role in the class struggle. In the case of Venezuela it served to mobilize, unite and galvanize the masses after the defeat of the Caracazo and the failure of the military uprising of 1992. The masses rallied to Chávez and inflicted one defeat after another on the oligarchy and imperialism. With each electoral defeat, the forces of reaction were weakened, disoriented and demoralized, while the masses were encouraged and strengthened. A decisive turning point was the defeat of the counter-revolution in the recall referendum in the summer of 2004. This demoralized the counter-revolutionary forces, who had suffered defeats on two previous occasions - in April 2002 and in the bosses' lockout. In general, the petty bourgeois masses are unstable and easily discouraged. They lack the stamina of the proletariat. They need to go from success to success and are quickly discouraged by failure. The sight of a massive electoral victory for the chavistas utterly demoralized the opposition and convinced them that nothing was to be done, that Chávez was invincible. By contrast, the masses felt their own power and were strengthened as a result.

That was the situation up to December 2007, when the Bolivarian Movement suffered its first electoral setback with the defeat of the constitutional referendum. What was the reason for this defeat? Were the masses protesting that the revolution had gone too far, too fast? Or was it an expression of the "unfavourable balance of forces", as Dieterich maintains? No, it was none of these things. It was a warning to the Bolivarian leadership that the masses are becoming tired of endless speeches, parades and referendums that solve nothing. In December 2006 the masses voted overwhelmingly for a change, but no fundamental change has been forthcoming. This was a protest at the slow pace of the revolution. That is to say, it was a protest against the policies of reformists who are following the line of Heinz Dieterich. This is placing the Bolivarian Revolution in danger.

The Bolivian experience

In Bolivia, on at least two occasions in the last two years the objective conditions existed for the working class to have taken power. The workers of Bolivia displayed colossal energy, courage and initiative. On two occasions they overthrew the government - not through elections but through direct mass action. On the second occasion, in May-June 2005, I warned that, if the leaders of the COB did not take power, then the initiative would be lost and the whole movement would be derailed and would then have to pass through the school of bourgeois parliamentarism. This was subsequently shown to be correct. What has Comrade Dieterich got to say about the events in Bolivia? He criticizes the idea of a Constituent Assembly. The author of these lines also criticized it, but from a completely different point of view. In politics, what is important is not only what is said, but who says it and for what purpose. I criticized the idea of a Constituent Assembly because it did not go far enough, while Comrade Dieterich criticizes it for going too far.

I criticized the idea of a Constituent Assembly because the correlation of class forces at that time was sufficient for the workers to have taken power, while Comrade Dieterich thinks that the correlation of class forces is so unfavourable that it does not even permit the convening of a Constituent Assembly, and that such a "bold step" will only antagonize the reactionaries, leading to disaster. Is it true that the workers of Bolivia could have taken power? Yes, it is quite true and this fact was admitted by one of the leaders of the COB, Jaime Solares, who stated publicly "the reason we did not take power is because we did not have a revolutionary party." This fact is obvious to any thinking worker in Bolivia, but it is not obvious to Heinz Dieterich, obsessed as he is with the power of the bourgeois state and imperialism and the alleged weakness of the working class. As a matter of fact, there is weakness, but it is not on the part of the workers and peasants of Bolivia, who have done everything in their power to transform society. The weakness is on the part of the leadership.

According to Dieterich, the working class of Bolivia is too weak even to achieve a Constituent Assembly, let alone take power. Besides, the imperialists would not like it! As a matter of fact, it was precisely the imperialists who supported the idea of a Constituent Assembly in Bolivia when they saw the danger of power slipping out of the impotent hands of the Bolivian bourgeoisie. The World Bank publicly came out in favour of a Constituent Assembly! Why did they do this? Was it out of charitable feelings for the people of Bolivia? In that case, why did they not advocate it before? No, it was not out of charity (which is not an emotion one normally associates with the World Bank) but out of fear.

It very often happens that the strategists of Capital come to the same conclusions as the Marxists. The serious defenders of imperialism have a far better understanding of the revolution than our academic friend in Mexico. Washington understood very well the real class balance of forces. They saw that the masses were moving towards the seizure of power and that the rotten and corrupt Bolivian bourgeoisie was powerless to control the situation. Under such circumstances the imperialists did what they always do: shift from the right boot to the left boot, and hand power over to the reformists.

The ruling class, when faced with the prospect of losing everything, will always be prepared to make concessions. They were compelled to call elections. Unfortunately, the leaders of the COB boycotted the elections, which were nevertheless won by Evo Morales by a landslide victory. This was a blow against the parties of the oligarchy. Naturally, the imperialist and the oligarchy had no intention of allowing this situation to continue. They rapidly passed over to the offensive, rallying the forces of counter-revolution under the banner of "autonomy", that is, of dividing the living body of Bolivia. The workers and peasants mobilized against the counter-revolution and the class struggle passed onto the streets. What conclusions does Dieterich draw from all this? He writes:

"The struggle for a new Constitution, begun with forces that do not have a clear superiority over those of the enemy, that is to say, with forces that do not guarantee his defeat, becomes a strategic political error." [13]

Dieterich once more puts on his military strategist's hat. He gravely warns us not to begin a battle unless we have "a clear superiority over those of the enemy, that is to say, with forces that do not guarantee his defeat" (my emphasis). In any war a serious commander will avoid a battle where he is likely to be defeated. That is a commonplace that is as profound as all the other commonplaces that are such a specialty of our learned professor. But wait a minute! It is one thing to avoid battle when the enemy enjoys a clear superiority. It is quite another thing to demand a guarantee of victory as a prior condition for entering a battle at all. If one buys a television set one can demand a guarantee and they will give you a very nice one, valid for twelve months, parts and labour included. Unfortunately, in war there can be no such guarantee, and the outcome of every battle is determined by the struggle itself. If one could possess such a guarantee, then comrade Dieterich would be a far greater general than Napoleon, Cromwell and Alexander the Great put together. But one cannot, and he is not.

A general who avoids battle because he thinks the conditions are unfavourable may, or may not, be a good general. A general who refuses to give battle on principle unless he has a written guarantee of success is a coward and a charlatan. Just imagine if in 1812, Dieterich would have been in charge of the revolutionary army instead of Simon Bolivar. What would he have said? "We have very small forces and the enemy has many more than us. In addition, he has the backing of a powerful empire, a lot of money and the support of the Roman Catholic Church. No! We cannot proceed unless we obtain a guarantee of victory." The revolutionary forces would have given up without firing a shot and the peoples of Latin America would still be living under the yoke of Spain. Fortunately the Liberator was made of sterner stuff than the man from Mexico.

Comrade Dieterich argues that "to have a new Constitution without having an overwhelming superiority of real forces (una abrumadora superioridad de fuerzas reales) does not have any importance [because] no ruling class in the world, whether feudal, bourgeois or real socialist (?), acts in accordance with the Constitution when this does not agree with its interests. To believe that the Constitution determines the realpolitik of a government or that this can be achieved in class society, is simply an illusion, although it is ethically desirable."

Here our friend reached hitherto unheard-of heights of Jesuitical casuistry. That the ruling class will only accept the rules of formal democracy as long as its power and privileges are guaranteed is well known to Marxists. But does it flow from this ABC proposition that we are indifferent to the forms of rule in class society? That is a stupid formulation that has nothing in common with Marxism, which states that the working class must always fight for the most advanced bourgeois democracy. This is elementary, but it does not exhaust the question. The fact that the workers must fight for the most advanced democratic demands is not dictated by illusions in formal bourgeois democracy, which is only camouflaged version of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The working class is interested in democracy because it requires the broadest and freest camp of action upon which to develop the class struggle and fight for socialism. What is "ethically desirable" does not come into it. Whoever does not understand this elementary proposition has not understood the ABCs of Marxism and the class struggle.

The Constituent Assembly has turned out to be a trap for the masses in Bolivia. The oligarchy, backed by imperialism, has used it to construct a bulwark against the revolution. They are using the two-thirds voting rule of the new constitution to block progressive legislation and sabotage the Evo Morales government, while simultaneously mobilizing the counter-revolutionary forces on the streets. What else could one expect? It is foolish to imagine that even the most democratic constitutions and parliamentary institutions on earth can resolve the fundamental contradictions in society. The Bolivarian constitution is the most democratic constitution in the world, but that did not stop the Venezuelan oligarchy from organizing the coup of April 2002. The counter-revolution was not defeated by paper constitutions but only by the revolutionary movement of the masses. Bolivia is no different.

But from this elementary proposition very different conclusions can be drawn. The reformist Dieterich says: since the bourgeoisie holds power and does not accept democratic and progressive reforms, we must be careful and not do anything to upset the reactionaries. The Marxists say: since the landlords and capitalists form a reactionary bloc opposed to any democratic or progressive reforms we must fight for the most advanced demands and fight the reactionaries at every level: not only in parliament but on the streets, in the factories, on the land and in the army barracks, and we must not cease fighting until we have defeated and disarmed the enemy, and this can only be achieved through the revolutionary expropriation of the property of the landlords and capitalists. Heinz Dieterich once again tries to frighten the masses with the spectre of counter-revolution and an allegedly invincible bourgeoisie. He says:

"The reaction has on its side the absolute majority of the prefects (six out of nine); the Senate; the Church; big national and international Capital and the Supreme Court of Justice. In such a situation weapons decide. These are also on the side of reaction, because the majority of the generals are against the process of transformation. In these conditions the government cannot win (En estas condiciones, el triunfo del gobierno no es posible). The aim of the government in this conflict is therefore reduced to avoiding defeat and arriving at an acceptable compromise (evitar la derrota y alcanzar un compromiso acceptable)." [14]

So, according to Dieterich, the government of Evo Morales cannot win. What advice does our Heinz give to the Bolivian government? Only one conclusion is possible: if you cannot win, you must surrender to the enemy, wave the white flag and beg for some concessions from the enemy that can make the defeat look a little less shameful. The talk about an "acceptable compromise" is just a joke in bad taste. What acceptable compromise can there be between the Bolivian workers and peasants and the oligarchy that has oppressed them for generations? The only compromise that would be acceptable to the landlords and capitalists is the "compromise" between the donkey and the man sitting on its back. Why does Dieterich say the government "cannot win". Because the reaction is too strong. Why is the reaction too strong? Because it has a majority of the prefects, senators, judges, bankers, capitalists and army generals. But just a moment, my friend! How many prefects, senators, judges, bankers, capitalists and army generals are there in Bolivia? A few hundreds or thousands. It is true that they can count on the support of a layer of the middle class and backward elements in the population. But how many are they? And how many of them are prepared to fight and die in defence of the oligarchy?

The election results showed the real balance of forces. That is why our friend Heinz is silent on the election statistics. Over fifty percent voted for Evo Morales and the old parties of the Bolivian bourgeoisie were shattered. It was an unprecedented result and it showed the burning desire of the masses for change. To ignore this fact, as Dieterich does, is to give an entirely false impression of the real balance of class forces in Bolivia. Ah but this is only a mater of votes, our friend will reply: elections, laws and constituent assemblies decide nothing. Yes, that is the case: in and of themselves, these things decide nothing. What is decisive is the class struggle outside parliament. But what the election results revealed was that the balance of class forces is enormously favourable for the revolution and unfavourable for the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie - on one condition, that the force of the workers is organized and mobilized to crush the counter-revolution.

The question of violence

It may be that the government of Evo Morales will in the end be overthrown by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. Certainly, the latter is doing everything in its power, in collaboration with US imperialism, to bring about this result. They are, of course, resorting to extra-parliamentary, methods in order to do this. Naturally! Who could expect anything else of the rotten and reactionary bourgeoisie, whether in Bolivia or in any other country? But if the bourgeoisie succeeds in its counter-revolutionary plans, it will not be, as comrade Dieterich imagines, because of the unfavourable balance of forces, but because of the weakness and vacillations of Evo Morales and the Bolivian reformists.

The fact that the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie of Santa Cruz is threatening to split the country, that is, to destroy Bolivia as a nation, is itself a sign of weakness, not strength. Despite controlling a majority of the prefects, senators, judges, bankers, capitalists and army generals, the reactionary Bolivian bourgeoisie do not share Heinz Dieterich's confidence in the inevitability of victory. The demand for the division of Bolivia reflects desperation, not confidence, since it would not be accepted by the army, let alone the workers and peasants. What should be done? Heinz Dieterich says: we must surrender to the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie because the balance of forces is not favourable. We must negotiate with the enemy and arrive at a "compromise" in order to avert disaster. Isn't this situation just monstrous? A tiny handful of wealthy parasites to hold an entire nation to ransom, impudently defying the will of the majority, and Dieterich advises the latter to "reach an acceptable compromise" with the blackmailers, because they are "too strong" for us to fight them!

This is what our friend Heinz calls "political realism". As a matter of fact, this is the very opposite of realism. Let us suppose for a moment that the Bolivian government followed Dieterich's advice. What would happen? The reactionaries would be emboldened and the masses would be bitterly disappointed. The very next day, the right wing would make new demands. What would comrade Dieterich say then? He would demand that the government must retreat still further, abandon all "unrealistic" reforms to improve the living standards of the masses, resist the impositions of the imperialists and carry through an agrarian reform. "We are not strong enough!" he will say. "The correlation of forces is unfavourable!" For every step back Evo Morales makes, the bourgeoisie demand ten more. With every step back the government makes, the workers and peasants who voted for it and who constitute its only reliable base, are further disenchanted and despondent, while the reactionaries will be ever more confident, aggressive and violent. In fact, this is already happening.

Encouraged by the weakness of the government, the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie has passed onto the offensive. The sabotage of the right wing in the parliament is being supplemented by increasingly aggressive provocations of the fascists on the streets. They are trying to create disorder and chaos, in order to create the conditions for right wing conspiracies in the tops of the army, possibly leading to a military coup, once the masses have fallen into a state of apathy. Thus, the methods advocated by comrade Dieterich have results that are diametrically opposed to what he intends.

On paper Dieterich's arguments appear very sound and sensible. But in fact they can be reduced to just one idea: since, in the last analysis, fundamental questions are decided by force of arms, and since the ruling class has control of the state, including the army, we cannot succeed. Let us straight away point out that this is not about Venezuela or Bolivia: it is an argument that denies the possibility of revolution in general. It is self-evident that the ruling class in all normal periods controls the state, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the prisons, the army, the police and the secret police. That was the case in Russia in 1917, and also in France in 1789. That fact did not prevent either the Russian or the French Revolution. In more recent times the Shah of Iran had a very large and powerful army and the most efficient and brutal secret police in the world, the Savak. Yet once the masses came out onto the streets, the whole edifice of repression came tumbling down like a pack of cards.

Yes, mumbles Comrade Dieterich, but there was a lot of bloodshed, and we wish to avoid bloodshed. As a matter of fact, the October Revolution in Russia was a relatively peaceful affair, at least in Petrograd. One bourgeois historian, Orlando Figes (by no means a friend of the Bolsheviks) described it as a "police operation". The reason for this is that the Bolsheviks had already won over the great majority of the workers and soldiers (even Stalin admitted that "comrade Trotsky was responsible for winning over the Petrograd garrison"). Nine-tenths of the work of the insurrection was accomplished in the nine months that preceded it.

Comrade Dieterich is so obsessed by the question of the army that he has not understood the fact that behind the bayonets are human beings, people who think and can be influenced by the general mood of society. Yes, the tsarist regime had the generals, but they did not have the ordinary soldiers. And what use are generals without an army? In the moment of truth, the generals and the entire tsarist state was suspended in mid air.

Like all the other reformist intellectuals, Dieterich has no confidence in the working class, and the mass movement does not enter his restricted field of vision. In reality, these intellectual "friends of the people" only see the tops of society. They are like a man who can only see the surface of the ocean, but is ignorant of the powerful currents moving below. Needless to say, this approach has nothing in common with Marxism. At the end of his article, Dieterich informs us that we "must win the real war, not a paper war:

"A new Constitution does not prevent counter-revolutionary coups, as we saw on 11 April 2002 in Venezuela and on 11 October 2006 in Bolivia."

Thus far, we are in complete agreement with comrade Dieterich. A democratic constitution does not prevent counter-revolutionary coups, although this is not an argument against democratic constitutions. It only expresses the limitations of bourgeois democracy in general. Lenin explained that the dialectic of parliamentary democracy inevitably leads to an intensification of the class struggle outside parliament and that that, in the last analysis, is decisive. The coup of 11 April 2002 in Venezuela proves just that. But what happened to the coup of 11 October 2006 in Bolivia? There was no such coup. It was confidently predicted by comrade Dieterich in articles that were distributed internationally, but it never arrived. This tells us a lot about comrade Dieterich's method. Heinz's prediction of a coup in Bolivia was shown to be wrong in 2006, but if Evo Morales continues to vacillate, it may prove right in the end. However, happens, it will not be for the reasons that comrade Dieterich gives, but for very different reasons.

How not to prevent a coup

So far, our friend Heinz has explained to us at great length what does not prevent counter-revolutionary coups. We wait with bated breath his opinion on what does prevent them. Here is what he says: "What does prevent them is real power, and, for this reason, the new governments in Latin America who do not recognize the Monroe Doctrine and the interests of the transnational companies (que desconoce la Doctrina Monroe y los intereses de las transnacionales) must concentrate their limited resources on the real war, not a paper war or concepts". [15]

By this time the reader will have become accustomed to Heinz's circumlocutions - a very indirect mode of expressing oneself that is based on the "economical" principle of writing, namely that one should never use one word where three will suffice. This style of writing and speaking is highly appreciated in university circles where one has all the time in the world in which to discuss fascinating theories that the rest of humanity has never heard of and is not remotely interested in. Having effortlessly disposed of detestable "paper wars or concepts" - the exact nature of which is never explained to us - Heinz now tells us what he means by "the real war". What is Heinz's magical solution for preventing counter-revolutionary coups, not just in Bolivia and Venezuela, but throughout Latin America. Let him speak for himself:

"The first necessity for these governments, for example, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or the Alianza País in Ecuador, consists in broadening their power base through the few mechanisms at their disposal. Two ways are important in this sense: a) invest rapidly and generously on social spending, even if it is through the external debt, if there is not sufficient income from taxation, and, b) try to bring forward elections in order to generate a power base within the bourgeois superstructure [??], from which, in any case, one cannot escape, as long as the change is being carried out within the limits of bourgeois parliamentarism." [16]

Insofar as it is possible to extract some clear ideas from this muddle, it is only this: in order to avoid counter-revolutionary coups, the government must first of all broaden their power base. How is this to be done? By spending more money (a lot more money!) on social spending. How is this money to be obtained? By borrowing and increasing the public debt and by calling new elections. Heinz believes that we can persuade the landlords and capitalists that we are really harmless people by confining our programme to social spending. As a matter of fact, the oligarchy regards these reforms as part of a Communist plot and opposes them tooth and nail. It sees increases in taxes as part of the same plot. The capitalists are replying to this by a strike of capital (capitalists can strike as well as workers!) and closing factories like matchboxes. It was no accident that the first action of the counter-revolutionaries in April 2002 was to announce the abolition of all these reforms.

Heinz Dieterich does not want to confront the ruling class. He does not wish to appear too radical. Therefore, he does not want the "transforming governments" of Latin America to increase taxation on the rich - much less to expropriate them! Therefore, he cheerfully advocates Keynesian deficit spending as a means of avoiding such unpleasantness. However, governments cannot spend money they do not have, and if they attempt to do so, it will inevitably end in tears. One does not have to be a genius or even a scientific professor of sociology and political economy to understand that debts sooner or later have to be repaid with interest. The same is true of government deficits. All previous attempts to solve the problems of capitalism by such means have led to colossal inflation that a later stage ends in a recession. That was precisely the experience of Argentina and most other governments in Latin America at the end of the 1970s.

The only realistic reply to the bosses' sabotage is the slogan launched by President Chávez: "Factory closed, factory occupied" (fábrica cerrada, fábrica tomada). The bosses' sabotage in 2002-03 was defeated by the marvellous movement of the workers, who, without a party, leadership or clear perspective, occupied the factories and installations of PDVSA, expelled the bosses and bureaucrats and took the running of industry into their own hands. But Heinz Dieterich cannot see any of this. For him the revolutionary movement of the masses is a book sealed with seven seals.

"The ideal executive instrument for carrying out such a policy is executive decrees. The implementation of neo-liberal policies was achieved to a great extent through executive decrees, foreseen in the political theory of John Locke as a legitimate means of government [!]. This instrument makes it difficult for the reaction to block reforms in parliament." [17]

The reference to the political theory of John Locke is an example of the sheer pedantry of Dieterich's thinking. It matters little to the bourgeoisie whether political actions that go against their interests have been validated as "legitimate means of government" by John Locke, the Pope of Rome or Santa Claus. The question of what is legitimate or not is decided not by political theory but by the class struggle. Here Dieterich is indulging precisely in paper wars or concepts. The real war - that is, the class war - does not appear anywhere in any of his pronouncements.

Heinz recommends the carrying out of reforms by executive decrees. But wait a moment, Heinz! Did you not just say that we were too weak to challenge the ruling class? Did you not further argue that the enemy was too strong for us to fight because they control all the key points of the state, including the army? And did you not state repeatedly that in any case, we cannot hope for anything from a bourgeois parliament? You see, we have quite good memories and have not entirely forgotten what was written only a few paragraphs ago.

Despite all these obvious objections, our Heinz is very pleased with himself and parades his arguments for everyone to see like a small boy with new shoes. In reality they are full of holes from start to finish. But he seems blissfully unaware of these contradictions. Instead of explaining and justifying his arguments, he merely repeats them at the end, as if by repeating an incorrect idea he will make it more correct: "Executive decrees, generous deficit spending [he uses the English phrase to demonstrate his skill at foreign languages] for the majorities, in order to broaden the social base of the government of transformation and neutralize the counter-revolutionary conspiracies: this would set the scene to gain time and rapidly arrive at new elections, which can provide a solid superiority of political power in the face of the class enemy."

What is Dieterich's answer?

We have now received the recipe of the Father of 21st Century Socialism for saving the Revolution. This immediately brings to mind the words of the Roman poet Horace: Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus ("The mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse!"). Comrade Dieterich imagines that rule by decree will somehow prevent counter-revolutionary coups. That is to say, he believes that the class struggle can be resolved by legal rules and regulations. He forgets that in Venezuela it was precisely the passing of the 49 Enabling Laws in December 2001 by Chávez (including agrarian reform and others) that convinced the ruling class they had to organise a coup and triggered the preparations for it.

Whether progressive measures are passed by a vote in parliament or by an executive decree does not change anything of substance. The opposition of the reactionary bourgeoisie will not be reduced, but rather increased, if the measures are passed as a result of an executive decree. They will shout about dictatorship and step up their counter-revolutionary agitation, both inside and outside the parliament, as in Venezuela in 2002. They will use this to whip the middle class (of whom Heinz is very fond) into a frenzy. The international media will also be banging the drum about dictatorship yet again, intensifying their campaign to discredit the revolution and isolate it internationally.

The transforming government can avoid a coup and expand its power base by getting into a mountain of debt (deficit spending) and then calling new elections. In the meantime, one supposes, the class enemy will oblige us by remaining quietly in bed, politely refraining from any counter-revolutionary plots, since it has been informed that presidential decrees have been approved as "legitimate means of government" by an English philosopher of the 17th century. One rubs one's eyes in disbelief. This is supposed to be an example of the supremely realistic thinking! In Venezuela, President Chávez spent large sums of money on social reforms (the misiones). He has won many elections, local, national, the recall referendum... Did this abolish the risk of a coup? Not at all, and if we are to believe the writings of Heinz Dieterich (we are not entirely sure that he believes them himself), the risk is ever-present and, if the necessary measures are not taken to expropriate the oligarchy and carry through the revolution to the end, can end in a new coup and the victory of the counter-revolution in the future.

What is the central problem of 21st Century Socialism? Heinz now informs us of the problem and also the solution thereof:

"The secular solution of the 21st century is this: since we do not have access to the supercomputers, trademark Marx, Engels or Einstein, we have to substitute for them - until new ones appear - with networks of personal computers, whose joint capacity of data processing resembles that of the supercomputers, hoping, furthermore, that at some moment they will produce the transition of phase (qualitative leap) of the process toward the new paradigms of postcapitalist civilization." [18]

Marxists have always maintained that in order to change society, a revolutionary party and leadership is necessary. It is true that there have been cases where the revolution has been carried out - though not consolidated - without a revolutionary party, as in the Paris Commune. But it is clear that the task of carrying out the socialist revolution would be accomplished far more easily if an experienced and capable leadership existed. The Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky was the decisive factor that allowed the Russian workers to take power with a minimum of violence in 1917. So far nobody has proposed any serious alternative to the revolutionary party. What does comrade Dieterich propose?

Heinz has a very serious alternative: his laptop, which is connected to a myriad of other laptops all over the world, connected at local, national and global levels and busy twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Heinz is convinced that this 21st Century Supercomputer will in future render unnecessary things like revolutionary parties. It will render completely superfluous leaders and geniuses like Marx, Einstein or even Arno Peters. Dieterich's World Spirit turns out to be - a computer network! The solution is delightfully simple: by combining the thoughts of millions of ordinary minds, eventually a thought of genius will appear:

"This solution or method of stimulating the power of the individual through his/her work in coordinated networks is known in the information world as internet-based Distributed Computing projects. This concept means: that a complex task is resolved through the voluntary participation of owners of personal computers who for x-motive decide to allot computational time and work to the resolution of a task without asking for monetary retributions or material gratifications."

He further informs us: "The most successful program of this type is the SETI of the University of California at Berkeley, which, since its conception in 1999 has counted with the collaboration of more than five million participants, who in total have contributed more than two million years of aggregate computer time to the project. It constitutes the most powerful computer network of all time. [...] To put this ‘World Spirit' at the service of humanity through its gratuitous contribution and solidarity in the New Historic Project (NHP) of the Socialism of the 21st Century will be relatively easy." [19]

There is a theory based on the law of probability that states that if you give a typewriter to a monkey and leave him alone for an infinite period of time, he will sooner or later produce the collected works of Shakespeare. But this is a typical mathematical abstraction. In practice, our monkey can bang away at his typewriter for as long as he likes, and he will not produce a single line of a Shakespearean sonnet, never mind the collected works. So what prospects have comrade Dieterich's computer network of the 21st Century? If someone talks nonsense, and this nonsense is spread all over the world over the internet, where it is added to by other nonsense of the same kind, the end result will not be an idea of genius but only nonsense multiplied a million times over.

Whether the authors of this nonsense charge money for their services to humanity is not really relevant. The purveyors of nonsense are very generous people. They are always happy to talk nonsense free of charge, for the sheer pleasure they derive from listening to the sound of their own stupidities. Anyone who has had the experience of being trapped by one of these at a party will know that such people have always existed. The Internet merely gives them a larger stage to engage in their chosen hobby.

Computers and the Internet will indeed have an enormous role to play in the democratically planned world socialist economy of the future. The tasks of accounting and control that are central to management of individual enterprises will be greatly facilitated by the use of powerful computers that can fit into one's pocket. Workers' control will be very simple to operate on this basis. On the other hand, a world socialist federation can be run on democratic lines with electronic voting and conferences held over the Internet. The technology already exists for this.

But here we come up against the first fatal flaw in Dieterich's central argument, which is that the existence of computer science means that socialism can be successful now, whereas it could not have been successful before. He also argues that this was one of the reasons for the failure of "really existing socialism" in Russia. Both arguments are false. It is correct to say that not only computers but the advances of modern technology in general provide the material basis for socialism. That is to say, the potential for socialism exists in the development of the productive forces: industry, agriculture, science and technology. The question must then be posed: if the potential exists, why is it not realized? Comrade Dieterich never asks this question because he has no answer for it.

The question that must be asked is this: is it possible to achieve socialism (whether of the 21st or any other century) as long as the land, the banks and the key industries remain in the hands of the landowners, bankers and capitalists? Comrade Dieterich says that it is. But he immediately contradicts himself. He has spent a lot of time explaining that the pursuit of profit ("chrematistics") is the source of all the problems of humanity. But capitalists only invest to make a profit from the unpaid labour of the working class. If they continue to own and control the means of production, it follows that the sole motor force of production will be private profit. So where does this leave the colossal potential of the computer economy? It leaves it precisely where it was before: as a mere potential and nothing more than a mere potential.

Setting out from a correct idea - that the achievements of modern science and technology provide the basis for socialism - he overlooks one small problem: namely, that these productive forces are in the hands of the bourgeoisie and constitute the basis of its wealth and power. In order that the productive forces that have been developed under capitalism should be used for the benefit of humanity and developed to their full extent, in other words, in order that the potential present in science and technology should cease to be merely a potential and become actual, it is necessary to remove them from private ownership.

The problem here is that our Heinz, who talks and talks about history and prehistory, the human genome and the theory of relativity, human evolution and religion, the past and the future, forgets to answer a very simple question: how do we get from A to B? It is impossible to get the desired results from computers (and everything else) as long as all the most important economic decisions are taken by a tiny handful of rich people whose only interest is personal gain. But this minority is unwilling to surrender their wealth and power without a fight. This is the central problem that comrade Dieterich wishes to ignore: the problem of power.

 

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[1] Marx, The German Ideology, p. 184.
[2] Dieterich, Socialism of the 21st Century, p. 62.
[3] Preface to the 1872 German edition of The Communist Manifesto in Marx and Engels Selected Works, Vol. 1, pp. 98-9
[4] Engels, Anti-Dühring, Laurence and Wishart, 1943, p. 308.
[5] Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, Chapter 1, Bourgeois and Proletarians.
[6] Dieterich, El Socialismo del Siglo XXI, page 59
[7] Ibid.
[8] Rebelión, 27/12/2005
[9] Lenin, The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 1915.
[10] Dieterich, The Trap of Constituent Assemblies in the Latin American Revolution, 3/12/06.
[11] Dieterich, The Trap of Constituent Assemblies in the Latin American Revolution, 3/12/06.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Dieterich, La revolución mundial pasa por Hugo Chávez.
[19] Ibid.