Democracy from Scratch: Opposition and Regime in the New Russian Revolution

By M. Steven Fish | Go to book overview

II
The Transformation of Politics:
A Historical Overview

The Theory and Practice of Association
under Socialism

Karl Marx's neglect of individuality, free association, and self-organization and his wholly negative critique of “civil society” are wellknown features of his work. 1 Whether Marx's utopian vision of the end of conflict in communist society infused his theory with an authoritarian, statist logic is a point of debate among contemporary scholars. Yet Marx clearly attributed universality to the proletariat precisely by virtue of what he regarded as its capacity to transcend the realm of particularistic “interest” and to unite state and society. In his belief that social systems could be freed from conflict by abolishing the division between political and social power, Marx did not stand alone among early socialist thinkers. As John Keane has pointed out, the earlier “self-managing” socialism of Robert Owen and the state socialism of Ferdinand Lassalle shared “this deep ideology of homeostasis, of the possibility of constructing a society in which all particular interests are integrated into the whole.” 2 To be sure, this view did not go unchallenged. Eduard Bernstein, for example, argued that the diversity of interests in a complex society was inevitable and even desirable. He regarded independent trade unions, political parties, productive associations, and cooperative retail shops as essential components of socialist society, and he warned that the urge to destroy civil society engendered a dangerous authoritarian impulse. 3

As Bernstein himself acknowledged, however, this notion of association represented a minority view among socialists. It had little effect on the Bolsheviks, who regarded Bernstein as an apostate. Lenin considered the division between state and society to be meaningless in postrevolutionary society. Even Nikolai Bukharin, the “liberal” among the Bolsheviks, did not oppose étatization of social and economic life. He did advocate “an unprecedented flourishing” of “all kinds of workers' and peasants' organizations, press correspondents, and voluntary societies and associations.” Yet he held that these groups, “together

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