Relatively few of the more than five hundred publications by the German philosopher and art critic Hans Heinz Holz have been translated into English. It’s rather surprising, given that he is regarded as one of the world’s jost profiled "universal scholars." The Downfall and Future of Socialism is one of his books. Another of his widely read books, now out in its second edition, is Communists Today. We undertook the translation of its last chapter. It is slightly abridged for space reasons.
The final question of all our theoretical debates has to be that of being politically organized. We don’t aim to sit together as in a seminar, determine the historical situation of the world, and say: "Now we know how things are." It’s a manual for our political actions we aim to get. We stick with the thesis of the unity of theory and practice.
What are the practical consequences of our analysis of the world situation for the communist and socialist movement? Hans Luft talked about "driving on two tracks." One runs within the framework of this existing capitalist society. A party like the PDS [Party of Democratic Socialism; now the Left Party] drives on one of them (only). It has a parliamentary presence and is tied to the inner-capitalist coercive proceedings — leave aside the question of how much space and efficiency the ruling class gives.
Of course a (revolutionary) party has to fight for the interests of the people it represents and wants to reach within the existing society and within the political processes in this society. It has to try to achieve as many improvements as possible for these people. On a level we would call "trade-unionist" within the sphere of labour conflicts, or reformist in the wider political context, the party has to become active. In a non-revolutionary situation the track of the "society-internal" (in other words "capitalist-internal") reforms is one of the fields of operation of communists — daily work around the details that doesn’t lead us straight to the final aim of our political actions at all. That goes without saying.
Not as obvious is sticking to the other track, on which our revolutionary desire runs. Behind all activities for reforms, all attempts to counteract the attacks of the ruling class and the inhumane practices of capital, the consciousness has to stay awake that this society cannot be turned into an okay one by improving this, that, and the other, that the system has to be overturned altogether. We must not let the glimmer of capitalist successes deceive us: we are living in the age of its overturn! That means, behind the process of small and continuous changes that we realize and work at in this society we must remain aware that it has to be dissolved and replaced with its own negation: socialism. As long as we live in the phase of small changes and reforms, and having to fight for them for reasons of political necessity, it is a task of theoretical education to keep awake in the minds of the supporters of the revolutionary party (which can’t start a revolution at this point) the real distant aim of basic change of the type of society we live in and to make the contradiction between the practical everyday situation understandable and bearable!
Let’s have no illusions: during historical periods of "reforms," social-democratism is the realistic perspective of the masses! To be able to bear the inner tension between the politics of small steps and the revolutionary aim without turning reformist is left to the avant-garde, which — because of its political sharpness and awareness — can become the centre-point for more and more people to group around as the conflicts in this society sharpen. To remain a non-compromising avant-garde, even at the price of being small in numbers and influence, is the historical task of the Communist Party in this situation.The overturning of capitalism and the alternative society — socialism — has to remain the strategic aim under all circumstances. Only then can we can work tactically for changes in favour of the people who live and suffer in this society.
This struggle happens on many different levels. Experience with bureaucratic and undemocratic structures in the former socialist countries has led to a totally idealistic over-estimation of the formal mechanisms of bourgeois democracy. As a result, the institutions of this system are being looked upon as the main field of political struggle. We must be aware that bourgeois-parliamentary democracy, by its history and in its present mutated form, is nothing but a form of organization of the various interests of the ruling class. The participation of the citizens in the running of the state is of course not the main objective. In the large states, where the citizen goes to vote every four years, having a choice between the names they are offered by the political parties, participation is minute. In states such as Switzerland and the Netherlands it’s a little different — but only a little. InSwitzerland there is still the "democracy of the referendum," which is now being endangered under pressure by the European Union. This form of constitution leaves the possibility of organizing real initiatives of the people.
Such exceptions are not useful in valuing the working of bourgeois democracy: We have to look at how it functions in Germany,England, France, Italy, or the United States, where decisions are being made more anonymously and the influence of powerful groups is uncontrollable. There we see that democracy is not the model of participation of the people. We need to add to that the constant undermining of the system of parliamentary democracy by the bureaucrats. Members of parliament and ministers know very little about today’s procedures of administration and the making of laws. The people who write laws and prepare their implementation are the "ministerial bureaucrats," who really hold the development of politics and society in hand, aided by "experts" who have been hand-picked according to the criteria of their political position. This has little or nothing to do with citizens’ participation.
I think the efficiency of parliamentary democracy as a means of creating a general will (of the people), a “volonté général,” is being completely over-estimated, and arising from that it is also being over-estimated as a field of the struggle of the oppressed people, because it’s looked upon as an expression of political freedom. The struggle we, the communists, have to lead starts in creating class-consciousness, especially along the seams where the conflicts of this society are beginning to show. That means not just to fight for a solution of the conflicts but always spreading the understanding that these conflicts are parts of a larger conception in society and play a role in the development of society. My struggle against, say, a planned nuclear power station here or there is not the political perspective. The struggle is important but has to be connected with a view on the overall situation of society. To be able to do this we need the basic theoretical assessment of our historical situation. That means we need a party strong in and conscious of theory. And we have to fight in an organized way. The individual can’t just declare their private opinion, which is determined by personal experience, to be the political guideline. Of course they should bring the opinion into the debates: that’s crucial. But for the individual’s will to turn into a political force it has to have a form of political organization.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean a form of organization with all the bureaucratic deformities of the leading bodies that we have experienced. We need a real Communist Party of class struggle, an essential part of which is the control of all office-bearers by the members. It has to have an inner-party democracy but one that doesn’t run off into pluralistic debating clubs. It has to be a tightly organized party and one able to act, with a democratic base.
We cannot do without a well-structured form of organization for our political actions.
We need a Marxist-Leninist party!