How am I supposed to overcome presumptuousness


Three basic arguments are put forward against the perspective of a left-wing social project that includes a break with capitalism.

1 | Social ruptures lead to terror and dictatorships, because they not only dissolve the existing order, but also the order itself. Civilizational barriers are being torn down, archaic driving forces set a spiral of annihilation in motion. Revolutions devour their children. In fact, revolutions correspond to critical thresholds in which (also) uncontrollable dynamics are set free. However, revolutions "happen" just as much as they are "made". They are an expression of deep-seated social changes and the will to overturn the prevailing conditions. Revolutionary upheavals are therefore a characteristic feature of the capitalist epoch. It is the driving forces of capitalism itself that cause an uninterrupted upheaval in economic and social relations. A cycle of revolutions that has lasted for 700 years is therefore associated with its rise and triumph.

2 | Friedrich von Hayek spoke of the fact that socialism was a “fateful presumption”, driven by a mania for feasibility and an evolutionarily backward striving for justice (1988). For Hayek, the market economy has a system intelligence that exceeds people's conscious creative ability. There is a central truth in Hayek's criticism. In fact, socialism is about presumption: the presumption of conscious design against the blind forces of capitalism, of democracy against the dictatorship of capital, the incarnation of man against the endless continuation of the oppression of man by man. The overcoming of capitalism ends the "prehistory of humanity" (Marx) and enables the entry into an epoch whose history is written in conscious acts and in which it is about the development of what is humanly possible for people. Understood in this way, presumption becomes the new measure that mankind applies to its own development. This includes the risk of failure, partial as well as comprehensive failure. In the history of the labor movement this aspect has been excluded and buried under the code of the "historical necessity of socialism". Tens of thousands of Russian revolutionaries bitterly paid for this unconsciousness when they faced the Stalinist terror in a mentally disarmed state even when they were tortured and murdered. They wanted to serve progress and had little to oppose the "party of compelling historical progress" (Conquest 2001). Socialism is presumption. Only in the realization of participatory democracy can presumption succeed and all forms of man's rule over man can be overcome.


3 | It is also often said on the left that “power corrupts”, for example by John Holloway in Changing The World Without Taking Power (2006). The argument is not directed solely against the enormous pressure to integrate and adapt that weighs on left governments in bourgeois-capitalist societies. It is directed against any form of statehood (cf. Stephanie Ross in luxemburg 1/2010) and serves as an explanation for bureaucratic power relations in the ›real socialist‹ countries of the 20th century. This will be discussed on the basis of the recent history of Venezuela.

In April 2002 and winter 2002/2003 Venezuela experienced a revolutionary upheaval that fundamentally changed the economic and social balance of power. In the first months of 2002, the reactionary elites, in consultation with the USA and Spain, decided to launch a coup against the Chavez government. The reason for this was two bills. Chavez wanted to bring the income from the oil business under the control of the government in order to be able to finance social projects. Furthermore, unused agricultural land should be able to be expropriated against compensation so that it can then be used by a cooperative. On April 11, 2002, snipers fired in two demonstrations, killing a dozen people. The most important (private) television stations blamed the Chavistas for the murders. They wanted to provide justifications for a coup that was carried out - well planned - by part of the army that same day. Chavez was arrested and all elected bodies were disbanded. But only two days later, Chavez was able to take over the business of government again - thanks to an unprecedented mobilization of the population from the people's quarters (barrios) of the big cities and the division of the army. The Chavez government then tried to smooth things over. They largely refrained from reprisals against the putschists. But the situation could not be defused. The same circles that had backed the coup organized a business strike in December 2002: the oil company PDVSA was paralyzed to cut the country off from foreign exchange income, and the private grocery chains stopped delivering the food to turn the population against the government . But this time, too, the tide turned: the remaining PDVSA workforce cranked up oil production again. The government and the mobilizing population of the barrios managed to organize a parallel food supply. In February 2003 the failure of the businessmen's strike was obvious. This time the consequences for the balance of power were more profound, because from now on the Chavez government consistently focused on mobilizing its social base. The best-known form of this mobilization are the various programs of the so-called Misiones (education, health care, water supply, etc.), which have now condensed into a nationwide, broad-based communal council movement (the Consejos Comunales).

For seven years, the change that the Venezuelans called proceso has been decisive in Venezuelan society. For the first time in human history, a revolutionary process has considerable economic resources at its disposal. The revenues from the oil business enable the government to invest $ 20 to 30 billion annually in social and political projects. This leaves room for learning processes. That is crucial: A new society cannot be learned if every mistake threatens the existential process of renewal (for example in the form of famine).

In contrast to today's Venezuela, all authentic revolutions of the 20th century were confronted with extreme poverty, mostly associated with destruction through wars and civil wars. In 1921 the young Soviet Union was a desolate country, devastated by the First World War and the civil war that followed, and constricted by the economic boycott of the capitalist countries. “When goods are scarce, buyers have to stand in line. When the line gets very long, a policeman has to keep order. That is the starting point for the power of the Soviet bureaucracy. ”(Trotsky 1936, 109) From this point the question of corruption by state power must be approached if one does not want to get lost in speculation about the“ nature of man ”. In times of extreme need, material privileges take on an existential meaning; At the same time, the broad masses of people have to ensure their bare survival and can therefore hardly find the time and energy to take part in participatory processes in shaping society2. The "policeman in line" (the state and party bureaucracy) gains a power here that can turn into new power relations.

A counter-image are the Consejos Comunales, of which there are now tens of thousands. A Consejo Comunal is formed on the initiative of around 400 families in a geographically contiguous neighborhood and receives administrative sovereignty over local health care, road maintenance, water supply and social services. You can also develop projects for the development of communal welfare on your own. The work of the Consejos is financed from a fund that is fed from the oil revenues. In the Consejos, all important decisions are made by the general assembly of the residents. The elected (and can be voted out at any time) council of speakers oversees the implementation of the resolutions. The finance committee and a supervisory body for its management are also elected. In practice, some Consejos work well, others have a harder time, and some Consejo have to fight to get what they deserve from the surrounding state bureaucracy. But they have become an integral part of the Venezuelan reality. To the extent that territorial units (quarters, villages, cities) and economic structures (companies, industries) can be participatively ›interwoven‹, power can be ›domesticated‹ and transformed into a form of revocable delegation. This guarantees what Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize winner for economics, describes in her work as a prerequisite for a sustainable and solidarity-based economy: the active management and administration of the common goods by the users. Those affected have to find the time and motivation necessary for this. This is impossible without a minimum of individual material security and collectively available resources. In Venezuela we see an accentuation of social struggles with a simultaneous expansion of democratic rights and forms of expression. A prerequisite for this is that the »queues in front of the shops« are far less long than in Russia in 1917, China in 1949 or Nicaragua in 1979.


But what should be made of the fact that the market is better suited to the coordination and optimization of economic decisions than the plan? In the bourgeois discussion, the economy is opposed to society as an independent system. This creates a fetishization of the economic, which also blinds many left-wing economists.

But what do activities like animal husbandry, the production of semiconductor plates or the care of the sick have to do with one another that would justify assigning them to a common subsystem "economy"? Capital seeks profitable investment opportunities regardless of material issues and subjects all industries to the same laws of capital accumulation. Capitalist investment companies, for example, invest in the tobacco industry as well as in private hospitals: the absurdity of the content and material level is no longer noticeable.

This unification and separation of an economy subject to capital accumulation from society is not an ahistorical premise. Nevertheless, it is repeatedly carried over to the drafts of post-capitalist societies. The debate revolves mainly around the abstract question of whether the market or plan is better suited to making and coordinating the millions and millions of detailed economic decisions. On the other hand, under capitalist conditions there are already different sectors of the economy in which different control mechanisms prevail.

The privately provided "care economy", the care and care of dependent people (children, people in need of care), for example: It comprises 30 to 50 percent of all hours worked, depending on the definition and type of calculation, thus describes by far the largest "economic sector". Nevertheless, it is hardly perceived as an "economy" under capitalism (for example, it does not appear in any accounting and thus also not in the gross domestic product).

Likewise, the public services, which are usually organized in the form of a procurement system under political leadership and comprise around 25 percent of the gross domestic product in developed capitalist countries, are not considered to be an actual "economy".

And the areas directly subject to capital are also subject to different dynamics: Strongly characterized by the international division of labor (e.g. electronics) - or only slightly (e.g. hospitality); strongly influenced by research and development (software) or more determined by production costs (construction industry) and so on. Anyone who undertakes to sketch alternatives to capitalism should therefore take into account the material-social peculiarities of the various economic sectors and branches and thus contribute to a demystification of the economic.


To put it to the test, two industries are briefly discussed at this point: the pharmaceutical industry and IT.

In a post-capitalist pharmaceutical industry, there may still be private companies. However, the central role is no longer played by competing pharmaceutical companies, but by research and development centers that work together worldwide. They cooperate with public universities and technical colleges, research and development results are freely exchanged worldwide. Patents still exist, but as "open" ones that can be used by everyone free of charge and are not privatized through further developments. Research and development funds are set up at various levels (countries, regions, universities) from which development projects are financed; large projects are coordinated internationally. Approaches from empirical and complementary medicine and the knowledge of indigenous cultures about medicinal plants are also taken into account, the cooperation with hospitals and patient organizations is open-ended and not influenced by profit interests. The public sector operates pharmaceutical production facilities so that private profit interests do not dominate here too and developments cannot be blocked. The loyalty of researchers, developers and producers does not belong to a private company, but to the »cause«, the industry, the »scene«, health promotion. There will still be stimulating competition - between different research teams or medical doctrines. Far more important, however, will be international cooperation, the free exchange of research results, the open debate on study results and cooperative projects.

The fact that such an organizational form in the pharmaceutical industry can be significantly more productive and innovative than control by capitalist corporations is supported by experience from the software industry. Computer science is still dominated by some large capitalist corporations, but most of the innovative developments do not come from these large corporations, but from small companies, state projects, university researchers, students and the open source scene. This is how the basic concepts of the Internet emerged as part of the work of the American Department of Defense for a fail-safe computer network.

These concepts were released for use by universities and were thus able to spread around the world. The browser-server technology of the World Wide Web: It was developed by an employee of the European nuclear research center CERN in Geneva. Open operating systems (Unix, Linux) and applications based on them (Open Office, etc.) were largely created at universities and today cover practically the same range of functions as Microsoft products. However, they can only assert themselves to a limited extent: State repressive measures protect private patents and monopolies. And Microsoft systematically prevents its products from working properly with open source programs. After all, the open source world lacks a consolidated product culture that ensures that end users receive a coherent set of products and can call up quick, competent service in the event of a problem. If a critical mass of computer users (e.g. public administrations, schools, etc.) were to come together and raise enough capital, then such a culture could be built, e.g. with the help of a globally operating open source consortium, which supports the activities of the open source Community focused and consolidated.

These considerations can be generalized for all industries in which the development costs are well above the production costs, for example all forms of development and provision of information: computer software, knowledge content, cultural goods such as music and films, research data, etc. In these areas, the principle of capital can only be Enforce repressively with the help of patent protection and criminal prosecution. At the same time, the dominance of private multinationals is becoming a significant barrier to progress. A positive example of this is Wikipedia, the global online encyclopedia, which already scores better in terms of quality than the venerable Brockhaus. Wikipedia costs a few million dollars a year to run. The essential thing - namely the preparation of the information - is based on the free cooperation of tens of thousands of people who contribute their work free of charge.Cooperation, participation and democracy take on diverse, sometimes global forms - depending on the material realities of the field of activity3.


Chavez was not a socialist at the beginning of his reign. The Venezuelan elites were still sure at the time that they could subordinate him to the interests of the ruling circles through pressure and privileges (like so many left-wing politicians before). That didn't happen. The Bolivarian revolution gained its momentum on the basis of reform projects, which as such were by no means disruptive to the system.

Left politics must measure itself in every situation by whether it promotes the independence of social movements or discourages them and encourages subordination. In times of intensified class conflicts, the left has to challenge the ruling elite if it does not want to divulge its content. Sometimes she quickly finds herself in the logic of a socialist perspective and a break with bourgeois supremacy. The alternative to this willingness to confront is only adjustment and ultimately decline.



Azzellini, Dario, 2008: Venezuela Bolivariana. Revolution of the 21st Century ?, Cologne / Karlsruhe
Behruzi, Daniel, 2007: The Soviet Union 1917--1924, Cologne
Conquest, Robert, 2001: The Great Terror, Munich
Holloway, John, 2006: Changing the world without taking power, Münster
Ringger, Beat, 2008: The democratic demand economy as well as the constructive imperative and the problem of the revolutionary avant-garde. In: Ders. (Ed.), Future of Democracy - the post-capitalist project, Zurich
Trotsky, Leo, 1936: Revolution Betrayed, Essen 2009
von Hayek, Friedrich A., 1988: The fatal arrogance: The errors of socialism, Tübingen 1996


1 The first revolt in history marked by the working class occurred in Florence in 1378. During the so-called Ciompi uprising, the revolting workers seized power for 41 days. The uprising broke up due to the lack of collectively supported ideas about how an alternative social formation should be designed.
2 This was one of the main reasons why the Russian council movement stalled two years after the October Revolution.
3 For an in-depth presentation of a post-capitalist economy, I refer to the publication Future of Democracy (Ringger 2008)