Point 1.) The Church is one of the monopoly capitalist State’s ideological apparatuses and in the developed capitalist world it is one of the institutions the Revolution must capture (wholly or partially). “Modern experience has shown that this is possible, and that this is the key — except in the case of war or an economic and political catastrophe, difficult to imagine today in the developed countries — to the democratic transformation of the State apparatus. [p.28]
Well, this depends on the church. Some denominations have both progressive and reactionary factions and the hierarchy will never be won over to a socialist revolution, peaceful or otherwise (the Catholic Church). There are some liberal and even progressive denominations that may be won over and some that are completely reactionary such as the US evangelicals who see Trump as sent by God to save the Republic. These churches are full of working class as well as petty bourgeois elements and some of the big bourgeois as well. We can hope that many church going people will be won over by our advanced moral positions and working class ideology but this cannot be the most important factor in the waging of the class war against the bourgeoisie although it is an important aspect. The two exceptions, war and social catastrophe indicate that even Carrillo realized establishment religion would rally around the ruling class rather than the socialist alternative in these crises, exactly when the socialist alternative becomes necessary. As for wars being unlikely in the developed capitalist world — we only need to look at the role of NATO in the destruction of Yugoslavia and the current military operations that have broken out between Russia and Ukraine.
Point 2.) Carrillo was much more optimistic than my comment above. He thinks people motivated by their Christian faith will join the Communist Party (a secular organization based on an atheistic materialist philosophical foundation.). He wrote :” We say that with the entry of Christians, our Party has gained a new dimension; one could perhaps add that the same has happened to the faith of our Christian members. The tasks connected with material life, with social transformation, with what our cause contains of redemption, fraternity and equality, bring back to the militant Christian the evangelical values, the purity, the generous devotion of the early Christians.”
These were the same Christians who, rendering unto Caesar the things that were Caesar’s lined up to be fed to the lions as martyrs and as soon as they got State power spent the next thousand years warring against each other, persecuting Jews, staging crusades, and burning heretics at the stake. A Communist Party should not favor and promote one religion in the first place. Religious people should be welcome to join a CP but the CP should still adhere to its Marxist traditions which, as Carrillo himself has said, make the Church part of the ideological apparatus of the capitalist State. Religion remains the opium of the masses although we can work with the pot smoker’s segment. Trying to integrate Christians qua Christians, as opposed to working class Christians as workers into the Revolution is not likely to be successful.
EDUCATION AND THE FAMILY
Point 3.) Carrillo maintained that in the universities the realization has dawned that educators are in the same relationship to the state as the working class. The educational system is in crisis and while those working and studying in it are aware the problems are caused by the system and some reforms have been enacted or proposed no real solutions to the problems of working in the system have been found.
Carrillo was certainly correct about this, except for the idea that the educational system would be moving consciously in an anticapitalist way. The crisis is real. In the US the trend is to replace full time university teachers with adjuncts, and we all know student debt is out of control. In the public school system unions are constantly fighting to maintain cost of living wages for their members and also fending off reactionary political attempts to control the curriculum. How many school boards or colleges are controlled by allies of the working class or those with socialist aims. Almost zero compared to those controlled by the right.
Point 4.) A half century ago Carrillo concluded: “Undoubtedly, the university should occupy a privileged place in the activity of the revolutionary forces.” [p.35]
Well, they don’t. Despite some academic Marxists and courses presenting a toothless and declawed version of Marx”s critique of capitalism, the educational system is in the firm control of the ruling class. Carrillo’s ideas about winning over the center and building a big coalition, even including elements of the ruling class capitalists disaffected with their monopolistic fellows, has gotten nowhere — yet many CPs and socialist parties plod along this path to nowhere, apparently unaware they are going down the road first paved by the Bernstein revisionists and latterly by the Eurocommunists. In no country in the world where the CPs or socialists have formed unity governments with centrist forces have the foundations of the ruling class and the exploitation of the proletariat been eroded or any form of genuine socialism been established. It is not solely the fault of these pseudo “popular front” Eurocommunist deviations from Marxism-Leninism but also due to the misappreciation of just how strong the world capitalist system led by the US remains even when in extreme crisis.
Point 5.) Carrillo next turned his attention to the family. The crisis of capitalism is breaking down the traditional family and its values. The alienation caused by capitalism can be seen in the development of the women’s liberation movement, the freer expression of ideas by modern children revolting against their parents, and a search for a new morality. No mention is made of the sexual revolution or the gay liberation movements (ok it was 50 years ago in Catholic Spain). The family is being transformed. “The children no longer obediently follow the family’s ideological traditions, as they once did: they break with them, and even influence their parents.” [p.36]
Well, this is still going on. Fifty years later there have been some quantitative improvements re the position of women, gays, child rights, etc., but only a a few years ago a president of the US was openly expressing racist, male chauvinist, anti-gay and xenophobic views in the White House and he has built a significant movement with fanatical followers that threaten to take over large areas of the civil life and elected offices in the country. So these policies, advocated by Carrillo and his conscious or unconscious followers in the leadership of the left, have failed to pan out and have not halted the rise of and ominous growth of the ultra-right and fascist forces in the US and many other areas of the “developed capitalist world.” The class consciousness of the US proletariat remains undeveloped due to the benign neglect of the AFL-CIO leadership and their left-wing political supporters who are content to pour praise on Establishment politicians who promise reforms and a fairer slice of the ruling classes' pie while ignoring the actual class struggle as explained by Marxism.
LAW AND POLITICS
Point 6.) Carrillo thought that the evolutionary socialist road he proposed would be justified by changes in the legal system. Lawyers would increasingly doubt the independence of the judicial system and its relation to the State.”[T]he opposition to traditional bourgeois justice will become more widespread .” [p.37]
This fifty year old observation is still accurate but indicates the perennial behavior of each generation with respect to the conservative nature of the law. It does not indicate that this is pointing towards the State becoming socialist. In the US progressive circles have become disgusted with the Supreme Court and the corruption of the legal system that has occurred under Trump and the Republicans but the solutions offered, political reforms, liberals being elected to Congress, expanding the Supreme Court, as well as defunding the police and reforming or abolishing (!) the prison system do not go beyond the horizon of maintaining the monopoly capitalist structure of the State and the existence of the market economy. The talk about socialism associated with some of these demands is purely pro forma.
Point 7.) While Carrillo thought the above processes were leading down the socialist road in Southern Europe (not) he was more realistic about northern (I.e., Western) Europe, what the Romans called Gallia Transalpina : “The block of parties and organizations that has upheld capitalism in Western Europe has been receiving encouragement, support, directives from United States imperialism, which has assumed the leadership of the capitalist world.” This is a threat to democracy as it distorts the internal relations of countries subject to it. [p. 39]
This is true today as well, “Anticommunism” is directed towards China, Cuba, and other nations seeking to free themselves from US attempts to dominate and control their activities. Since it is an elementary position of Marxism that foreign policy is a reflection of domestic policy we can see that Carrillo’s remarks also pertain to the internal democratic struggles in the US. Both major parties support imperialism and undermine democracy at home — funds that people need to spend domestically on healthcare, education, infrastructure and the fight to improve the environment are drained away for the military needs of US imperialism. The democratic demands of the people for peace and improved living standards are disregarded by both major parties and fascist tendencies are forced upon the masses overtly or covertly. Carrillo was at least orthodox re US imperialism and Marxists know that both imperialist parties are enemies of the working people. Our movement today has to figure out how to defeat the open fascism of the Republican Party as well as the fascist warlike factions that control the Democratic Party (Biden, Pelosi, the DNC, etc.,) while at the same time supporting tactically those honest elements within the latter party which can be friendly to working class interests. In the effort to build a mass working class party many tactical policies will have to be developed over this issue to ensure that we do not fall into the ongoing revisionist trap of abandoning basic Marxist values (Webbism) and end up being duped by reactionary centrist demands.
Point 8.) This is now moot. I.e., we have to overcome the view that our appeals to democratic values implies submitting to the views of the Soviet Union.
Point 9.) This is not moot. We must convince the people that democracy does not = capitalism. “[D]emocracy is not only not consubstantial with capitalism, but that its defense and development require the overthrow of that social system; that in the historical conditions of today capitalism tends to reduce and in the end to destroy democracy, which is why democracy must proceed to a new dimension with a socialist regime.” [p. 40]
This is an extremely important point. Marxists should not be going around spouting off about “democracy” as if it is some sort of abstract universal ideal. We should always qualify what we are talking about when we refer to the US and the struggle to preserve democracy: we are talking about “bourgeois democracy” , a form of democracy created to maintain the rule of the capitalist class and the subordination of the working class. We believe in “socialist democracy” Lenin’s sort of democracy which is far superior to any form of bourgeois democracy. It is misleading to go around saying Lenin supported democracy without the qualifying context.
In the absence of socialist democracy, when the only option is bourgeois democracy or bourgeois dictatorship (fascism) then Lenin said we must fight for bourgeois democracy— but we must educate the workers about what we are doing not go around saying Biden or Pelosi or whatever democrat is fighting for “democracy” when they’re fighting for bourgeois democracy and capitalist class rule via it. The workers should also fight for it as a step towards socialist democracy (real democracy not capitalist democracy) and that it is 100% better for us and our struggle than the capitalist alternative of capitalist class dictatorship (fascism). Webbites confuse the workers by not making these distinctions and just talk about “democracy”. The MAGA people do the same thing. The Websites go around de facto defending the domestic capitalist system by defending politicians in one of its parties while claiming to oppose imperialist policies abroad— without telling the workers that imperialism abroad is the reflection of the interests of the capitalists running the system at home. Carrillo’s point 9 is still valid.
Point 10.) Carrillo’s point here is also valid. It is about working with other groups, even non proletarian forces, it is classic Dimitrov. We have to work with the widest class forces because the masses, the majority of the population, not just the working class per se, are being exploited by the monopolist-class strata of the bourgeoisie.
We do not work with sections of the ruling class. We may have to give critical support to a ruling class anti-fascist segment in elections but we must also criticize them when they take anti-working class positions. They don’t get a free pass. Webbites often fail to do this and say big capitalist boss X has the worker’s backs, or big capitalist boss X is defending our (their) democracy, etc. It’s true we may be tactically compelled to critically support big capitalist boss X but we should explain to the masses why we do this and that he is still a big capitalist boss. We don’t need to be cheerleaders for the class enemy.
Point 11.) Carrillo thought, 50 years ago, that the capitalist system was so ingrained and upheld by the labor unions and political parties that it could not be overthrown by violence, “In present conditions, the only way towards changing the ideological-political apparatus which upholds the capitalist regime is the creation of a new correlation of forces by means of political, social and cultural struggle” The working class must learn to speak for all segments of society exploited by the ruling class, not to just working class and union issues. “This is the precondition for assuming a hegemonic role. [p. 41]
This too is valid— other exploited segments of society can be worked with in the common cause advancing towards socialist democracy. Carrillo’s use of “hegemonic” is in line with the role of Marxists being the vanguard of the revolutionary forces— not only the vanguard for the working class but of the whole mass movement for liberation. This also relates to the concept of the leading role of the party. Again, I note that Webbites do not support the idea of a hegemonic, vanguard, or leading role for the a party. They seek to play a supporting role in the mass movement limiting their demands to the most advanced demands of the center — I.e., the Neo-liberal concensus, creating a false impression of unity. However, on the idea of a violent overthrow of capitalism, we must say ”present conditions” can rapidly change- when Carrillo wrote this the world was quite different than today. There is no longer a European socialist world, there have been two major wars in Europe (the present one in Ukraine dating from the 2014 US and NATO backed violent overthrow of the democratically elected government and the US and NATO's war in the Balkans in the 1990s to overthrow and dismember Yugoslavia, centered against Serbia.
THE COMMUNICATIONS MEDIA
In this section Carrillo makes two points that are still valid, one about the role of the media under capitalism and the other regarding the freedom of artistic expression.
Point 12.) “In capitalist countries, generally speaking, the media today are the most dangerous opium of the people.” [p.43]
He means of course the role of the MSM owned and controlled by capitalist corporations that twist the news to support the interests of the ruling class and its governments. The masses have little contact outside of their immediate living conditions other than what they read, see, or hear in the MSM. Now, of course, we have the Internet and all sorts of social media but there too the capitalists control access and we have a mishmash of nonsense sites, relatively open truthful sites, propaganda sites, and individuals are at a loss as to whom to believe and trust and whom not to. By controlling information the ruling class can keep the masses divided and off balance and less likely to challenge the system. The revolutionary forces must provide honest working class and socialist information via their own media and challenge the monopoly of information control the ruling class asserts. Today, we need an open militant Marxist press the masses can trust.
Point 13.) We must support the freedom of artistic and cultural production and work for the revolutionary forces to attain hegemony in this field. “A flourishing culture does not tolerate prohibitions and the flowering and extension of culture is the sphere in which revolutionary and progressive ideas can establish themselves, become hegemonic and have even more influence in the march of humanity, penetrating and transforming the ideological apparatuses.” [p.44]
One of the fatal weaknesses of the deceased Eastern European socialist states was the attempt of the ruling parties to control and censure the arts and culture available to their people. This was the worst feature of the nanny state they created. They seem not to have trusted their own citizens and have failed to include them in the decision making process when laws and regulations in the ideological field were drawn up.
THE IDEOLOGICAL APPARATUSES
This next point is still controversial. Whether it is utopian or not is controverted. Marx, Engels and Lenin (MEL) lived in a very different time than we do, They thought that the ideological apparatuses of the state (the media, education, the church, legal system, etc.,) since they were under the control of the ruling class would have to be repressed and replaced by entirely new apparatuses controlled by the working class and dedicated to socialist construction. But times have changed. In the days of MEL it was basically just the workers and peasants versus the state, but nowadays all sorts of other strata and class formations have become alienated from the state and they are parts of the ruling ideology. Today we can do what was not possible before. We can appeal to these sections of the ruling classes' apparatuses and flip them. The New York Times will come out for socialism! We will turn their own apparatuses against them.
Point 13.) “Certainly one of the great historical tasks of the present time for the conquest of state power by the socialist forces is the determined, resolute, intelligent struggle to turn the weapon of ideology, the ideological apparatuses, against the classes which are in power.” [p. 45]
Is this utopian? In theory it is perhaps possible, but where has it ever happened that a reigning capitalist institution was flipped while the ruling class was in power? Some may have been won over to reformism and the ruling class gradually accepted this but remained in control of the system. These systems really have to be replaced— the laws have to be rewritten, educational materials revised, etc. The position of MELS on this issue seems justified.
DEVELOPED CAPITALISM BEARER OF SOCIALISM
Carrillo here develops the orthodox view that capitalism has become so developed and the working class so educated in how to run it that capitalists have become superfluous as a class. MEL thought that capitalism was so productive that it was possible to eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc., and it was only that the capitalists were directing the productive forces towards private profit for themselves that prevented this. The working class could take over the system and run it themselves, not for profits but for use-values to build a classless socialist state. It would take a revolution to overthrow the capitalist dictatorship (open or masked by “democracy” rigged by them) and then a dictatorship of the proletariat (the workers in power and dismantling the ruling class power apparatuses) followed by a stateless, classless cooperative society built on humanistic foundations. Carrillo thinks, based on his previous points, we can get to that end point by peaceful means and without the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Point 14.) We can bring about “the development of conditions for a new correlation of forces favorable to socialism, creating the possibility of winning and consolidating it democratically, without recourse to forms of dictatorship.” [p.48] Under conditions of bourgeois democracy as are found in some advanced capitalist countries this is probably the best tactic to apply in order to build a mass party. In less developed capitalist States we have seen military coups, “color” revolutions, and US intervention used to overthrow states that have tried to use this democratic road to socialism.
Point15.) “Just as bourgeois society was formed in the womb of the feudal regime, so socialist society has matured in the womb of developed capitalist society. This is what gives us today a material base for setting ourselves the task of turning the ideological apparatuses on which the State relies against the present class society.” [p.48]
But the feudal regime’s apparatuses were overthrown by wars, revolutions and the guillotine.
Next we will look at Chapter 3 “The Coercive Apparatuses of the State”
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association. He is the author of Reading the Classical Texts of Marxism.