Theses on Benjamin
1. The workers’ movement was not defeated by capital. The workers’ movement was defeated by democracy. These are the terms of the problem that the century puts before us. The fact, die Sache selbst, we must now think.
2. The workers’ movement balanced its accounts with capitalism. The grand historical confrontation of the 19th and 20th centuries. Alternating phases. Reciprocal instances of victory and defeat. But the workers’ labour power, an internal part of capital, could not exile itself. This is the obscure depth of the failure of revolution. Reasonable and crazy attempts to change the world, all fallen. The long march of reformism had no more success than the assault from the sky. But the workers changed capital. They forced it to change itself. Their defeat was never on the social plane. It was on political ground.
3. The 20th century is not the century of social democracy. It is the century of democracy. Moving through the era of the wars, democracy imposed its hegemony. It is democracy that won the class struggle. The authoritarian and totalitarian political solutions functioned in the end as the demonic instruments of a democratic providentialism. Democracy, like the monarchy of the past, is now absolute. More than the practices of totalitarian democracy there emerged a totalised idea of democracy. Paradoxically, this occurred contemporaneously with the dissolution of the concept of the ‘people,’ which was foreseen by the genius of Kelsen. After the defeat of Nazism and the failure of socialism, democracy rose up twice as the choice of value. Neither in the east nor in the west did the workers’ movement elaborate or experiment with its own idea of democracy. It did not cultivate or move through it as a field of conflict. The workers’ movement of the 20th century could be nothing but democratic. But the century of democracy killed it. This trauma lies, and acts obscurely, in the collective unconscious of the European left – in its militancy, leadership and culture.