Socialism and Democracy, born in 1985, begins its 20th volume in 2006 (one year late because of a “regrouping” hiatus in the early 1990s). A founding editor of the journal, Frank Rosengarten, and its current managing editor, Victor Wallis, take this occasion to reflect on our mission and on the momentous changes that have marked the political setting in which we continue to pursue it.
The task of characterizing the present epoch pervades this entire issue, leading first to an examination of the controversial pair of co-authored works by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004). Marcella Bencivenni offers a thorough introduction both to the works themselves and to the debates they have provoked. Her discussion brings out the ways in which they have glossed over key issues in the analysis of imperialism. At the same time, however, she sees them as having played a positive role in broadening the scope of debate and in reminding us of the core values that are at stake in popular struggles. Georgy Katsiaficas then focuses sharply on Hardt and Negri’s rejection of dialectical thinking, tracing that rejection back to Negri’s earlier writings and linking it to Negri’s tendency to situate revolutionary agency exclusively in “workers.”
The conduct of actual imperial administration is nowhere more brutally expressed than in the various detention sites established by the US government for those it has branded as “terror suspects,” whether in occupied Iraq or elsewhere—and most especially in Guanta´namo. The handling of those imprisoned at these sites, who are denied on the one hand the standard protections mandated for prisoners of war and on the other the norms of due process accorded to criminal suspects, shows the degree to which a posture of scorn and arrogance has replaced what the US Declaration of Independence referred to as “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” Documentation alone cannot convey the enormity of what is now being perpetrated, least of all insofar as awareness of it needs to extend beyond the usual circles. We are therefore fortunate to be able to present two complementary yet quite different dramatic texts on this topic. Pat McGeever’s one-act play explores the dilemmas associated with torture from the twin vantage-points of occupiers and occupied in war-torn Iraq. Terry Bisson’s short radio-play distills in the most universal terms the irony of official sanctimony superimposed on inadmissible conduct.
Franciszek Wiktor Mleczko, a prominent Polish sociologist, strives to put such behavior patterns in a longer perspective. He writes as an insider to the aftermath of Poland’s transformation into a version of a post-communist society that offers few clear prospects for a socially responsible economy, a reliable rational-legal polity, or democratic participation in the determination of societal policy. Mleczko’s analysis will strike many readers as pessimistic in embracing a solution that combines two principles of social order normally thought to be incompatible—power (represented metaphorically as “gangsterism”), and authority based on a system of law accountable to a standard of justice. He argues, however, that this corresponds to the reality of present conditions in Poland, and he suggests that the historical understanding of [bourgeois] democracy, no less than that of communism, has obscured the dialectic of power and authority by slighting the significance of power (and the secrecy and ruthlessness that accompany it). The suggestion that democracy depends on precisely what it is presumed to suppress – power (including its “gangsterist” component) vested in individuals, groups, or a class—is provocatively analogous to Marx’s demonstration that at the heart of capitalism, and not merely at its beginning, is a constant process of “primitive,” or precapitalist, accumulation.