Daniel would insist on using the leading modifier "Luxemburgian" to describe his political allegiance. He was, he would say, a Luxemburgian Socialist. Now, his insistence on the adjective Luxemburgian is not a triviality, and is not simply a distinction without much of a difference. For him, the distinction was profound, and I submit that to fully understand Daniel it is necessary to recognize how central this concept of being a Luxemburgian Socialist was, to his writings, his ideas and his ideals. While his general approach to changing the world was socialist, it required this adjective Luxemburgian, to correctly define his convictions. And it was in this that I believe he parted philosophically from his old mentor Isaac Deutscher, but not from his colleague István Mészáros.
Daniel believed that the true dialectic of revolutionary change was not through one big push, storming the barricades, seizing power, and then changing people's consciousness; but on the contrary, through a revolution in the consciousness of people, and when this new awareness and understanding became the accepted and popular opinion, the disenfranchised would become enfranchised, and achieve power. Daniel would argue that the true road to socialism runs only in one direction, which is to say, Socialism has to be built progressively from the bottom up, and not imposed from the top down.
Daniel suspected that history will not let our revolution be an easy affair, as previous bourgeois revolutions all had been. In those revolutions it was enough to overthrow the power at the center, and simply replace some of the officials there. But we have to work from beneath. Our revolution must be determined by the conscious will of the people: a consciousness that aims at transforming the whole structure and culture of society. "We are not here," Daniel wrote, "to tinker with the world; we are here to change it."
It is not surprising that Daniel had no use for the autocratic, authoritarian and antidemocratic cliques and forces that controlled and characterized the Soviet and Eastern European societies. All of these controlling bodies functioned, as their predecessors the Jacobins did, at the time of the French Revolution, with the assumption that the will of the people can be represented by a small elite group, who act in the name of the people, but are not at all accountable to the people. And all of them are of course further examples of small groups of people telling large groups of people what is good for them, which has been pretty much the story of the last 10,000 years of humanity. Time for a change. Daniel insisted that freedom is, and must always be, freedom for the one who thinks differently. And that without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of the press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, the bureaucracywould remain the only game in town. Daniel was convinced that unless it was uncompromisingly democratic, any attempt to establish socialism would fail. And by the same token, he said that you cannot have a truly democratic society unless it was socialist.
There are those only know of Daniel's work through his essays in The Nation and in Monthly Review. I would urge anyone who has not done so to read at least two of his books. The first is Prelude to Revolution, and the second is, Whose Millennium? Theirs or Ours? The former was written about the French upheavals of May 1968. A reviewer of the book, at the time it was published wrote, "If Marx had been living in Paris in May 1968, he might have written this book." The values that were at the core of Daniel's belief are perhaps epitomized in one single sentence in that book, which I would like to read to you:
"Internationalist and egalitarian, spontaneous and libertarian, the May movement suddenly recalled what socialism once stood for, and showed what it could mean again in our times. It accomplished next to nothing, yet it holds a promise for the future."
The question that runs through Prelude to Revolution is whether the age of conflict, which has already begun, will see the victory of authoritarian rule or the triumph of democracy and the next stage of the development of society. He draws lessons from the events of 1968, and insists that the future will be only what we shall make it. Daniel loved the epigram that the student/worker movement proclaimed at the time: "Be realistic, ask for the impossible." And Daniel changed it for us into, "Be realistic, ask for the apparently impossible."
In Whose Millennium?, which was published just the year before he died, there is a memorable chapter describing his deep commitment to equality in all its forms. In it he wrote, "Egalitarianism -- not to be confused with levelling and uniformity -- must be at the very heart of any progressive project." His belief was that there can be no liberty without equality. It is idle to pretend that any woman or man is really free and equal when their fate is dependent on the financial moves of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, or of the decisions of the industrial and corporate giants, or when they are collectively brainwashed daily by the television and publications owned by the corporations that dominate our society and our world. The question is, How do we reconcile liberty with equality? Can we move towards full equality, without trampling on individual liberty in the process? Can we invent organizations and institutions that will take us there, and then ensure the freedom of the individual in a self-managed society? Daniel argued that we must confront the issues that progressives must face, if we want to regain the popular support and conscious participation central to our struggle. In short, How, after the terrible experiences and bitter lessons, do we reinvent democracy?
Daniel wrote Whose Millennium?to fight against the idea that There Is No Alternative to our present society.
He said that we are "a society which can no longer provide answers corresponding to the social needs of our point of development." He believed that another society should be built progressively by the people, a society that must be more egalitarian, and economically and socially more democratic. Using his strongest language, he wrote, "The undeniable fact of capitalism, inequality and the ubiquity of domination, proves only that this world is not worth existing, and we have to change it." His faith was exclusively in self-emancipation, and not in a reliance on the objective contradictions of capitalism. He spurned the notion that somehow it was inevitable that socialism would succeed capitalism. When he was lying in the hospital bed in Paris the week before he died in December of last year, I repeated to him Rosa Luxemburg's famous prediction about the future, "socialism or barbarism?" -- to which Daniel, obviously thinking of the destructive nature of globalization, replied with perhaps his last witticism, "Barbarism if we're lucky."
He went on to say, "It's true that Capitalism has within it the seeds of its own destruction, but only seeds in the sense of awareness and consciousness. Capitalism will have to be pushed off the stage. And it will require a revolution, but not a revolution that necessarily requires bloodshed. Rather a revolution in the consciousness of people. And that will take time."
"There is no certainty," he went on, "about the future. Humanity has the capability of destroying itself, and it may very well do so. The hope is with the younger generation. They will not be able to run away from the problems of the world the way our generation did, or the next generation has. But our grandchildren will be forced to deal with those problems. Let's hope they get it right."
On the last page of Whose Millennium?, Daniel wrote,
"We are at a moment, to borrow Walt Whitman's words, when society 'is for a while between things ended and things begun,'and not because of some symbolic date on the calendar marking the turn of the millennium, but because the old order is a-dying, in so far as it can no longer provide answers corresponding to the social needs of our point of development, though it clings successfully to power, because there is no class, no social forces ready to push it off the historical stage.
"On the ground littered with broken models and shattered expectations, a new generation will now have to take the lead. Chastened by our own bitter experiences, they can advance with hope but without illusions, and rediscovering the attraction and power of collective action, they can resume the task, hardly begun, of the radical transformation of society."
What more fitting epigraph could there be to this giant of a man, who was a consummate humanist, multiculturalist, internationalist, egalitarianist and Luxemburgian socialist? With virtually his last breath, he envisaged a socialist future for humanity.Tributes * danielsinger.org