Theses on the Transformation of Democracy and on the Extra-Parliamentary Opposition

"It is the duty of every democrat to fight the Emergency Laws." (March against the Notstandsgesetze in Bon, May 11, 1968.)
“It is the duty of every democ­rat to fight the Emer­gen­cy Laws.” (March again­st the Not­stands­ge­set­ze in Bon, May 11, 1968.)

The­se the­ses serve as a sup­ple­ment to my book Trans­for­ma­tion of Democ­ra­cy and a cor­rec­tion to some mis­quo­ta­tions made at the remark­able del­e­gates con­fer­ence of the SDS [Sozial­is­tis­cher Deutscher Stu­den­ten­bund, or Social­ist Ger­man Stu­dent Union]. I am gen­er­al­ly of the opin­ion that rather than inter­pret texts, rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies should change rela­tions [Ver­hält­nis­se].

As mea­sured by the state’s actu­al pow­er rela­tions and by the actu­al rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion in soci­ety, the famil­iar expres­sion for the mod­ern bour­geois state – “par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy” – rep­re­sents a para­dox. Some time ago, William Borm asked the board of the Repub­li­can Club1 whether the club still stood on the basis of “clas­si­cal par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy.” To that, the club’s board could only give a vague and uncer­tain, although polit­i­cal­ly clev­er answer (“We do, of course, but the par­lia­men­tary par­ties don’t any­more”). For clas­si­cal par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy has long since dis­ap­peared. It is not just the case that its social func­tion and its insti­tu­tion­al struc­ture cor­re­spond to a past peri­od in his­to­ry. The lib­er­al state was the pub­lic and legal orga­ni­za­tion­al form of rule in a soci­ety that indeed pro­duced in a cap­i­tal­ist way (thus some of its insti­tu­tions are extant), yet relied on the pow­er of the steam engine. Our soci­ety, which pro­duces and will pro­duce with atom­ic pow­er, has no use for such a state. More­over, the clas­si­cal par­lia­men­tary qual­i­ty of the ear­lier bour­geois state – the suprema­cy of par­lia­ment, with its polit­i­cal as well as leg­isla­tive deci­sion-mak­ing author­i­ty – has been over­come by con­sti­tu­tion­al law itself. The Basic Law [Grundge­setz]2 posits the suprema­cy of the exec­u­tive over the leg­isla­tive, be it in the ques­tion of pol­i­cy-set­ting author­i­ty or gov­ern­ment con­trol over par­lia­ment.

Our soci­ety, how­ev­er, still can do very lit­tle with the con­ven­tion­al forms and con­ven­tion­al insti­tu­tions of the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem of gov­ern­ment. In 1922 Pare­to3 had advised Mus­solini, for the sake of sta­bi­liz­ing pow­er, to let par­lia­ment con­tin­ue to exist in a changed form; mass­es that lean towards demo­c­ra­t­ic feel­ings can best be neu­tral­ized through an organ that gives them the illu­sion of par­tic­i­pat­ing in state pow­er. It is not the com­plete abo­li­tion of par­lia­ment that makes the new state strong, rather the trans­fer of deci­sion-mak­ing author­i­ties from par­lia­ment to the closed inner cir­cle of “elites.”

There­in also lay, fol­low­ing Pare­to, the his­tor­i­cal mean­ing and bour­geois class con­tract of the fascis­tic trans­for­ma­tion of the state.

I

After the defeat of fas­cism, the restora­tion of the par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem in West Euro­pean coun­tries faced the same prob­lem that his­tor­i­cal fas­cism could not suc­cess­ful­ly solve: how to hold the depen­dent mass­es – that have nonethe­less been set in motion – in a con­di­tion of depen­dence, to pre­vent their eman­ci­pa­tion that would begin as the rev­o­lu­tion of pro­duc­tion rela­tions.

The dif­fi­cul­ty lay – and con­tin­ues to lie – in the ambiva­lent char­ac­ter par­lia­ment can assume under cer­tain cir­cum­stances. In an increas­ing­ly dynam­ic bour­geois soci­ety char­ac­ter­ized as much by the antag­o­nism of pro­duc­tion as it is by the plu­ral­i­ty of dis­tri­b­u­tion inter­ests, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive body can offer itself as an instru­ment that express­es antag­o­nism through the state and so ele­vates (social) class strug­gle to a polit­i­cal con­flict of rule.

Viewed this way, the par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem can only guar­an­tee bour­geois rule and pro­tect cap­i­tal­ism so long as it suc­ceeds in push­ing back its ambiva­lence. It must func­tion as a mech­a­nism that makes antag­o­nis­tic con­flicts polit­i­cal­ly irrel­e­vant as much as pos­si­ble, and mon­i­tors and paci­fies con­flicts of inter­est. In this, the per­spec­tive devel­oped by Friedrich Engels inverts itself; the “bour­geois repub­lic” – which accord­ing to Engels was the best form for the open, and, under cer­tain cir­cum­stances, even peace­ful unfold­ing of class strug­gle and con­flicts of rule – tries to remain bour­geois and trans­form itself into the best form for inte­grat­ing the depen­dent class­es into the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem of pro­duc­tion and the bour­geois sys­tem of rule. The “peo­ple” are degrad­ed into mere bar­gain­ing chips in the rival­ry of lead­ing polit­i­cal groups. For oth­er coun­tries under “par­lia­men­tary” gov­ern­ment, the way this trans­for­ma­tion was accom­plished in the Fed­er­al Repub­lic [West Ger­many] is exem­plary.

II

Among the most impor­tant aspects of this attempt to sta­bi­lize and secure cap­i­tal­ism polit­i­cal­ly include:

The dis­so­lu­tion of the class of depen­dents into a plu­ral­ist sys­tem of job cat­e­gories. Already in its fas­cist form, this proved itself suit­ed to coun­ter­ing the objec­tive polar­iza­tion of soci­ety from the sub­jec­tive, orga­ni­za­tion­al, and con­scious­ness-manip­u­lat­ing side. Here, more effec­tive means are at the dis­pos­al of orga­nized cap­i­tal­ism than ear­lier com­pet­i­tive cap­i­tal­ism. And from the errors of fas­cist plu­ral­ism it has also final­ly learned to call itself demo­c­ra­t­ic.

With this, the repro­duc­tion of soci­ety through the state turns into the artic­u­la­tion of a plu­ral­i­ty of par­ties. This means that while sev­er­al par­ties – although, from the point of view of the rul­ing ten­den­cies, two are best – com­pete for a share of pow­er, indi­vid­u­al par­ties come to resem­ble each oth­er to a large extent. They fore­go rep­re­sent­ing con­crete groups or class-tied inter­ests, and become part of a gen­er­al equi­lib­ri­um. They super­fi­cial­ly roll all real groups and all ide­al posi­tions into a sin­gle indis­crim­i­nate exchange rela­tion­ship – and exclude any group with rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas or inter­ests in trans­form­ing struc­tures. Such par­ties sep­a­rate them­selves from their own social basis and become part of polit­i­cal state asso­ci­a­tions; they become offi­cials charged with uphold­ing the equi­lib­ri­um of the state.

The par­ties, hav­ing become part of the state, devel­op a nov­el social qual­i­ty that is con­nect­ed to their own mate­ri­al inter­ests: they are inter­est­ed in main­tain­ing rela­tions that make it pos­si­ble for them to hold pow­er as part of the state and estab­lish­ment. They there­by cou­ple them­selves – whether they are mass par­ties or not – to the inter­ests of those social groups that are like­wise com­mit­ted to con­serv­ing given struc­tures. In this respect, the old ques­tion whether the rul­ing polit­i­cal groups are stooges of the rul­ing class­es or whether they rep­re­sent an inde­pen­dent social class (the polit­i­cal class) is otiose. They are them­selves a part of the polit­i­cal rul­ing class. More specif­i­cal­ly, they are a func­tion of the state. In this way, social antag­o­nism is not reflect­ed in the par­ty sys­tem. All that takes place in the state rul­ing appa­ra­tus is the repro­duc­tion of one pole of soci­ety, which would oth­er­wise be called into ques­tion antag­o­nis­ti­cal­ly. That means the sep­a­ra­tion of par­ties from the social basis does not affect all class­es and groups in the same way. Only groups that would poten­tial­ly want to trans­form rela­tions are shut out from rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the lev­el of the state: the depen­dent mass­es. They have no say in fun­da­men­tal pol­i­cy deci­sions, even though they may fare bet­ter with one or anoth­er par­ty in mar­gin­al prob­lems of polit­i­cal prag­mat­ics.

The­se same par­ties, which have alien­at­ed the broad mass­es, self-iden­ti­fy ide­o­log­i­cal­ly as Volksparteien [people’s par­ties].4 The efforts of their own lead­er­ship lead Volksparteien to devel­op a nov­el mech­a­nism of rule, in which rei­fied and author­i­tar­i­an con­cen­tra­tions of pow­er enter into a cycle of com­pe­ti­tion with one anoth­er. Only this com­pet­i­tive rela­tion­ship is oli­garchi­cal­ly orga­nized, and has as lit­tle to do with the polit­i­cal prin­ci­ple of free com­pe­ti­tion as the orga­nized mar­ket shar­ing of mod­ern oli­garchic cap­i­tal­ism has to do with free com­pe­ti­tion in eco­nom­ics. The open-rival­ry cycle of rul­ing groups that fight again­st and exclude one anoth­er will be sup­plant­ed by an assim­ila­tive cycle that ulti­mate­ly leads to self-liq­ui­da­tion: with regard to the con­stant assim­i­la­tion of (seem­ing­ly) com­pet­i­tive par­ties and their mutu­al par­tic­i­pa­tion in state vio­lence – be it in the coop­er­a­tion of major­i­ty and minor­i­ty fac­tions and the mech­a­nism by which they swap pow­er, or in the form of the grand coali­tion. In this way par­ties fight amongst them­selves for the pow­er to gov­ern but nev­er­the­less form a sym­bi­otic uni­ty, in whose sphere an abstract con­flict of lead­er­ship can be fought out. They form the plu­ral­ist ver­sion of a uni­fied par­ty [Ein­heitspartei].5

III

The trans­for­ma­tion in the par­ty sys­tem is con­nect­ed to the struc­tural and func­tion­al changes that par­lia­ment itself has expe­ri­enced in recent decades. Of the­se changes, there is one that  should not be for­got­ten, lest one run the dan­ger of mys­ti­fy­ing parliament’s “loss of func­tion­al­i­ty” rel­a­tive to ear­lier forms of par­lia­men­tar­i­an­ism: as a fac­tor of social pow­er, par­lia­ment has his­tor­i­cal­ly always rep­re­sent­ed for bour­geois soci­ety the fic­tion of pop­u­lar free­dom through the imple­men­ta­tion of pop­u­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “Of all the speci­fic ele­ments… in the idea of free­dom and thus of democ­ra­cy, the most impor­tant is par­lia­men­tar­i­an­ism… It would seem as if the idea of demo­c­ra­t­ic free­dom finds unbro­ken expres­sion in par­lia­men­tar­i­an­ism. This pur­pose serves the fic­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion” (Kelsen).6

As a mat­ter of fact, the prin­ci­ple of par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion (free man­date – free from the will of vot­ers, but not from the direc­tives and orders of the par­ty lead­er­ship – unim­peach­a­bil­i­ty dur­ing the leg­isla­tive peri­od, etc.) turns out to be an effec­tive means of keep­ing the mass­es out of the state’s cen­ters of pow­er and – through state and legal medi­a­tion – society’s cen­ters of deci­sion. Cer­tain­ly no indi­vid­u­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives, pro­vid­ed they do not belong to the inner cir­cle of lead­er­ship, accrue any pow­er of their own from the prin­ci­ple of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. To the par­lia­men­tary fic­tion also belongs the Leib­h­holz-ian7 ide­ol­o­giza­tion that the rep­re­sen­ta­tive is the mas­ter, and not the ser­vant of the peo­ple. If, how­ev­er (and here Pare­to is in agree­ment), part­ly due to the polit­i­cal monopoly of par­lia­men­tary par­ties, the pop­u­la­tion ori­ents itself on the one hand towards par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics and coop­er­a­tion between gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment, and on the oth­er hand towards the con­fronta­tion between gov­ern­ment and oppo­si­tion that sees the light of day in par­lia­ment, a real ele­ment of dom­i­na­tion emerges from this fic­tion. The West Ger­man par­lia­ment [Bun­destag] is nei­ther mas­ter of the peo­ple nor a leg­is­la­tor rep­re­sent­ing the peo­ple.

Rather, par­lia­ment is active as a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly indis­pens­able instru­ment for pub­li­ciz­ing deci­sions made through coop­er­a­tion between the state appa­ra­tus and social pres­sure groups [Macht­grup­pen]. It thus acts as the trans­mis­sion belt for the deci­sions of oli­garchi­cal groups. The­se groups (the lead­ing groups of the sphere of pro­duc­tion – oli­gop­oly – but also of the cul­tur­al spheres - eg. church­es) find them­selves thor­ough­ly and con­crete­ly rep­re­sent­ed in par­lia­ment, pro­vid­ed that par­lia­ment acts and func­tions as the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dom­i­na­tion. Only as such is par­lia­ment reward­ing and accept­able to bour­geois-cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. When it pro­vides for the incur­sion of an eman­ci­pa­to­ry coun­ter­vail­ing pow­er, that is, when the trans­for­ma­tion does not suc­ceed, the rul­ing class grasps for the more sev­ere means of its own self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion. See, for exam­ple, Greece.8

IV

This means that the per­spec­tive of a “sys­tem-imma­nent” evo­lu­tion of par­lia­men­tar­i­an­ism fails due to its own ten­den­cy towards invo­lu­tion, which is sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly deter­mined by its func­tion of dom­i­na­tion. Devel­op­ments in still-unin­te­grat­ed soci­eties show how over the long run this ten­den­cy towards invo­lu­tion is more effec­tive than the poten­tial to exploit par­lia­ment for its rep­re­sen­ta­tive func­tion. The fun­da­men­tal­ly oppo­si­tion­al par­ties which play the par­lia­men­tary game, rather than tak­ing part in extra-par­lia­men­tary strug­gle as the essen­tial means for con­test­ing dom­i­na­tion, are threat­ened with los­ing their eman­ci­pa­to­ry qual­i­ty and of trans­form­ing into bureau­crat­ic appa­ra­tus­es of inte­gra­tion. In oth­er words, the polit­i­cal as well as (why not?) the moral down­fall of social democ­ra­cy (a his­tor­i­cal betray­al of humanity’s lib­er­a­tion) is a warn­ing sign for the social­ist and com­mu­nist par­ties in the cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries.

Each par­lia­men­tary reform that is real­ized with­in states ori­ent­ed towards invo­lu­tion serves not to expand the pos­si­bil­i­ty for the mass­es to take part in deci­sion-mak­ing process­es, but rather to con­tain that pos­si­bil­i­ty by inten­si­fy­ing parliament’s func­tion of dom­i­na­tion. Even where there exists a polit­i­cal artic­u­la­tion of a free pub­lic sphere, it can­not use par­lia­ment as a tool to imple­ment itself prac­ti­cal­ly.

This applies not only to the antag­o­nis­tic pub­lic sphere but also at times even to the crit­i­cal pub­lic sphere. Both must seek their polit­i­cal medi­a­tion in extra- and, in the wider course of the refunc­tion­ing of par­lia­ment, anti-cap­i­tal­ist orga­ni­za­tions and orga­ni­za­tion­al forms. It is up for debate whether the trans­for­ma­tion of democ­ra­cy can still be reversed. Today most groups of the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion tend towards this posi­tion.

How­ev­er, two things must be con­sid­ered here:

1. A detailed analy­sis of the Basic Law must first of all clar­i­fy whether and to what extent the de-democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the Fed­er­al Repub­lic was already intend­ed in its con­sti­tu­tion.

2. Nei­ther the will to pow­er and cor­rupt­ibil­i­ty of the politi­cians nor the depoliti­ciza­tion of the mass­es are the caus­es of the trans­for­ma­tion. It is, rather, a neces­si­ty for a cap­i­tal­ism that seeks its own sal­va­tion by orga­niz­ing itself through means of the state. The return to the puri­ty of the Basic Law would be a return to the ini­tial con­di­tions of the trans­for­ma­tion itself. It may be that the restora­tion or the defense of basic rights con­sti­tutes an essen­tial pre­req­ui­site for the strug­gle again­st dom­i­na­tion and exploita­tion. Basic rights, how­ev­er, do not eman­ci­pate the mass­es so long as we have a bour­geois soci­ety and a cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion whose state pre­cise­ly does not provide for the eman­ci­pa­to­ry use of the­se rights.

Under the con­di­tions of orga­nized cap­i­tal­ism, as paci­fied and inte­grat­ed by the state, it is rather the polit­i­cal recov­ery of antag­o­nism – and this means the actu­al­iza­tion of the class strug­gle and the dis­in­te­gra­tion of soci­ety – that is the first step towards the real­iza­tion of democ­ra­cy.

V

The polit­i­cal recov­ery of antag­o­nism is the cur­rent task of the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion. A few clar­i­fi­ca­tions are nec­es­sary here:

1. Extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion is not fun­da­men­tal­ly – in either prac­ti­cal or con­cep­tu­al terms – anti-par­lia­men­tary. It is rather the nor­mal form of par­tic­i­pa­tion for groups dis­sat­is­fied by the polit­i­cal life of par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cy, and indeed a sup­port for and an exten­sion of the pol­i­tics of oppo­si­tion­al par­lia­men­tary par­ties. It there­fore rep­re­sents the social pow­er of the par­lia­men­tary fronts – inso­far as they can be said to exist, that is to say, inso­far as the par­lia­men­tary fronts, for their part, effec­tive­ly mir­ror social fronts.

2. Because social oppo­si­tion­al groups and par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion do not thor­ough­ly coin­cide, con­flicts can arise at any time between the extra-par­lia­men­tary and par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion (just as much, inci­den­tal­ly, as they can between rul­ing groups and majori­ties and a given par­lia­men­tary major­i­ty, in prac­ti­cal terms with a given gov­ern­ment). Such a con­flict can extend across the entire par­lia­ment when it leads to con­fronta­tions between the pub­lic sphere and state organs. In such rare cas­es, the pub­lic sphere, as com­plete oppo­si­tion to the con­sti­tu­tion­al organs (to which the par­ties also belong), exerts a pres­sure that indeed can func­tion as “par­lia­men­tary coer­cion.” For exam­ple: in the Spiegel Affair it was not the Bun­destag that forced Min­is­ter Strauß to resign, but rather the mobi­lized pub­lic sphere that forced the minister’s recusal and in the end his inglo­ri­ous depar­ture. A fur­ther exam­ple of “par­lia­men­tary coer­cion” was the Tele­phone Charge Affair, when the Bild-Zeitung effec­tive­ly recalled the Bun­destag from the par­lia­men­tary hol­i­day.

3. In the course of cer­tain polit­i­cal process­es, how­ev­er, a tran­si­tion in the extra-par­lia­men­tary strug­gle can occur. That the oppo­si­tion, which has in this way become anti-par­lia­men­tary, gets labeled anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic is due part­ly to the unjus­ti­fied iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of democ­ra­cy with par­lia­men­tary for­mal­ism, and part­ly to the method by which par­lia­men­tary par­ties name them­selves the sole foun­da­tions of the demo­c­ra­t­ic state. Rather, inso­far as par­lia­ments func­tion anti-demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly, despite demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­tions, the strug­gle for democ­ra­cy must be pushed into anti-par­lia­men­tary prax­is. This may some­times be direct­ed towards par­tial aspects of the par­lia­men­tary par­ties: a par­lia­ment must be crit­i­cized as a whole, attacked in case of pas­siv­i­ty, when for exam­ple its pres­i­dent lies pub­licly with­out being held account­able in par­lia­ment. Here it is evi­dent, inci­den­tal­ly, that the tran­si­tion to an anti-par­lia­men­tary posi­tion is tight­ly con­nect­ed to the fail­ure of par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion par­ties.

4. If the invo­lu­tion of the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem of gov­ern­ment towards the author­i­tar­i­an form of dom­i­na­tion has already extend­ed very far (as it has in the Fed­er­al Repub­lic), so too does the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion gain a new qual­i­ty that results from the con­flict with the new qual­i­ty of par­lia­ment. This con­sists – neg­a­tive­ly – in the lack of a con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­vi­sion for pop­u­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tion and in the lack of over­sight and a pub­lic sphere. Pos­i­tive­ly, the new qual­i­ty con­sists in the trans­for­ma­tion of par­lia­ment into a rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al organ of dom­i­na­tion. The peo­ple, who are no longer rep­re­sent­ed, or at the very least the groups and class­es that are no longer rep­re­sent­ed, must take mat­ters into their own hands for the sake of democ­ra­cy. It is their right to par­tic­i­pate in polit­i­cal deci­sion-mak­ing process­es. If par­lia­ment becomes an instru­ment for cur­tail­ing this right, the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion, as the bypro­duct of a par­lia­men­tarism that is still capa­ble of being demo­c­ra­t­ic, thus con­sti­tutes the coun­ter­weight to a par­lia­men­tarism that has become anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic.

5. The pos­si­bil­i­ties of polit­i­cal prax­is for the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion dif­fer from soci­ety to soci­ety. Con­sid­er the weight and sig­nif­i­cance of the polit­i­cal clubs in France, which by now have estab­lished them­selves as rec­og­nized oppo­nents of the offi­cial organs. Or the Repub­li­can Club in West Berlin, which rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the offi­cial bod­ies (and the semi-offi­cial pow­er of the press) some­times label as an orga­niz­er of “ter­ror” and – most recent­ly – as a cen­ter for spy­ing. In many west­ern coun­tries it has become a work­ing prin­ci­ple for the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion to pur­sue cen­tral cam­paigns rep­re­sent­ing polit­i­cal aims and ideas that either find no hear­ing in par­lia­ments, or which par­lia­ments fight again­st. One cen­tral cam­paign in the future may have to do with gain­ing offi­cial recog­ni­tion for the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic.9 

Such cen­tral cam­paigns have a weak­ness, how­ev­er: they prop­a­gate gen­er­al ideas and can only speak to and mobi­lize gen­er­al polit­i­cal inter­ests. They will thus only be suc­cess­ful and con­sti­tute a con­crete coun­ter-pow­er again­st anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic invo­lu­tion ten­den­cies if they bind them­selves to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the par­tic­u­lar mate­ri­al inter­ests of the depen­dent mass­es. Here too the way of ideas ini­tial­ly goes the way of needs. Here too the Idea dis­graces itself if it shies away from alliance with mate­ri­al inter­ests. Those who rule seem to under­stand this rela­tion bet­ter than the “rebels” of West Berlin. While some groups of the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion still ori­ent them­selves to Marcuse’s the­ses on mar­gin­al­ized groups and have writ­ten off the work­ing class, the Fed­er­al Board of Ger­man Indus­try [Bun­desvor­stand der Deutschen Indus­trie, or BDI] demands, as a con­di­tion for invest­ing, that the Sen­ate of West Berlin impede sol­i­dar­i­ty between work­ers and stu­dents.

6. And last­ly a note on the meth­ods of the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion. If it suc­ceeds in set­ting the mass­es in motion and in this way par­tial­ly and tem­porar­i­ly par­a­lyzes or irri­tates the state appa­ra­tus, it will be accused of want­i­ng to mobi­lize “the street.” It is gen­er­al­ly accept­ed that “pres­sure from the street” direct­ed at freely elect­ed par­lia­ments is a sev­ere offense again­st the con­sti­tu­tion and democ­ra­cy. The ques­tion is sim­ply when pres­sure is per­mis­si­ble and appears accept­able. Every seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion must seek to use its own means to be heard. If the extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion writes a let­ter to the may­or of West Berlin no atten­tion will be paid to it. No atten­tion is paid to stu­dents who demand par­lia­men­tary action and edu­ca­tion­al reforms through peti­tions. A let­ter from Mr. Fritz Berg10 or a report of the BDI, how­ev­er, always receives atten­tion and respon­se. Polit­i­cal­ly, though, the pres­sure of a BDI report (fun­da­men­tal­ly, a “go-in” by mail) on the West Berlin Par­lia­ment is dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly stronger and more inci­sive than a go-in of a few dozen stu­dents and assort­ed “agi­ta­tors” [“Drahtziehern”]. Part of the rul­ing mechanism’s per­fidy is that it presents pres­sure from the upper class as noble rec­om­men­da­tion, and pres­sure from below as mob-like coer­cion.

“Pres­sure from the street” is the legit­i­mate means of an extra-par­lia­men­tary oppo­si­tion whose peti­tions that play by the rules of social order always end up in the waste­bas­ket of par­lia­ment and the gov­ern­ment.

– Trans­lat­ed by Michael Shane Boyle and Daniel Spauld­ing


  1. Trans­la­tors’ note: Found­ed in 1967 in West Berlin by Agno­li and oth­er fig­ures such as Hans Mag­nus Enzens­berg­er and William Borm, the Repub­li­can Club was a key space for dis­cus­sion and debate in the West Ger­man stu­dent move­ment and the broad­er extra-par­lia­men­tary Left. All fur­ther foot­notes are by the trans­la­tors. 

  2. The Grundge­setz or Basic Law is the con­sti­tu­tion of the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many that came into effect on May 23, 1949. It estab­lished West Ger­many as a sov­er­eign nation inde­pen­dent from both the Allied occu­py­ing pow­ers and the social­ist Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic. 

  3. Vil­fre­do Pare­to (1848-1923), Ital­ian econ­o­mist whose the­o­ries influ­enced fas­cist poli­cies. 

  4. In Ger­many the term Volkspartei describes a type of polit­i­cal par­ty whose mem­ber­ship tran­scends social lines such as class or reli­gion. The SPD’s trans­for­ma­tion with the 1959 Godes­borg Pro­gram from a worker’s par­ty into a Volkspartei was still a fresh mem­o­ry for the West Ger­man Left when Agno­li wrote this essay. 

  5. The rul­ing par­ty in the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic (East Ger­many) was known as the Sozial­is­tis­che Ein­heitspartei, or Social­ist Uni­ty Par­ty. It was cre­at­ed in the country’s Sovi­et-occu­pied zone in 1946 as a merg­er of the Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of Ger­many (SPD) with the Ger­man Com­mu­nist Par­ty (KPD). 

  6. This quote from Hans Kelsen is not cit­ed in Agnoli’s orig­i­nal essay. It comes from Hans Kelsen, Vom Wesen und Wert der Demokratie (Tübin­gen: Mohr, 1929), 25; 30. The trans­la­tion from Ger­man is our own. 

  7. Agno­li is speak­ing of Ger­hard Leib­holz (1901-1982), an influ­en­tial Ger­man legal schol­ar and jurist who served on West Germany’s con­sti­tu­tion­al court from 1951 to 1971.  

  8. This refers to the Greek mil­i­tary jun­ta that began on 21 April 1967 and which would last until 24 July 1974. 

  9. The Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic had no offi­cial sta­tus in the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many at the time Agno­li was writ­ing. Nor­mal­iza­tion of rela­tions with East Ger­many would take place under the aegis of the so-called Ost­poli­tik (East­ern Pol­i­cy) of Chan­cel­lor Willy Brandt, in office 1969-1974. 

  10. Fritz Berg was a promi­nent Ger­man indus­tri­al­ist and the first pres­i­dent of the BDI. 

Author of the article

was a militant and theorist whose book Die Transformation der Demokratie, co-authored with Peter Brückner, played a fundamental role in the German New Left.