“Democratic Socialism”

“Democratic Socialism”

Rage Against Capital looks at the proposition of "Democratic Socialism".

The eventual collapse of the Soviet Union produced something of a depressive episode for the left, Stalin’s authoritarian rule strangled the international socialist movement and produced a rather disgusting taste in the mouths of revolutionaries. During it’s life time the Soviet Union enjoyed easily a majority support among the international leftist community. When the Bolsheviks took control in October 1917, to quote Murray Bookchin, everyone was a Bolshevik, no matter what tenancy, Anarchist, Marxist, Social Democratic, all were excited for the new revolutionary regime. This was thought to be the moment in history where Russia’s exploited populations would take control and produce a revolutionary situation the likes of which the world had never seen. Stalinism initially did not disappoint either. The mega power that Stalin had turned the USSR into was looked at by most of the revolutionary movement at the time as a shinning example of how socialism can be just as productive and as vibrant as capitalism. Not only that, but many found themselves completely in love with Russia’s foreign policy, seeing the “national liberation” struggles it had created in the third world as a truly inspiring revolutionary undertaking. Many who still hold a positive view of the USSR, especially many Maoists, use these national liberation movements as evidence that the USSR was actually a great achievement for all mankind, rather then the disaster many leftists today and bourgioes ideology depicts it as. For many on the left, if you were truly a revolutionary you were on the side of Russia against the western Imperialists and the Fascists, you had to pick a side, and not doing so was floundering on one’s revolutionary obligations. However, with the rise of Stalinism and it’s Authoritarian results dissent began to mount in the ranks. Anarchists and Left-communists being opposed to Bolshevik and Stalinist political control by nature had been exposed first hand to the repression that categorizes the years of “red rule” for many people today. They began to doubt the legitimacy of the Soviet state, and began to become critical of the path it was headed down.

Fast forward to the collapse of the Soviet and the many years of reformist, soviet heads of state that began to undermine the political underpinnings of Stalinism, and with Kruschev’s secret speech unveiling many of the repressive tenancies that Anarchists and Left-communists had observed before hand the river of support from the international revolutionary movement for the USSR had dissipated, many revolutionaries such as the formerly mentioned Left-communists and Anarchists, and even certain sects of Trotskyism, retreated into “state-capitalist” theories of the Soviet Union’s economic set up. Opting to associate the Soviet Union with capitalism to distance themselves from it. Many radicals became completely disenfranchised and either abandoned progressive politics altogether, or simply abandoned the “revolutionary” side of things. This is where our story, the story of democratic socialism, begins.

Return to Social Democracy:

One of the historical markers in the history of both the labor movement and the socialist movement is the death of social democracy. Social democracy used to be simply a another word for the socialist movement, everyone considered themselves a social democrat in those days, even Engels used the term to describe Marxist methodology. This lead to the rise of many social democratic parties. Most of these parties and many prominent figures of social democracy (people you may recognize such as Karl Kautsky and Edward Bernstein) were reformist. Reformist in the sense that many of them saw the road to socialism through these social democratic parties taking power and administering gradual social reforms that move society toward socialism and eventually replace the capitalist society with a socialist mode of production.

Social democracy permeated every aspect and theorist of revolutionary socialism. Both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were social democrats, and the Bolsheviks split off from the Russian Social Democratic party and were themselves “revolutionary social democrats”. However, social democracy has been over all associated with reformism because that was the mainstream of the movement. This is why today social democratic politics are (correctly in my view) are identified as reformist politics of some kind or another. This is no doubt also because the remaining social democratic parties and ideologues are consistently reformist. This means that a “return to social democracy” consists specifically of reformism. The subject of this piece will be a semi-recent tenancy that calls itself “democratic socialism”. This tenancy has received mainstream attention as a result of Bernie Sanders political campaign, specifically as a result of his identification with the label of “democratic socialist”.

Many say that “democratic socialism” is simply a form of politics that seeks to reform countries off of what is called the “nordic model”, it is essentially a form of capitalist society with heavy social spending. However, this is a bit of a miscatigorization. The reason the term “socialism” is implored in the label is not because “socialism” is defined by adherents of “democratic socialism” as simply state services, ironically what many Bernie supporters define it as. Rather it’s implored because Democratic Socialists have political lineage to the old social democratic movement.

Going back to the Collapse of the Soviet Union which laid bare it’s failures for it’s former ardent supporters to see, many people wanted to remain in the socialist movement, and thus came many theories about how to create a new socialist project that would not produce another USSR. One of these theories was “Democratic Socialism” which saw the reason for the USSR’s authoritarian, and bureaucratic failures in the fact that it was created by a violent social revolution. To Democratic Socialists a properly functioning socialism could only be created through democratic reforms thus a new social democracy and return to the old ideas of social democracy by extension, was born.

Democratic Socialism Today:

Democratic Socialists today are defined by a few key political beliefs. The first belief that informs Democratic Socialist politics is the belief that our society is run by capitalist power, in the form of corporate control of government, trade deals like NAFTA, and the top down control of work places by large companies. The second belief which is what they conclude from the above is that this hinders democracy, for democracy to really thrive work places must be decentralized into co-ops and a robust state apparatus must be constructed to put ordinary people in charge of the running of society.

Is Democratic Socialism What We Need?:

The simple answer would be; “no”. In fact, it is the opposite of what we need to defeat capitalism, built revolutionary power for oppressed classes and groups, and as Marx says “abolish all existing conditions”. Returning to the ghost town of social democracy, where parties inevitably join imperialism and capitalism at the expense of workers and the oppressed globally, where historically parties have supported the rise of fascism, and where getting to a socialist society is conceived of as simply a voluntaristic transition enacted by a well meaning state of technocrats will do nothing, but hurt our movement.

Democratic socialism was formed as a theory to prevent what failures occurred in the Soviet Union from occurring again. However, it completely over looked the actual cause of these failures and opted instead to throw out violent revolution which has historically been the means by which oppressive systems are overthrown. It puts form over content by fetishising democracy to the point where militant taking of power is dismissed, and we are encouraged to wait for the technocrats to push us into the future. It seems this theory does little to prevent the mistakes of social democracy as it advocates the same model that lead to not only the bureaucratic center of the labor movement headed by Karl Kaustky and the German social democratic party, but also the betrayal by social democratic parties of the working class leading up to world war one.

“The history of defeat and betrayal on the part of Marxism has come in two great waves. From the time of Engels on, there was the creation of the social democratic parties of Europe. With little strategy beyond getting elected to parliament, they built mass parties and practical-bureaucratic unions, until everything went crash in World War I. Then most of the parties supported “their own” imperialist governments and fought against fellow members of the Socialist International. After World War I, they opposed the Russian Revolution and sabotaged revolutions in their own countries, especially Germany. In the Thirties they failed to fight fascism, particularly Nazism. Uncritically supporting Allied imperialism in World War II, they next became agents of U.S. imperialism in the Cold War. By now, the European social democratic and labor parties have completely abandoned any belief in a new sort of society, advocating only a weak form of liberalism, if not outright neoliberalism.” -Wayne Price

“Simply ridiculous. The conservative offensive has seen the world Left move backwards almost to the point of disappearing. The number of socialist parties in the Socialist international has grown following recent new memberships, but the real strength of this organisation is absolutely nil. In most cases, leaving aside the “socialist” models in the Middle East because they are incomprehensible to westerners, the aforementioned socialist parties are participating in power, and they are the forces controlling the passage from the old order to the new. The social State is disappearing completely, whereas one of a new kind, run by information technology is rising up which is far more dangerous than the old Reaganism or Thatcherism.

This crisis cannot be explained simply by the collapse of the USSR. That would be too facile. Moreover the left, especially the European left, has never, at least in recent times, had a unity of intent and has always flirted with the more advanced technocratic capitalism. The crisis is therefore more a crisis of ideals than a real one. With the fall of the alibi of Soviet State communism, these parties and their men have been exposed in their task of guaranteeing, directly or indirectly, the smooth functioning of the mechanisms of exploitation and the extraction of the proceeds of capitalism. With this crisis the great idealistic aspirations of the struggles of the traditional left which allowed a vision of equality, the end of exploitation, the liberation of man and the formation of a society where individuals and peoples could live without killing or being killed have disappeared, along with all their contradictions and tactical and strategic mistakes.

In fact the idea of class struggle in the traditional sense, i.e. as interpretation of movements within a strictly economic division of social phenomena, is quite out of date. All political organisations who still insist on dwelling on such mechanistic explanations are destined to extinction, handicapped as they are by their narrow reformist objectives and incapacity to understand that the traditional social fabric no longer exists. The objectives of the mass movements of today are not strictly class ones, that is to say they do not see society divided into classes as their main point of reference. They are presenting themselves -only at superficial level because the substance of things has not changed, although even this is of some importance — as having a wide social unrest, as though power’s attack against the weakest part in the class clash really took account of reality as a whole. This has made two elements that seemed to have been long forgotten re-emerge from the mist, which could become the cause of a new and more interesting conflict. On the one hand the individual with his rights, cultural identity and need for liberation against every kind of oppression. On the other, the irrational preoccupation that takes hold of all of us and makes us react in an often absurd way in the face of anything that is different and that justly claims to have its own rights. The reflourishing of racism can be explained in this way.

ln this new field of struggle where people are mobilising not only in defence of the planet, against world famine and against economic imperialism, but also for struggles based on nationalist sentiments that are being threateningly used by power elites, the role of the traditional left has finally sadly, faded.

In many ways the model of trade union resistance and the generally corporate model of the past have been swallowed up by the mechanisms of uniformity inherent in information technology capitalism. Post industrial technology has finally gained the upper hand, and, wiping out the ideological talk, it has reduced the role of the left wing organisations, the more or less classic socialist parties, to a new, simplified and sullen one: that of supporting and guaranteeing exploitation and domination.” -Alfredo Bonanno

Democratic Socialism today continues in this tradition, in addition to adding a new version of form over content. In this version of form over content capitalist power is analyzed in coming out of specifically large companies controlling work places from the top down, and corporate money in economic policy and government. This is not very far off from the typical liberal analysis of what is wrong with modern capitalism. The only difference being that democratic socialists see this as capitalism itself, rather then just a few conservative policy mistakes and criticize some cosmetic aspects of capitalist political economy, rather then simply criticizing it’s effects like liberals do. No actual analysis of the base economic relations of capitalism is put into play, large companies are seen as the root of all problems while the petite bourgioes sectors of society which as Paul Mattick notes are important in the enforcement of bourgioes ideology are left both unanalyzed and uncritcized.

The kind of “socialism” that “democratic socialism” proposes is not socialism at all. Socialism is the common ownership of production and thus a world without states, without nations, without markets and money, and without defined social hierarchy. Much less worker coops that must compete on the market with a robust state apparatus presiding over it all.

Many democratic socialists including “Democratic Socialists of America” or “DSA” are feeling the bern even though Bernie’s politics are a bit off the democratic socialist spectrum. For instance most democratic socialists oppose the wars in the middle east, while Berninator defends the Afghanistan war and calls for a US guided coalition in the middle east which would absolutely perpetuate American imperial control of these areas. Most democratic socialists also oppose Israeli colonialism, but Bernie has voted for the continued bombing of Gaza by Israel. So why do democratic socialists feel the bern? If I had to guess it is because their politics are like that of the old social democratic parties, politics that put technocratic reformism over values such as anti-imperialism, or things like worker’s power. So called “Democratic Socialism” is nothing more then a return to the ghost town of social democracy. If you don’t believe me, take it from DSA:

This is a section of their Q and A on democratic socialism which deals with the argument that social democracy has failed:

Many northern European countries enjoy tremendous prosperity and relative economic equality thanks to the policies pursued by social democratic parties. These nations used their relative wealth to insure a high standard of living for their citizens—high wages, health care and subsidized education. Most importantly, social democratic parties supported strong labor movements that became central players in economic decision-making. But with the globalization of capitalism, the old social democratic model becomes ever harder to maintain. Stiff competition from low-wage labor markets in developing countries and the constant fear that industry will move to avoid taxes and strong labor regulations has diminished (but not eliminated) the ability of nations to launch ambitious economic reform on their own. Social democratic reform must now happen at the international level. Multinational corporations must be brought under democratic controls, and workers’ organizing efforts must reach across borders.

Now, more than ever, socialism is an international movement. As socialists have always known, the welfare of working people in Finland or California depends largely on standards in Italy or Indonesia. As a result, we must work towards reforms that can withstand the power of multinationals and global banks, and we must fight for a world order that is not controlled by bankers and bosses.”

-DSA (http://www.dsausa.org/what_is_democratic_socialism)

Posted By

Feb 25 2016 04:43


  • "The kind of “socialism” that “democratic socialism” proposes is not socialism at all. Socialism is the common ownership of production and thus a world without states, without nations, without markets and money, and without defined social hierarchy."

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