The socialist crisis and the challenges of its redemption

Image: Irina Kapustina


Transforming a socialist utopia into a plausible socialist democracy with an emancipatory character was not a task accomplished

The Marxian idea of ​​a Soviet revolution is expressed in Communist Manifesto and in the works of Leon Trotsky and Antonio Gramsci differently. The idea of ​​a strong, non-insurrectionary reformism is very well represented by Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein and the social democratic crisis, which crosses all continents, is well expressed by what was a lucid, but impotent political reaction of the Spanish left, to reduce the Francoism's demolishing potential, still burning and then relapsing, even after the Moncloa Pact.

It is my first and difficult article of the year of grace 2024.

The narrow margins of maneuver that today stifle social-democratic experiences of different shades, to apply clearly “strong” reformist programs, aiming to meet – in each specific country – the needs of the excluded and most exploited, have opened up the possibility – in all over the world – of a serious relapse of a fascist or proto-fascist character. It is not a chance, nor a nuance, but a new world-system that emerges, through which the traditional “democratic” right, conservative or reactionary, declines to hegemonize the extreme right and can throw itself en masse into the arms of fascism, seeking promote reaction and conservatism to a “revolutionary” status.

Traditional social-democratic policies, rebuilt as Social State projects, have not been sufficient to unite the majority of society around political democracy, as they managed in their “glorious years”. Not only because it – the social democratic policy – ​​at the same time that it defined rights that generated high financial costs that were not absorbed by the tax system, it also created a crowd of insatiable rich people, fed by the speculative reproduction of money, who will never renounce their “rights” in a cordial manner.

The flexibility of social democracy, in relation to rights, is accompanied by liberal “reforms” that also create their own social base, as in the supposedly universal entrepreneurial illusion, which conquers a large part of the “popular classes”, without any convincing response from the left. , already limited by those scarce margins of maneuver allowed by globally organized financial capital.

The situation is analogous to the environment created in the world after the First World War, with the difference that wars are no longer “concentrated” in “blocs” versus “blocs”, which were later summarized in two large blocks designed in the Second World War. Now, there is a succession of localized wars that do not require large physical mobilizations of troops from the rich countries in conflict to appropriate the natural wealth and energy sources still found in the most remote regions of the globe: the colonial-imperial countries, by far, are the only “outsource” and determine the “homework” of the countries that are under their yoke, in the imperial-colonial chess.

It is, therefore, not an “extensive” barbarism in the civilizational crisis, but a barbarism “in compote” – supposedly cleaner (although dirtier and more unequal) – sometimes aimed at controlling strategic territories, sometimes at extinction. of “hotbeds of terrorism”, in military actions that end up martyring entire populations, which then have their territories occupied by colonial-imperial countries. Old people, women, children, the civilian population, are targets of State terrorist actions which, although they are technically “war crimes”, are no different from the genocides that accompanied the irrational side of modernity and the history of unlimited private accumulation.

This short essay on the future of the strategy of social democracy aims to summarize – lightly and quickly – the direction of the legacy that social democracy left for humanity, seeking to explore not its abstract universality, but its concrete particularism in countries like Brazil. Approached from the beginning of the 20th century, it appears that social democracy was divided into dozens, if not hundreds of “branches” of a large social-democratic tree, the result of which is still far from being fully understood.

Its most significant division was that which defined the revolutionary Marxist camp – communist and Bolshevik – from the social-reformist camp, whose strongest presences until the 1970s were represented by the French Socialist Party, the Labor Party of England and the edifying experiences of Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark, small countries inserted in the capitalist world with important experiences of democracy and social well-being, which are references to this day.

The "dossier” from the social democratic tree (L’Arbre social-democrate, Actuel Marx, No.23) contextualizes this article of mine and limits my theme, mainly based on the theoretical elaboration and “founding practice”, which goes from Marx to Engels, and from Kautsky to Bernstein and which obviously goes through Lenin and Stalin. Through the leadership of these two leaders in the formation of the USSR, the West triumphed over Nazism – after the Second World War – opening the historical space of the rule of law in the West and the idea of ​​a “realistic” social democracy.

Realist social democracy purges the idea of ​​proletarian socialism with political democracy to adhere to capitalism with expanded social rights, sealing the failure – at least in this period – of the idea of ​​human emancipation through equality, until then given by the Marxian idea of ​​redemption.” proletariat” by the State: bureaucracy defeats the class, manipulative ritualism defeats the “soviets” and the legal and political impotence of Weimar social democracy defeats the utopia of socialism disengaged from the class struggle.

From these two great branches of social democracy in the 20th century, it is possible to highlight two important historical legacies: the first, from the Soviet experience, which managed to found a highly militarized State, removed the feudal ties of old Russia and generated a modern industrial society that defeated the demon of modern humanity, Nazism and its fascist endings; the second “branch” (of social democracy) showed that capitalism can offer a much better life to the people of modern nations, than that originating from their primitive colonial accumulation. These are two civilizational achievements that have little to do with the utopian, democratic and libertarian idea, the socialist ideal and the formation of the “social” or “new” man that corresponds to it.

Having pointed out these concrete features of the modern socialist process, let us indicate authorized theoretical precedents. The first of them is in Communist Manifesto and thus it is narrated: “The proletariat will use its political dominance to gradually remove all capital from the bourgeoisie to concentrate all instruments of production in the hands of the State – that is, the proletariat organized as the dominant class – and to increase the mass of productive forces as quickly as possible”.

This equation was thus simplified in the USSR: the Russian proletariat, exhausted by the War, not only did not form cadres for the management of the State but also never exercised any political predominance in the USSR, which was exercised by the cadres of the Communist Party who replaced the soviets, proletarian assemblies that were constitutionally destined to exercise power. The reality of History showed, in the USSR at least, the unfeasibility of proletarian hegemony over the State and had the harmful effect of falsely identifying the “proletarian leadership” of the Revolution with the gigantic “Soviet” bureaucracy.

Walter Benjamim highlighted that “when Marx made his critique of the capitalist mode of production this mode was still in its infancy” (and so he) “directed his efforts to give his critique prognostic value.” The sacralization of every sentence of Marx by Soviet Marxism and by many of its dogmatic readings not only impoverished and devalued his brilliant and complex work – inspiring even intellectuals who followed him and who did not even identify themselves as Marxists – but also trampled on the politics of devastating way.

This was done by delegitimizing “heretics” who tried to problematize some of Marx’s formulations, such as the idea of ​​“dictatorship of the proletariat” and Leninist simplifications on the subject of socialism, identified, for example, in his simplistic formula “socialism = soviets + electricity. It is in Antonio Gramsci that, with the simplification of Marxism to make it “the philosophy of the proletariat”, many “adherents” of Marx promoted a certain cult of the “simplority” of the dispossessed masses, forgetting that in this way Marxism could become a “primitive philosophy of common sense.”

Let us move on to the second theoretical reference of social democracy at the beginning of the last century, namely, the reformist and progressive socialism of Kautsky and Bernstein which, as we have already seen, became so prudent that it was stripped of any libertarian remnants, although they protected the substantial value of political democracy of a liberal-representative nature. Karl Kautsky predicts that with the party's internal ties, combined with the proletariat's vision of dictatorship, the Soviet State would end up being governed by a “Red Napoleon”, drawing the mythical figure of Stalin, as head of state and government, which raised to the maximum point of effectiveness the terms of the Bolshevik Revolution regime which, in the end, militarily defeated the war and extermination machine of Nazism.

Leon Trotsky, also an orthodox Marxist, made a formulation as prophetic and coherent as Kautsky's on the “red Napoleon” regime, when he observed that the failure of the proletariat as a dominant political force, both in the real Soviet regime and in the global process of a supposed process of socialist revolution (in the face of changes caused by new technological means appropriated by capital) that would force the redefinition of the strategy of an entire era and the proletariat's own revolutionary potential.

That appropriation, which changed the meaning of the classical industrial era – both in the production of material and immaterial goods – had subsequent repercussions in contemporary History and became increasingly visible, both in the Red Belt of Paris where Madame Le Pen has been obtaining large votes , to ABC Paulista, where Jair Bolsonaro and the neoliberal right held big votes in free elections.

Those excluded from formal society go in the same direction: in a society in which the market controls all great emotions and struggles between classes are transfigured as wars around evasive and sumptuary consumption, the production of planned obsolescence and the structural fragmentation of the new Class society tends to reiterate the destruction of the “natural” subjects of the revolution, if they really existed.

What, then, did Trotsky tell us in all words: “if against all odds, the October revolution fails to spread to any advanced country and if, on the contrary, the proletariat is forced to retreat on all fronts, then We will undoubtedly have to raise the question of revising our conception of the current epoch and the driving forces of this epoch.” To this review of the left's conceptions of the time, the left as a rule responded, either with the old unproductive dogmatism or with the laceration of socialist organizations – proletarian or not – composing a constellation of groups, owners – each one – of their own truths. worshiped as norms of formal coexistence.

Another (third) more recent text that changed the course of the most significant social democratic movement, which can be considered as a synthesis of all European social democracy, is the presentation of the 2000 Program Manifesto (Ed. Sistema, 1991) written by Willy Brandt, Felipe Gonçalves and Alfonso Guerra.

That document expresses all the disenchantment with the socialist-communist idea, defeated with the political bankruptcy of the USSR, which the Manifesto of the new socialism must now affirm by defending (…) “the validity of a mixed economy in which the state, in new functions , with new procedures and opening up to participation, must act on the basis of the market and (…) unfurl the flag of a free and cooperative society, which is the goal of democratic socialism”.

An emancipatory revisionary effort is evident, which cannot overcome the inequality of means to win, between democratic and social reformism on the one hand, and, on the other, the conservatism of the various reinterpretations of Francoism, already also sheltered in liberal and supported democratism, materially, in the financial capitalism that controls the European Union.

In fact, the state monopoly capitalism that has been transformed, in recent decades, into a form of “state monopoly financial capitalism”, would be so conducive – if “expropriated” by the “proletarian revolution” – to advance socialism on a global scale, as it turned out – (without expropriation), a safe field for the global implementation of the ongoing neoliberal model, which has been subjugating the economy of social democracy and the social state, which is in crisis, even before being implemented in a moderate way.

Transforming a socialist utopia into a plausible socialist democracy with an emancipatory character has not been a task accomplished, so far, either by communists or by real social democratic ideology and practices. But is this possible? We can say – many of us – that we don’t know if it’s really possible, because – until now – it hasn’t been. I believe, however, that we must always rethink the enigma of the then young Marxists Ernst Bloch and György Lukács, who, when beginning their philosophical dialogues before the First World War, asked themselves: “How can and how should we live today?”

Ernst Bloch responded, in his great book The spirit of utopia, published shortly after that War: “it is within ourselves that this light shines and the imaginary march towards it now begins, the march towards the interpretation of the waking dream…”. Without this, after all, what is the point of living, of recognizing human suffering on a daily basis, without making our own history a small space for its redemption?

 *Tarsus in law he was governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, mayor of Porto Alegre, Minister of Justice, Minister of Education and Minister of Institutional Relations in Brazil. Author, among other books, of possible utopia (arts & crafts).

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