Left authoritarianism and socialism



Our left endorsed, for a long time, with or without restrictions, supposedly socialist regimes – a large part continues to do so – and copied some of their authoritarian practices. It is time to put an end to what remains of incoherence in this matter.

I do not intend, along these lines, to develop theses on the matter, but to address it in some topics, presenting examples that support my argument, in view of the left's inhibition of putting its finger on the wound.

This is the country of mandatory voting, justified by most progressives, even if it violates individual autonomy, conditio sine qua non for the free exercise of universal suffrage. A country in which top-down decisions are common currency, even in democratic and left-wing parties, such as the PT, where the candidate for the Presidency of the Republic has, in fact, been designated by its honorary president. Candidates for Mayor, even if chosen by internal voting in preliminary elections, often have their names rejected by the party's national leadership, making the choice itself.

Being one of the founders of the PT in Paraíba and a former member of its Regional Directory, I left it after ten years of membership, as my expectations of an internal democracy that worked with regular, effective and decision-making participation from the grassroots had been frustrated.

Illusory promise, like those referring to participatory democracy, which the PT intended to disseminate through so-called non-state public spaces, locus par excellence of the direct and sovereign participation of all citizens.

In effect, these pretensions were abandoned and even the public, autonomous and democratic ombudsman's office, which does not have any decision-making power, was never adopted. To my knowledge, there is no ombudsman with these characteristics in the federal public administration, and they are all obedient.

This is what I call those whose owners are chosen by the manager, almost always, with political criteria. The effectiveness of these ombudsman offices is doubtful, since the user, through the ombudsman, cannot complain about the manager, or, if necessary, denounce him, under penalty of probable dismissal. It is no coincidence that the São Paulo Police Ombudsman's Office, created by governor Mário Covas and studied in another chapter of this book, is one of the few with full autonomy, with its activities recognized and publicized throughout the country (LYRA: 2012) .

The accuracy of these comments is confirmed by a report dated March 29, 2004, on the portal UOL: “the absence of an independent ombudsman from the Secretary of Penitentiary Administration of São Paulo accentuates the insecurity of family members when it comes to reporting”, say lawyers who follow the cases. “There is a lack of an ombudsman along the lines of the São Paulo police”, says Ariel de Castro Alves, National Secretary for the Rights of Children and Adolescents” (PEREZ: 2024).

Another example. In an article published in 2012, in Politics and Work magazine “The public security conference and protected participation”, also published by ANPOCS, I analyzed the participation mechanisms of civil society and government bodies in the IX National Public Security Conference, called in 2010 by the PT government.

The results of this work showed the existence of representation criteria and discussion and voting methodology, which restricted the democratic potential of this conference, configuring participation protected by society by the government (LYRA:2012, 317-334).

In the political-partisan field, the positions of PT members and President Lula in relation to countries that move between authoritarianism and dictatorship, such as North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, have always revealed themselves to be complacent. They never denounce the true character of these regimes, limiting themselves, as a general rule, to pointing out the existence of “errors”, “deviations” and negative aspects.

As Lula did, describing as “serious” the impediment of the opposition candidate for the Presidency of Venezuela from registering her candidacy, but sparing the Venezuelan regime. Everything indicates that her criticism of Nicolas Maduro is explained more by external and internal pressure than by her own will.

In January 2021, in live on Instagram, the current President of the Republic stated that the large protests that took place in Havana “were a mere march”. Not a word was said about the repression of protesters. The PT released a statement in which it communicated its “support for the Cuban people and government” (SUPPORT COMMUNICATION: 1921).

The complacency – or even complicity – of the left in relation to countries that do not respect the free and sovereign vote, nor democratic freedoms, are also manifested within civil society. This was what happened in the warm reception given to Fidel Castro by the participants of the National Council of Teaching Associations (CONAD).

Staying in the same hotel as the Cuban leader, he agreed to speak to an “attentive and emotional audience” – and did so for an hour – “under the argument that all the teachers supported the Cuban cause” and the resistance of the Latin American people to imperialism” (FIDEL NO CONAD:1999). The problem is that uncritical support for “the Cuban cause” means endorsing a dictatorship.

History has shown the fragility of so-called socialist regimes, liquidating them in a few days, as happened in Eastern Europe. Cuba is limping: it will be difficult to realize the ideals of progress, equality and freedom, characteristics inherent to the socialism conceived by Karl Marx.

Eugênio Bucci, PT member, professor at USP and former member of the Lula government, in a very recent analysis of social and political reality in The Earth is Round he concludes that “Almost everything disappears. Little remains of the Revolution, other than bureaucratic offices and political surveillance offices.” In the words of Mário Sérgio Conti “Cuba has no future in sight. The defeat that is expressed now is the calcination of a dream.” In turn, Frei Beto, an enthusiast for the Cuban regime, declared: “it is desperate, no one in Havana is showing ways out” (2024).

Few, within the Marxist left, denied the socialist character of the existing regimes in Eastern Europe, until 1989, in Cuba and North Korea. However, many would have done so if they had become aware of the work of Karl Kautsky, the main Marxist theoretician of the Second International, of equal or greater scope than that of the founder of the Soviet State. Work that remained in limbo, in “socialist” countries, et pour cause, throughout the entire period of its existence.

Karl Kautsky came to be considered a “renegade” by Vladimir Lenin, based on his disagreement regarding the character of the Russian Revolution and the “dictatorship of the proletariat” that governed it.

Knowledge of the theses of someone who, until polemicizing with Lenin, was considered the “Pope of Marxism”, is indispensable for understanding the collapse of the old Eastern European and similar regimes, and for understanding the characteristics of a socialist regime, of which democracy is inseparable.

A debacle of the Soviet Union, which occurred in 1989, had already been announced as inevitable by Karl Kautsky since 1919, shortly after the victory of the Russian Revolution, therefore, seventy years ago. But in 1930 he was emphatic: “This crazy experiment will end in resounding failure. Not even the greatest genius can avoid it. It naturally results from the unrealizable nature of the undertaking, under the given conditions, with the means used” (1931, p. 21).

Following Marx's thought, Karl Kautsky believed that it would only be possible to make the transition to socialism where the capitalist mode of production was already dominant. Therefore, where the level of development of productive forces could guarantee wealth to be shared with the population, this was not the case in Soviet Russia.

The “socialism of penury”, attempted in Russia, expresses a contradiction in terms, a nonsense for those who defend the Marxian conception of socialism. For Karl Kautsky, the mode of production constructed by the Bolsheviks (communists) was not socialist, but rather “state capitalism”, which “is limited to replacing private employers – expropriated from the ownership of their capital – by employees who, in Essentially, they preserve the old relations of production, founded on the absolute power of the company and the ruling class of the State”. Understand, the nomenclature, dominated by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1931: p.74).

Our left endorsed, for a long time, with or without restrictions, supposedly socialist regimes – a large part continues to do so – and copied some of their authoritarian practices. It is time to put an end to what remains of incoherence in this matter. I borrow Quiniou's analysis: “Democracy must therefore appear, at the same time, as the starting point, constant form and ultimate objective of socialism. Far from being able to define democracy as a simple requirement of democracy, we must consider it the essence of socialism. It is socialism that must be considered, in the opposite sense, a requirement of democracy” (1992: p. 135).

My generation, in its youth, believed that the revolution was knocking on the door, within reach. The advent of the military dictatorship of 1964, implemented without any resistance, made this dream collapse. He then came to believe that it would be possible to achieve socialism, albeit in stages, with the PT being the main instrument of this transition.

But the “correlation of forces” did not evolve linearly – far from it – as was long believed – in favor of “progressive forces”. One could even say that the opposite happened. Firstly, with the collapse of supposedly socialist countries, generating demobilization and disillusionment regarding the future on the part of capitalism's opponents. Then, with the exponential growth of the right, both in Brazil and in the most advanced democracies, with the result of the March 2023 legislative elections in Portugal being the latest example.

The dominant understanding today of those who believe in the possibilities of social and democratic advancement is that, above all, the search for the consolidation and improvement of representative democracy, paradoxically disqualified by a significant part of the left, is necessary.

In fact, in Brazil they value it, when they show the need to preserve it, given the growth of Bolsonarism and other neo-fascist variants. But they depreciate it elsewhere, such as in the United States and other Western democracies. They do not point out its important limitations, intrinsic to democracy in capitalism, but they practically disregard it, to the point of not seeing significant differences between it and regimes like the Russian one, which move between authoritarianism and dictatorship. .

I understand that democracy in capitalism, even with deformations, is qualitatively different from a regime like Russia, and this has major practical consequences. Vladimir Putin threatens Western powers with nuclear war if they contradict his policies – and no one can guarantee that it is not bravado.

In Western democracies, the risk of an individual compromising world peace due to their voluntarist stances is certainly much lower. The weight of public opinion, the possibility of expressing it in protests and mass demonstrations, the pluralism of the media (although far from ideal), the strength of independent civil society and – last not but least – the sovereign exercise of universal suffrage – are factors that inhibit adventures.

Many leftists do not understand such a significant difference because they believe that democracy is only built through the implementation of socialism, when, in reality, its construction, difficult and gradual, still takes place under the aegis of capital.

Even in the face of so many difficulties, progress is possible, with socialism as inspiration, as long as democracy is valued in political theory and practice. And whenever anti-capitalist strategies can take into account currently existing limitations, without giving up a project that, in the medium and long term, points to a socialist alternative.

May the current and new generations, by doing so, pave the way towards a new society “in which life will not lack any justification, given by success or anything else, in which the individual will not be manipulated by any force external, be it the State, the economic system or spurious material interests. A society in which man's material interests are not limited to the internalization of external demands, but which actually come from them and express objectives originating from his own ego” (FROMM: 1970, p, 130).

* Rubens Pinto Lyra He is Professor Emeritus at UFPB. Founder and former director of ANDES. Author, among other books, of Bolsonarism: ideology, psychology, politics and related topics (CCTA/UFPB) [https://amzn.to/49WpSUx].


BUCCI, Eugene. Consuming Cuba.


FROMM, Erich. the dogma of Christ. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1965. [https://amzn.to/3y3atnT]

KAUTSKY, Karl. Le bolshevisme dans l'impasse. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1931. [https://amzn.to/4bepvWh]


LYRA, Rubens Pinto. Socialism: impasses and prospects. São Paulo: Written, 1992. [https://amzn.to/3UBYvuo]

LYRA, Rubens Pinto. Public security conferences: from autonomous to supervised participation. Politics and Work, nº 37. Oct. 2012, p.317-334.

LYRA, Rubens Pinto. The public ombudsman's office in Brazil: models in dispute. João Pessoa; UFPB Editor, 2014. [https://amzn.to/3Wj0ogJ]

QUINIOU, Yvon. Death of Lenin, life of Marx. In: LYRA, Rubens Pinto. Socialism: impasses and perspectives (ed.). São Paulo: Ed. Scritta, 1992.

RENNET, Maurício. PT, PC do B and PSB: support for North Korea. Daily Baguette 5.4.2013.

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