democracy and socialism

Carlos Zilio, ESTUDO, 1970, felt-tip pen on paper, 47x32,5 (4)


We need to fully assume our proletarian socialist position and the promotion of a democracy with a class and popular social pole.

The controversy aroused by the Russian Revolution has not yet come to an end, and even today there are those who fear the suppression of democracy in exchange for social equality. Now, equality without freedom does not correspond to the ideals and utopia of socialism, so well portrayed by Rosa Luxemburgo and Antonio Gramsci. Unlike social-democratic or Marxist thinkers, both understood, as Bobbio, Colletti and Gorz would later do, that the conditions of economic, cultural and political backwardness in pre-revolutionary Russia entailed consequences that prevented the conversion of the dictatorship of the proletariat into a more advanced and complete form of democracy. Tumultuous and contradictory, it would have to be born out of the emergence of the collective self-government of the majority.

Briefly unveiled by Marx in the writings of 1840, this form of democracy was examined with extreme objectivity and crudeness in the Critique of the Gotha Program. There was, however, confidence in the future and the certainty that the revolution would break out in Europe, then radiate to its periphery and colonial countries, which turned out to be unfeasible.

Both Rosa and Gramsci believed that the nationalization and socialization of the means of production would lead to the democratic and egalitarian ideals of socialism and communism. His criticism is positive: they believed in the soviets – or councils – and promoted the exaltation of their autonomy against the bureaucratic deviations, registered by Lenin and, later, vehemently denounced by Trotsky.

It is interesting to return to Rosa Luxemburg, who was painfully lucid in her attack on “revisionism” and in her diagnosis of social democracy. Without the sarcasm and virulence of Lenin, it limits itself to unveiling the miseries of the party, at a time when the political leadership and the bureaucracy were allied against the revolution, betraying socialism, strengthening the dominant classes and conferring legitimacy on the capitalist state. . The Social Democratic Party (SDP) maintained reverence for its Marxist symbols, flags and values. A simple facade … Like dead letters or a poem without charm, Marxism, Lassalleanism and even Bernsteinism were left behind.

This process of bourgeois degradation of socialism and its theoretical and political foundations was not localized. It spread throughout Europe and dismissed its revolutionary current as pure verbiage. The difficulties and adulteration of Marxism, due to the isolation and unforeseen consequences of the Russian Revolution, gave an appearance of truth to the versions of “democracy above all” emanating from petty-bourgeois and intellectualist pharisaism. If, in fact, democracy were at stake, it could never be dissociated from socialism. In compassionate and compromising relations with the existing order, being a crusader of democracy was equivalent to abandoning socialism and attributing to capitalism the ability to ensure freedom, equality and solidarity together with the perpetuation of private property, the expropriation of the worker from the means of production and the intangibility of civil society. It was the opposite of what social democracy had been before, especially until the revolutionary Kautsky (from the end of the 1910th century until about XNUMX).

Two simultaneous historical movements reinforced, widened and deepened the indicated trend. On the one hand, the Soviet Union needed a “historical breather” to survive through peaceful coexistence, alternating with occasional outbreaks of programmed hostility with capitalist nations. The “popular fronts” put democracy as a final value in the foreground. They left aside, however, the fundamental question: what kind of democracy? The capitalist, which institutionalizes the class as a social means of domination and source of power, or the socialist, which must aim at the elimination of classes and the development of collective self-management, passing through a period of majority domination, as short as possible ? On the other hand, the expansion of capitalism – with a prolonged period of prosperity, police-military dissuasion of the divergences of those who could be represented as internal and external “enemies”, coalescence of a world system of power and alternation of promise and repression – forged new conditions for the gentrification of qualified wage earners, intellectuals and the “negotiated solution” of conflicts over employment, wage levels, living standards or educational opportunities.

By the very impulse of the democratic transformations of civilization, the “capitalist reform of capitalism” sprouted as an alternative to socialism and as a “gradual transition path” to it. Willy Brandt embodies this objectification of the liquidation of social democracy as a stricto sensu socialist party. The North American and allied presence in Germany would justify the evolution. However, it could in itself serve as a revolutionary ingredient, if Marxist proletarian socialism had been kept alive in the SDP. And the rest of Europe? There the process took place in general, which implied an option against revolutionary socialism, in favor of the bourgeoisie.

These considerations are born of a conviction: we face the danger of seeing the reestablishment of the confusion between democracy and socialism descend upon us. For many “social democrats”, “socialists” and “communists”, the central objective boils down to the establishment of economic, social, cultural and political conditions for the existence of democracy. There is no doubt that this is vital for the free manifestation of the class struggle and the liberation of the oppressed. However, it is no longer possible to always transfer to the future the preparation of the working classes and those from below to fight for socialism and for a democracy with a socialist approach. Left parties cannot imitate the false bourgeois “center” and populist demagoguery. Its spokesmen use and abuse “social formulas” or the “social question” in the forging of their programs, in the names of their parties and in political discourse.

We need to separate ourselves from them with courage, fully assuming our proletarian socialist position and the promotion of a democracy with a class and popular social pole, at the same time focused on immediate and longer-lasting revolutionary tasks. It is urgent that this be done with method, organization and firmness, so that the democracy to be created does not devour socialism, converting itself into a well-behaved substitute for the bourgeoisification of social democracy and the social-democratization of communism. We urgently need democracy. But of a democracy that is not the tomb of proletarian socialism and the dreams of equality with freedom and happiness of the workers and oppressed.

*Florestan Fernandes (1920-1995) was an emeritus professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP. Author, among other books, of The Bourgeois Revolution in Brazil (Countercurrent)

Originally published in the magazine Marxist Criticism no. 3




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