On the Opportunist Theory of "21st Century Socialism"

This piece, originally published in the the newspaper Rizospastis on December 13, 2009 was recently reprinted by "21stcenturymanifesto: politics, analysis, action and culture from the left in Britain" (http://21stcenturymanifesto.wordpress.com/) Authored by Dimitris Karagiannis, it is a sharp criticism of theories of 21st century socialism.

The positive developments that have taken place during the last years in several Latin American countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, recently in El Salvador, Honduras), to a different extent and depth in each country, have created important expectations as well as various confusions and illusions throughout the world.

The new situation is mainly defined by opposition to US imperialism -this however leads to the identification of the concept of imperialism with the US, and its characterisation as "empire". The issue of relations of dependence that each country faces in the framework of interdependence within the world imperialist system is also approached in an incorrect, one-sided way.

The lack of a class approach, the necessity for class struggle and confrontation with the interests of capital are obvious. At the same time, due to the erroneous analysis of the contemporary world and the prevalence of opportunist influences, the bourgeois class is wrongly differentiated as a national one and one subjected to foreign influence .

Thus, sections of the bourgeoisie, who are owners of means of production and control the economy, often participate in fronts that manage to win the elections without aiming to overthrow capitalism but to better promote their interests and claim a bigger slice from the pie of the conflict with capital, in particular the US one. This actually occurs in all countries from Brazil, Argentina and Chile that claim to play a leading role in the region, to El Salvador, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, where this process is more advanced.

This intention of the bourgeoisie in each country, in relation with the level of capitalist development, is in line with the spontaneous anti-imperialism and anti- Americanism that exists among the popular strata. It constitutes a response to the cruel anti-people's policies implemented the previous decade throughout the continent by political forces that had good relations with US monopolies. At the same time, through the intense promotion of the platform for "21st century Socialism", particularly in Venezuela and Bolivia, a blurred picture of the socialist perspective is created.

The New Theory is ...Old.

Let's examine this "new theory" that is presented as "21st century Socialism" which, by no accident, has been adopted by various political forces compromised with the system, reformists and opportunists, such as the European Left Party. The so-called theory of the "21st century Socialism" was promoted in 1996 by the German sociologist Hans Dietrich Stefan who has lived and taught in Mexico since 1977 and has served as advisor to the president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez.

This theory was developed after the overthrow in the socialist countries. It is based on the arbitrary assumption that "capitalism and real socialism have bred a huge deficit of democracy and failed to solve urgent problems of humanity such as poverty, hunger, exploitation, economic oppression, sexism, racism, the destruction of natural resources and the lack of a truly participatory democracy".

Dietrich and his theory annihilate the contribution of socialism in the 20th century, lumping together the exploitative system and the socialist construction that offered great achievements to humanity and paved the way for a society without exploitation of man by man. He says that "the social programme of the bourgeoisie and of the historic proletariat" have failed and underlines that "it's time to overcome the culture of the ruling class towards a post-capitalist global society, a generalised liberal democracy".

This fabrication is presented as the "new socialism of the 21st century". Dietrich claims that it will be based on "the mixed economy, on the diverse forms of ownership (social, cooperative and private)" which, supposedly, will give priority to social ownership and "will be based on the Marxian labour theory of value while the values produced will be distributed democratically to those who produce them, in contrast with the principles of the market economy".

It is evident that this theory is utopian and arbitrary due to the fact that in a society where private ownership of the means of production for profit exists, that is a capitalist enterprise, there cannot be social priorities. Dietrich, in order to make his contrived notion even more persuasive, claims that private capital will be forced by the prevailing social state production to be at the service of development in favour of the people that "the public sector will prevail over the private".

He also goes beyond the issue of central planning as an essential element in socialist construction saying that it will be solved by the capabilities of new technology nowadays. It comprises a "mixture" of opportunist and utopian ideas that cannot be implemented because mixed socialism or socialism with a market cannot exist.

However, it is a theory as old as the first revisionists of Marxism. It actually wants to give a "left" cover to a social-democratic type of management of capitalism. This theory, however, exerts a broad influence on the popular strata with little political experience in countries of Latin America and elsewhere. It is also promoted the view that broad political alliances can be developed without the need of ideological homogeneity, as if policy and ideology can be separated by great walls.

A key issue in order to understand that this theory is actually a variant of social-democratic management of capitalism is the criterion of ownership of the means of production, the analysis from the class point of view of who is served by this "new theory". The opportunist position presented as "socialism of the 21st century" sidesteps the fundamental issue that the interests of the workers, of the popular strata, are opposed to those of the bourgeoisie, of the capitalists and cannot be identified in the name of a "participatory and pluralistic democracy"; it neglects the fact that the class struggle is irreconcilable.

The Bolivarian Process

In this spirit we must examine the so-called Bolivarian process in Venezuela, the country that since 1998 has paved the way for changes in favour of the poor popular strata through the utilisation of important state revenue that is mainly derived from oil. Social programmes that contributed to combat illiteracy, to provide health services to the popular strata, to strengthen the cooperatives, to distribute land to landless peasants, to improve nutrition through state stores with low prices overcoming the speculation of the private food sector, to create lending opportunities and to subsidize other sectors such as culture and sports were based on this revenue. In these programs the mutual cooperation established with socialist Cuba since the very first moment is of significant importance.

However, this so-called "anti-imperialist process for national liberation" does not lead to a confrontation with the bourgeois class that still holds economic power. The socialism that the president of Venezuela refers to and has been adopted by the Unified Socialist Party - a multi-class, multitendency party organised throughout the country - is far from scientific socialism.

In his statements, Hugo Chavez revives positions against the dictatorship of the proletariat and in favour of a supposedly "democratic socialism". The essence of these positions results from influences from bourgeois, social-democrat approaches to socialism in the 20th century. Even the USSR and the socialist countries we have known in the 20th century are characterized as totalitarian and bureaucratic regimes, although their internationalist contribution to the struggle against imperialism, to Cuba for example, or the support of popular movements cannot be ignored.

The petit-bourgeoisie and the preservation of capitalism In this direction is the proposal for the establishment of the so-called "5th Socialist International" currently promoted by President Chavez and his party as a necessary step for the perspective of "21st century socialism". This proposal is characterised by a great deal of confusion.

It involves a generalisation with regards to anti-imperialism that encompasses the necessary political- state alliances in order to maintain the current of change in the American continent by promoting unrealistic views that do not go beyond the management of capitalism or of the mutual cooperation of states contrary to what is defined as "US empire", while it remains within the framework of the dominant system. Such a collaboration is also the progressive form of alliance based on solidarity, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) in which the following countries participate: Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, the small countries of the Caribbean - Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Saint Vincent, the Grenadines, Honduras with the previous (now ousted) president Manuel Zelaya who had signed a joining agreement.

However, the participation of socialist Cuba does not change the character of this interstate alliance between capitalist countries. It is precisely for the fact that it does not constitute an alliance of socialist countries that it cannot be considered as a real counterweight to imperialism; even more so with regards to other unions such as the Union of Nations of South America UNASUR (in which Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay, and Guiana participate) where various bourgeois state interests come in conflict. At the same time, major powers in Latin America, such as Brazil, participate in collaborations at an international level such as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and develop relations with Russia, Iran and China.

Thus, it is clear that diplomatic relations and interstate cooperation cannot be confused with platforms for a socialist perspective. This perception dominates in the so-called "Commitment of Caracas" that was proposed by the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela in the recent party meeting in Caracas and it also runs through the proposal of Chavez for the "5th International".

Socialism as immature communism is the society in which the working class and its allies hold the power (its scientific definition is the dictatorship of the proletariat), a prerequisite for the abolition of capitalist ownership of the means of production and for their socialisation. The struggle for socialism cannot be realised without the existence and action of the revolutionary party - as an independent organization; it is the party of the working class, the Communist Party that leads this struggle and at the same time creates socio-political alliances, for the confrontation with imperialism and the monopolies. History has shown that this struggle will be difficult as imperialism fights "tooth and nail" against any attempt of revolutionary overthrow of the unjust exploitative system.

From this point of view, positions that appear in the text of the "Commitment of Caracas" condemning violence in general, as well as the violence that the militant revolutionary forces assert, actually confirm the social-democrat content of this entire effort that does not recognise the right of the people to decide on the form of struggle they will embrace.

The discussion developed around 'the new socialism' highlights the necessity of intensification of the ideological-political struggle, the strengthening of Communist Parties and the creation of the communist pole of Marxist-Leninist parties that will decisively defend the principles of class struggle, the necessity of socialist revolution, the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of socialism based on the political power of the working class, the socialisation of the means of production, central planning and workers' control.

It is necessary to confront on this basis any illusions, confusion and even more so, any petit-bourgeois ideas presented as "21st century socialism" that are based on the maintenance of private ownership of the means of production, the denunciation of the positive contribution of the USSR and generally of the socialism we have known in the 20th century, as well as the rejection of the laws of socialist revolution and construction, the socialisation of the basic means of production, central planning of the economy, workers' and people's control.

Dimitris Karagiannis is a member of the editorial board of the daily Rizopastis, organ of the Central Committee of KKE

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