21st Century Socialism is 21st Century Democracy

If we focus COMPLETELY on the democratic tasks before the working people, socialism will take care of itself in due course. 21st Century socialism is, for the US working class, 21st century democracy.

My thanks to Sam Webb for taking a thoughtful, frank,  necessary but difficult step in assessing the prospects and requirements for a party of socialism in the 21st Century.

The strategic difficulty before us consists in the fact that a challenge to "too big to fail" corporate power, in many of its dimensions, is an essential component of both economic recovery and the survival -- and expansion --  of US democracy. These tasks naturally beg numerous questions of socialist ideology.

Some conclude that the challenge to corporate power cannot be resolved, progressively, that is,  to the advantage of working people, short of overthrowing that power. Socialist theory certainly argues that is "ultimately" true. However, "ultimate" truths are a poor guide to political strategy and tactics. In fact, their overuse ends up often distorting the most important principle of both Lenin's and Marx's concepts of truth -- namely, that truth is ALWAYS concrete.

The concrete truth -- from my perspective -- is that the American people can be won in big majorities to curbing too-big-to-fail corporations, and reducing their control over politics. All this they will and do support, however, in the name of democratic principles, and basic principles of equity, not concepts of 'socialism'.

Before Stalinism in its various guises, socialism, communism and democracy were closely linked. Afterwards, not so much. Re-linking them may not be possible -- at least in our lifetime. If its a choice between a party of 50,000 calling itself the party of working class democracy, or a party of 5000 calling itself the party of 21st century socialism -- I don't think we should pause a minute in choosing the former. There is NOTHING TO FEAR FROM THIS.

In fact, I suspect it is much more likely that Sam's points and  principles will be actually won in the name of democratic change: 1) public management of market failures; 2) improving the performance of markets (capitalism) in those areas where competition still improves productivity and efficiency;  3) coming up with new forms, alternatives to straightforward government direction, for providing -- and evaluating -- the ever growing sector of public good products and services where there is, in fact, NO objective measure of productivity in the classic sense; and 4) improving, in the wake of curbing corporate political power, the participation of grass roots communities and workplaces in politics.

A legitimate question can be asked: how can a working class party advocate "improved capitalist performance" in market sectors of the economy? Won't that result in conflicts of interests with workers? The answer is that in advanced market economies, the progress toward socialism -- toward public and non-profit vs private goods and services -- is overwhelmingly dominated by OBJECTIVE, not SUBJECTIVE factors. This a question where a clear understanding of the Chinese vs Soviet paths is perhaps most helpful. Markets and commodities do not disappear by fiat, or will, or command. The recede as the mode of production changes, as the employment of "human capital" diverges from wage labor and labor-power, as the provision of public goods becomes ever more necessary and entwined with production and reproduction. Human capital -- essentially -- creative intellectual or artistic or professional athletic power -- cannot be easily alienated by wage-labor conditions, and where it is attempted, it is not sustainable. It cannot be made "homogeneous" -- a key requirement in the labor-power / surplus value relation.

Further, markets are not inherently hostile to incomes rising in proportion with production and overall social wealth.  After all, markets are SOCIAL and LEGAL institutions. Once the social safety net is sufficiently robust -- where loss of a job is not equivalent to loss of life or health -- many permutations of market and non-market relations can be tolerated, including within a "socialist" framework. Although, we would be well advised to call it a "genuinely democratic" framework, or, better yet -- just BASEBALL -- a FAIR game -- if we want to make headway here.

One of the important challenges we must meet here is devising a strategy for compensating "human capital", for enhancing its bargaining power. This is a non-trivial question at the heart, IMHO, of the industrial strategy being proposed by the president, as well. which will focus development on high-tech manufacturing, infrastructure and services. Trade unions will not be able, no matter what labor law reform is passed, to address this question. A new bargaining law, much broader in scope than redressing the attacks on the NLRA, is required.

It is also  important to note in connection with the "human capital" question that -- prior to the onset of the great recession -- only the bottom 20% of the workforce owns little or no capital wealth, and only the bottom 5% is in negative wealth territory. And, while wages and salaries have stagnated for 30 years or more, wealth income, either from real estate, pensions, stock or other sources significantly rose in 40K and above incomes, especially in the mid to late 90's. Combine this with the gradual automation of "maggot with hands" factory occupations, and, in other words, the "working class" is only purely "proletarian" in the classic Marxist sense, in very small, and declining, numbers. This is, I think, a permanent feature of advanced capitalist societies. They are already, in fact, mixtures of capitalist and socialist structures and institutions

All this is an argument that if we focus COMPLETELY on the democratic tasks before the working people, socialism will take care of itself in due course. 21st Century socialism is, for the US working class -- 21st century democracy.


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  • To call Chavez a dictator is absolutely absurd. To compare him to Pinochet is completely ridiculous. I will not comment on R. Correa in Ecuador, but to so criticize the Venezuelan people and their support of Hugo Chavez is infantile and ignorant. I can't help to think that you are one of the petty bourgeois of Venezuela (or a friend or family member thereof) that is furious that the Chavistas are moving humanity forward on the wealth that a handful used to own (which, consequently, is the wealth created by the Venezuelan people). But I won't commit the ad hominem fallacy. I will only point out that the facts are crystal clear concerning the progress of the Venezuelan Revolution and the Bolivarian Movement. The working classes of several of the countries in South American are winning real and substantial victories, especially in Venezuela and Bolivia (Go Evo!). Also, the fact that the people of Cuba stand in solidarity with the Venezuelans and Chavez is of great testimony to the truly wonderful, revolutionary nature of this new movement--El Movimiento Bolivariano.

    Hasta La Victoria Siempre!! Socialismo o Muerte!!

    Posted by Michael Appelhans, 04/22/2011 4:13pm (8 years ago)

  • The move toward socialism is not necessarily a short one,but it is something to be accelerated or we may not survive capitalism and imperialism.
    Let us all concede that democracy,without qualification could mean almost anything,including capitalism and imperialism.
    This article gives us some guidance as Jim Lane points out in his comment.
    However,we know that it must call for updated and unique needs,the essence of which were laid out by socialism's founders,Marx/Engels and Lenin.
    Although we need not re-found or rediscover dialectical materialism,we need to recognize how its objective truth shows itself in our brand of economic and social realities,as Americans.
    This also,does not to be invented,as if something foreign to what the social and economic history of the U. S. is. It is in the real history of class antagonism that objectively lead to socialism,from struggles in the U. S.
    Those who have made tremendous and lasting contributions to these struggles,and who also know about what scientific socialism is,would be in strong position to give us valuable guidance in establishing socialism, U.S. style.
    This will be a democracy in deed and operation,one that eliminates poverty and limits income for one thing. But to do this,workers need ownership of resources,especially transportation and communication resources.
    We need a host of conditions to eliminate the crimes of capitalism. These conditions define the kind of democracy we need to have socialism,and they define areas of battle we have to engage in to have this qualified democracy which will result in socialism.
    These could be organized as planks in a political platform,put forth by a political party,the CPUSA.
    One of the best organizations of such planks,although written 50 yrs ago(so,naturally it needs modernization),was presented by W.E.B. Du Bois in his application of membership to the CPUSA. Du Bois gives ten points of modern democracy which the Communist Party will call for. While it does not specify peace as a plank,peace is what is its essence.
    One naturally notices the similarities between these and the Marx/Engels Communist Manifesto points of definition.
    Once we divorce ourselves from what MLK called "our irrational obsession with anti-communism"(also mentioned in Sam's piece) we will,along with fellow workers,start to understand that socialism and communism are natural developments in history that use human conditions to make and change consciousness,rather than having consciousness make human conditions,what humanity has been enslaved to thus far. Socialism and communism go directly to conditions IN ORDER to change human consciousness
    and better human conditions. This happens often in leaps and bounds as the early Soviet Union showed,as China,Cuba,Venezuela and Viet-Nam show today.
    Let's not reinvent neither scientific socialism nor the august,native struggles in the United States of America(or any other country for that matter) which have moved us toward our own style of socialism,despite the scourges of capitalism, racism,imperialism,fascism,anti- communism,sexism and war.

    Posted by peaceapplause, 02/06/2011 4:27pm (8 years ago)

  • I appreciate the author's showing, by the 4th paragraph, that he isn't advocating some struggle for democracy in the abstract, but for real democracy which includes democracy in the economic sphere.

    I don't think I understand at all the next to last paragraph in which it might be interpreted that he seems to be dismissing the importance of the working class.

    As to what's socialism and what's not, it seems to me that it remains a question of who controls the means of production. Quantitatively speaking, everything may be thought of as a mixture of something and something else, but qualitatively speaking, socialism means the working class gets to say what's what in the main economy.

    Posted by jim lane, 02/06/2011 12:00pm (8 years ago)

  • Comrades:

    Undoubtedly, our ideology foresees the eventual take over of political and economic power by the working masses in the United States and in all countries of the world. Unfortunately, communists are not prepared to take power, to keep power and to administer the Communist State. It is too easy for any demagogue as is the case in Ecuador to claim to be a socialist of the 21st century, and when in fact he is more to the right than the traditional right in this country. And as far as democracy is concerned, in Ecuador under racist Rafael Correa, democracy exists only on paper. Today we have hundreds being prosecuted for protesting against racism, poverty and injustices. We have political prisoners as never before. There is no real participatory democracy at all. The racist and right wing socialist government of the 21st Century in Ecuador in four year in power has only favored the super rich, while the poor are poorer, there are ten percent more poor, and the rate of unemployment and underemployment is over 60% of the working force. There is no freedom of the press to speak of, as this racist so-called socialist government controls the media, and those who oppose him are shut down, imprisoned or killed. How are then to be sure that a so-called communist government will not do the same in US? In the case of Ecuador, the general secretary of the Communist Party (Pro-soviet as it as identified then) is now incharged of the narco-dollars laundering agency, and so the party gives support to this tyrant, in total contradiction to theory, practice, ideology and loyalty to the working masses. It seems clear that even communists sell out to the highest bidder. If you examine the case in Venezuela, another so-called socialist of the 21century government, dictatorship is what you find. The poor are kept not only poor in their stomachs, but are jailed in their minds and spirit. Political opposition is denied regarless of the merits of those movements. Thus, what we find in Latin America with the so-called socialists of the 21century is the right wing sectors of society benefitting with the discourse of socialism and communist ideals. I recommend the article written by Martha Harnecker published in Monthly Review press a few months ago. There she clearly identifies those socialists in words and those socialists in deeds. Correa and Chavez have only stolen and appropriated the ideas of socialism to implement a right wing dictatorship a la Pinoshit. In the case of Ecuador, Rafael Correa has worked for the US agencies, for the most right wing university (Universidad San Francisco in Quito), as a professor, he is the son of a narcotrafficker father jailed in US, and now he and his family are using the State and the State´s national monies to benefit for themselves. His brother has with Rafael Correa´s knowledge been granted nearly one billion dollars in public contracts in violation of national law. This family is a family tied to the most reactionary sectors of the Guayaquil oligarchy, and this oligarchy are very happy with him now. Of course Correa continues intending to legitimize his government using our ideology, while in deeds robbing the people, and subjecting the people to the worse economic conditions Ecuadorians have faced in decades if not a century or more. Yet, the Communist Party of Ecuador give full unconditional support to this neo-Pinoshit, who ousts the military base in Manta, Ecuador, so the international mafias can operate from there. And these are the facts.

    Socialism of the 21Century so far has been extreme right tyranny and the complete negation of democracy. Perhaps this will be different in the United States, maybe, just maybe. It is time for US communists to examine carefully what is happening in Ecuador under narco-terrorist, racist and tyrant Rafael Correa. It has been my request that the Communist Party of Ecuador be reprimended by the World Communist Movement, and be demanded to withdraw its support to racism, genocide, and dictatorship in the person of Rafael Correa.

    Posted by Leiva Rodrigo, 02/05/2011 10:59pm (8 years ago)

  • Socialism will never take care of itself. Socialism must be won and defended through the struggles of class-conscious workers who are fully cognizant of what they are doing and totally committed to the fight.

    Posted by Larry, 02/05/2011 8:33pm (8 years ago)

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