By Samuel Farber*

HAVANA TIMES, April 2 — The justified popular rejection of the “socialist” model that existed in the USSR and Eastern Europe and its versions in China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, is a reflection and cause of the loss of credit that the ideas of socialism as such have undergone.

With the devaluation of the socialist idea, socialism has become confused with the all-powerful state.  It is as if the state was a neutral entity in the service of the people ignoring that in the last analysis, the existing states in their most fundamental structures obey the interest of the ruling class – be it big private capital (the famous 1%), or the bureaucratic bosses of the so-called socialist countries who control the one-party dictatorships ruling over the political system, the economy and the armed forces of these countries.

At the same time, the term “socialism” has also been applied to social democracy, which before having turned to neoliberalism in the last several decades, favored the regulation of the capitalist economy and the welfare state in the context of a political democracy.

At first sight, it would appear that social democracy and the Stalinist-bred Communism have nothing in common. But in his pamphlet The Two Souls of Socialism, Hal Draper shows how close these ideologies and practices are related, justifying their being classified as part of what Draper brands as “socialism from above.”

It is not for nothing that the book Political Parties – a classic of Political Sociology written by Roberto Michels, who coined the term “iron law of oligarchy” – was based on an analysis of the bureaucracy of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) of the early part of the twentieth century. The social democratic bureaucracies have always depended on the demobilization and bureaucratization of social movements, especially the labor unions.

These bureaucratization processes from above are geared to seek the conciliation of the owners and managers of capital and to maintain economic and political stability in order to eliminate the risk of having to confront politicized people participating in militant democratic movements. For Draper this is the common denominator of social democracy and Stalinist-bred Communism: both are mortal enemies of self-management and working class, popular democracy.

The Two Souls of Socialism is also a masterful essay on the history of the ideas of democracy and collectivism. Going back to the distant past, Draper traces the historical development of two parallel traditions: one of a collectivist type that was not at all democratic, as in the cases of Plato and Pythagoras and much later of Thomas More, the ancestors of socialism from above; and the other tradition associated with popular democratic movements that were not collectivist, as represented by Catiline and the  Gracchus brothers.

It is with Thomas Munzer, the leader of the revolutionary left wing of the German Reformation, that a link develops between a social movement of the collectivist type and a profound democratic struggle, thereby establishing the basis for socialism from below.

Draper points out that this fusion between collectivist and democratic ideas culminates with Karl Marx, who begins this process with his first article polemicizing in favor of the absolute freedom of the press and the elimination of state censorship. For Draper, what distinguishes Marx is that he was the first influential socialist thinker who came to socialism through the struggle for political democracy.

The preoccupation with the relationship between democracy and collectivism leads Marx to criticize, for example, the social democratic German leader Ferdinand Lassalle for his idolatry of the state, and the French Saint Simon, one of the true precursors of Stalinism, for his obsession with industrialization, modernization and planning from above without any concern with democracy. It is paradoxical that the very ideas that Marx criticized in his left-wing rivals were later attributed to his own self. Draper’s pamphlet highlights this paradox.

A personal note:Hal Draper was my political mentor, especially during the “hot” sixties at the University of California in Berkeley, when I was a graduate student in Sociology. Draper, who worked as a librarian at the University, was the most influential ideological guide of the “Free Speech Movement” (FSM) led by Mario Savio in the fall of 1964. 

In the seventies, Draper became a well-known Marxist historian and theorist with the publication of the various volumes of his Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, and other books that dealt with such important themes as the myths and distortions of the concept of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” in the thought of Marx and Engels.

(*) Samuel Farber was born and grew up in Cuba and is the author of various books and articles about the Cuban Revolution, including his most recent Cuba Since the 1959 Revolution. A Critical Assessment (Haymarket Books, 2011)

Download: The Two Souls of Socialism


8 thoughts on “The Two Souls of Socialism

  • Grady — I don’t think there is anything inherently evil or unworkeable about state or public ownership. Most countries have their Army, police force and health services publicly owned without any problems. In the UK a huge number of people depend directly or indirectly on state funding.

    I work for a ftse 100 company which makes a huge annual profit even though I have never met or seen the owners. If the state owned all the shares in my company, I fail to see why it would suddenly lose its capability to succeed.

    I don’t think you address the issues with coopertives ie they are still working in a competitive market and so liable to go bust and/or taken over by other coops. Also the issue of investment to start up or develop.

    I’m not against cooperatives – think there should be a mixture — self-employed, partnerships, cooperatives and publicly owned ventures whether on a local or national level. Also there is a case for ventures owned or partly owned by charities and pension funds.

    The truth is that most companies are huge impersonal chains. Even so called independent companies are a sham and in fact brands of bigger companies. Corporations such as BP (British Petroleum) which make billions of pounds of profit each year should be owned publicly. Thereby that money could be invested back in the infrastructure or even used to raise the tax threshold.

  • Thanks, rob. Your misspellings don’t matter; you one-paragraph format however makes your ideas difficult to follow and respond to. Also, the enormous volume of ideas presented are impossible to address.

    You say Trotsky was finally able “to realise that stalinism was a direct result of the earlier leninist/trotskyist program and not some devation from it.” What you do not understand, and what Trotsky never understood or would not face is the fact that Stalinism was and is the direct result of the state monopoly ownership principle for socialism, first stipulated by Engels and seconded by Marx, and held to all their lives as “real” socialism.

    No Trotskyist and no Marxist will face this fact today, regardless of how thoroughly state monopoly socialism has been discredited in practice in various countries.

    There seems to be no hope for you, or people like you. It seems that you cannot think along programmatic lines. You begin by having quasi-religious adulation of Marx and conclude that all the evils of socialism in practice are the result of latter-day bureaucrats and despots.

    Here’s the bottom line: Engels and Marx changed the socialist movement from direct worker-owned cooperative enterprise to in-name-only worker ownership through full state monopoly. If you can ever get this fundamental fact into your mind, you might be able to focus on what is now important: a workable, non-state monopoly program, a viable cooperative core principle for a workable socialist republic.

    Socialism can use either a state monopoly, bureaucratic, despotic core principle where private property rights are abolished prematurely; or, a state co-ownership, non-bureaucratic, democratic core principle where private property rights are retained and utilized by the leadership party for socialist construction.

    But if you wish to stay with the Utopian/Marxian idea of abolishing private property rights prematurely during the socialist bridge, go right ahead, and waste the rest of your political life.

  • dearest grady,
    being one who harbours simpathies toward your view of what is needed for socialism to become something workable and tangible for real people, i do feel the need to offer a minor critique. (this will be brief and not too in depth, as all my internet browsing and my semi regular commenting is done while on the clock at work). your are (mostly correct) often very hard on anything relating to karl marx. i feel this is a mistake. it is true that his prescription for capitalisms contradictions were flawed,and even wrong, his diagnosis of capitalism was and still the remains the best. he was able to recognize that capitalism was something very necessary to chip away at tribal ignorance/nonsense. he was also able to recognize that it had fatal contradictions. here is where the old man went wrong. but it still stands that even though his prescription was wrond, the diagnosis was correct. furthermore, marx was among the first, and best, at laying out some sort of materialist conception of things. among the first to state that conditions were man made, and there fore could be mand un-made. this was quite revolutionary for its time, as most people thought, and many people still do think, that there is some sort of divine plan that keeps us all in our place. furthermore, his early journalism in defending free speach and free media were revolutionary for there time and quite moving as well. one of his earlier pieces (before the manifesto and all that) was about rural peoples in germany who historically had been allowed to gather fallen trees and scraps for firewood, but then were all of the sudden that this would no longer be allowed, as the act of collecting these scraps would be seen as infringing on the private property rights of the land owner. very easy to see where his antipathy to property came from. another fun little irony was that tsar nicholas the first became irritated at marxs journalism in the prussian area and had his paper shut down. ironic i suppose because the tsars offspring nicholas 2 was done away with quite ruthlessly by marxs later followers. on the subject of another old man, your attacking of trotsky is quite justified, but trotsky in himself represents someone like you, one who after years of effort, was finally to realise that stalinism was a direct result of the earlier leninist/trotskyist program and not some devation from it. he wrote as much towards the end of his life. he wrote that if the socialist revolution doesnt emerge following the begining of world war two, then we would be compelled to acknowledge that the ussr represents a new totalitarnism. furthermore, on a minor but (i think) important note, trotsky had the courage to break with stalin, in real time, when it mattered, which is no small thing, given that most of the left lacked all principle at the time ( and still does i suppose) and trotsky himself also valued things like literature and poetry and the more beautiful things in life, which in my view is sorely lacking in usuall left politics.
    anyhow, though i mostly share your views and ideas, i think you would more make more headway with the comrades if your critiques of marxism were more crituque and less hammering.

    i promised my comment would be breif and i failed. i am apologetic for that, as well as any mispellings.

  • Farber’s first sentence is absurdly circular. In unscrambled English, he is saying: The justified popular rejection of the “socialist” model that existed in the USSR and Eastern Europe and its versions in China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba, is . . .The justified popular rejection of the “socialist” model that existed in the USSR and Eastern Europe and its versions in China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba.

    He apparently has fallen into an intellectual fog and can’t get out.

    The historical time-line presented by Draper/Farber is a silly falsification of history. He tries to disguise this by dazzling us with ancient Greeks, Thomas More and St. Simon, then beckons us to knell in worship of Karl Marx, like him and every Trotskyist also is lost in the fog.

    He does not mention the real history of socialism, because that would entail mentioning Robert Owen and the Rochdale Pioneers, the great cooperative and mutual movement of the French workers, or Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the beloved working class intellectual so important in the early days of socialism.

    He does not mention that workers. peasants and the urban small bourgeoisie originally were in alliance against the growing monopoly banks and bourgeoisie until Engels and Marx burrowed into the socialist movement. He forgets to tell us how these two redefined socialism as state monopoly, a programmatic attack on the property of the peasantry and urban small bourgeoisie, thereby splitting them from the proletariat politically and undercutting the socialist transformation to this day.

    He does not mention that the first two drafts of the Communist Manifesto were written by the capitalist intern Engels, or that Engels then named the third draft upon which he was working “The Communist Manifesto.”

    He does not mention that Engels’ first draft did not stipulate full state ownership of all the instruments of production by the future socialist state, but that this was added to the second draft; or that it made it into the third and final draft that was published in 1848 under the names of Marx and Engels.

    He does not mention that Marx’s name was given top billing for the Manifesto because it would not have looked so good for a functioning capitalist to have written this declaration of workers’ communist revolution; or that Engels did virtually all the drafting before he carried the work to Marx for finishing touches.

    He does no mention that he, Draper, Trotsky, Stalin, Marx and Engels were all state monopoly socialists, or that every Trotskyist on the planet is still a state monopoly socialist who tries to cover this uncomfortable fact by railing against the inevitable bureaucracy and one party absolutism it entails, plus meaningless calls for worker self-management under full state ownership, plus putting all the blame on Joseph Stalin.

    With friends like Sam Farger, real socialism does not need enemies.

  • Lacking in all manifestations of Marxism is the acknowledgement of the true nature of man. Idealogues often suggest a “new man” but seldom begin the real life, selfish, individualized characteristics of the “current” man. Worse still, there is little discourse as to how a society can peacefully and successfully transition from the old man to the new man. The failure of Marx and his followers to adequately address this issue has led to the failure of every attempt to create a true socialist state. Cuba is only the most recent actor to acknowlege this failure.

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