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

  • One thing has been demonstrated through the years…….. capitalism is a living thing born of human been necessities and only explained by these necessities and the turns in humanity way to solve them…… you can chose any ideological-politic system to control capitalism but you have to help it in order to help humanity self……. the only effective way to make capitalism produce as much richness as needed to solve humanity needs (all humanity) is to care capitalism with democracy, freedom, and respect for the rights born out this combination………. you can chose a “righty” control system or a “lefty” one it does not matter, examples of good working system of each leaning exists in the actual world but all good examples have a thing in common: The care democracy and freedom……… you will have a disastrous country and an impoverished nation if you are a dictator making as you please and killing who dares to stop you in spite you chose to be at the right or the left.

  • Thanks, rob, I hear what you’re saying. It is not however as though I’ve never heard that criticism before. I have, and a number of times. What makes me interested in answering you in a comradely, principled way is the belief that some “people like you” are indeed still reachable, and may still be able to contribute to social transformation and the in-time salvation of human civilization.

    I’m not interest in “getting further” with people in the way you imagine, but in telling them the truth and hoping that, one by one, they might finally get the point and discard this quasi-religious confidence in Karl Marx. If you are honest, and if you can still use your analytical mind, then listen intently to what I am saying.

    The banks and bourgeoisie, in the mid-1800s, needed to turn the peasants and urban small bourgeoisie against the proletariat and especially against that class’s political thrust, the scary movement for a cooperative socialist, post-capitalist state power. They had tried for decades to inject the wimpy Utopian concept of socialism as abolishing private productive property rights immediately, but were unsuccessful.

    This Utopian concept was poison to the working class socialist movement because it proposed the grossly premature abolition of private productive property rights during the several generations socialist bridge to a classless society. What it would do, in effect, is pluck the absence of private productive property from the far-in-the-future goal society, and reposition it in the period called socialism where it could not possible work.

    Finally, through Engels and his ultimate co-author, Marx, this unworkable concept was smuggled into the socialist and workers’ movement through the Communist Manifesto and its core economic principle, full state ownership of all the instruments of production. This core concept attacked the property of the peasants and urban small bourgeoisie, promising to nationalize their property under socialism, making them into wage or salary employees of the socialist state.

    And so, by their fruit you shall know them, as it’s said, and if you and other can’t as yet understand this fundamental truth, that Engels and Marx did precisely what provocateurs would logically have done, then there no point in a further butting of heads.

    You say you let your mind go where it goes. Well, rob, stop being an automatic worshiper of Marx, Trotsky and other long dead individuals and let your mind flow according to common sense and sincere logic. I don’t want to hear a fucking quote from Marx or Proudhon or Trotsky or anybody else, and neither should you. Let’s use our minds and back up what we say by honest thought and principled discussion.

    Engels and Marx dished up the core principle state monopoly ownership of “all” the instruments of production in 1848, and reconfirmed it in in 1872. This split the small bourgeoisie from the proletariat and the socialist movement. It was precisely what the banks and bourgeoisie needed to destroy socialism from within. The socialist project spat on the small business community and the term petty bourgeois became an epithet. The socialist vision as state ownership of everything lost the original, powerful charisma of a cooperative society, and the great masses became indifferent to it.

    The destructive power of state monopoly socialism bore its ugly fruit when, in the 20th century, socialist state powers came into existence. And now, when someone gets his brain unscrambled and stands up to tell the Left that they’ve been had, and that Marxism is a grand confidence scheme and must be jettisoned, you are only able to encourage him to be more tactful!

    I’m for a new understanding of post-capitalism as a modern cooperative, state co-ownership form of socialism. The political vehicle for this would be a transformationary cooperative republic. If you wish to consider this honestly and forthrightly, then let get it on. If not . . .

  • grady, perhaps it was my one paragraph format that caused some misunderstading, but i get what you are saying and am on your side. i am an unafiliated leftist, with no particular idealogy. i simply let my mind go where it goes.

    my comment about trotsky recognizing that stalinism was not some deviation but a direct result of the leninst/trotstkyist program is essentially no different from what you say. the early lenin/trotsky programs were marxian, with the state taking control of everything. years later as a grizzled old exile, trotsky was able to recognize that.

    i merely bring trotksy up because he represents someone like you, one who is able to ‘re-think’ former assumptions and change their opinions. which is all too rare on the left.

    as for marx, i also said his prescrition was wrong, fatally wrong. but his diagnosis of capitalism is still pretty good. and his early journalism and agitating for free speech/free press are worthy causes. furthermore he had great solidarity with lincoln during the civil war and in fact helped boycott confederate slave picked cotton.

    my point being that marx was wrong about how to bring about socialism, as was trotsky, but both men do have redeeming qualities, and i simply think that when you are arguing with the comrades, you would get further if you admitted as much. if i am arguing with a religious person, i dont just hammer away at them and their long held beliefs. i have to be gentle, and point out various worthy values in their holy books, while making my critique. as you well know, arguing with lefties is a bit like arguing with religious folks, or sometimes even cult members.
    anyhow, rest assured im on your side. carry on and good luck.

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