Social Democracy: middle path between capitalism and communism?


From the New Unionist, April 1992, page 2

Letters and Debate

Social Democracy: middle path between capitalism and communism?


Thanks for sending me 25 New Unionists each month. I usually put them in the public library here in S ante Fe, New Mexico. Keep sending them if you are able.

I just read a 700-page "Marx-Engels Reader" edited by R.C. Tucker, and I must say that "dictatorship of the proletariat" did not appeal to me. Any dictatorship to my mind is untenable. Witness only the "dictatorship" of the wealthy bourgeoisie!

It looks like European democratic socialism (perhaps a 50/50 split of capitalism and communism) is the rising star of future capital-worker relationships. It seems this approach is a more or less "middle path," religiously, politically, economically, socially, etc. I think it's got a good chance of really succeeding worldwide. My contention, though, is that it still puts profits before people's needs, and I will always disagree strongly with this arrangement.

-- Steve Jones, Sante Fe




Marx used the term "dictatorship of the proletariat" to mean a government controlled by the working class and excluding the property-owning bourgeoisie. He did not mean dictatorship as the word is often used today, as one-man rule. In fact, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be a political democracy, but for the working class only, the way Steve Jones notes our present political democracy is in reality a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Marx thought this "workers state" would be needed as a temporary transition from capitalism to socialism. Through it the working class could subdue the old ruling class and socialize its property, completing what in Marx's time was the only partial industrialization of the economy. Once that was accomplished, and every member of society was both a working producer and a co-owner of the economy, class division would end and with it the need for a state used by one class to rule others. The dictatorship of the proletariat would be supplanted by "a free association of producers," that is, a workplace-based democracy.

In the 1917 revolution in Russia, the workers' Soviets, or councils, took government power and for a short time functioned as the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants over the bourgeoisie and landlords.

However, given the industrial underdevelopment and cultural backwardness of Russia at the time, the working class was unable to maintain its own control. It gradually surrendered its democratic authority to the authoritarian political domination of the Bolshevik Party leadership, which in turn developed into a ruling bureaucracy with interests opposed to the working class it originally represented. When bureaucratic rule eventually gave rise to the one-man dictatorship of Stalin, the socialist aspirations of the workers were crushed and state capitalism instituted to exploit the workers for the benefit of the new ruling class.

The confusion comes of course because Stalin and his successors claimed socialism was established in Russia along the path prescribed by Marx. The capitalist propagandists then had a easy time "proving" that Marx's socialism meant terror rule and the absence of democratic rights.

As it is, the advanced industrial development of the capitalist states today has made the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat moot because the means now exist to move directly from capitalism to socialism without a transitional workers' state. With virtually all economic and cultural activity industrialized and operated from top to bottom by the cooperative labor of wage workers, and with the capitalists serving no necessary function in production, social ownership and control of industry can be instituted immediately upon winning the political contest with the capitalist parties. It involves merely having the workers already in industry being organized there, ready to assume managerial responsibilty once the majority makes its political decision for social ownership.

This industrial-union government of the workers will be the new workplace-based democracy that is the true fulfillment of Marx's "free association of producers," while the state is abolished. With both its political and economic resources simultaneously taken from it by the simultaneous p litical and economic organization the workers, the old ruling class would have no means to resist the revolution. There would thus be no need to suppress it, and thus no need for a worke state with the danger of bureaucratic degeneration it holds.

This revolutionary program the only way to overcome the power profits over people that Steve Jon correctly sees as remaining in force the social-democratic regimes of W< Europe. There is in fact no way to have a 50/50 split of capitalism and communism. Either production is carried is for sale and profit, with class division, class rule and the state, or it is carried on for use in a socially-owned, classic! self-governing economic community with no state and state oppression.

It is true that the social-democratic regimes have been far more humane than either the former pseud communism of the East or the jungle individualism of the U.S. But state regulation of capital and government soci programs cannot indefinitely overcome the contradictions of producing f profit in a competitive market or prevent the impoverishment capitalis must ultimately impose on the workers in order for the system to survive.

Most West European countrii now have unemployment rates high than the U.S., and their sluggish econiomies are straining to generate the the income needed to fund social program As a result, workers are becoming disillusioned with social democracy, which in their eyes is the socialist alternate to free-market capitalism. In Sweden recent elections, the Social Democrats were voted out in favor of the Conservatives.

In Germany in the 1920s ar early' 30s, the Social Democrats had no program to replace crisis-ridden capitalism. The workers lost faith, and tf end result was Hitler in power. Ominously for Europe today, the Social Democrats' failure to offer a revoliotionary alternative to the growing hare ships of capitalism has opened the wa for a neo-fascist resurgence.

In short, looking for a "middle path" is a dangerous error when there are only two paths to choose from.