How does democratic socialism differ from democracy?

National Socialism or Social Democracy? A historical overview

In Latin America today, an unspoken confrontation can be observed within most countries as well as between the various governments of these countries - between defenders of social democratic principles and supporters of that anti-democratic socialism that failed in the 20th century. This new edition of the failed socialism is called as cocky as it is empty of content "socialism of the 21st century". The present article argues that this contradiction is not new. On the contrary: it is the same one that pervades the socialist history of ideas in Europe over the past two centuries in different forms. This thesis is to be supported by an overview of the most decisive moments in the development of the social democratic idea in Europe. Finally, some conclusions are drawn about the political tendencies currently emerging in Latin America.

Social democracy

There was a time when the word social democracy did not exclude the idea of ​​socialism any more than socialism did not exclude the idea of ​​democracy. The socialism of the first socialists was not a "higher" stage in history, but a democratic practice with an uncertain outcome. Originally, socialism was not understood to mean a new mode of production, but an increasing deepening of democracy of liberal origin. Thanks to the political achievements made by workers' organizations in the most developed industrial nations in Europe - Germany, England and France - at the end of the 19th century, social demands and the radicalization of political democracy merged into one.

The idea of ​​social democracy, from an economic point of view, comes from the industrial revolution in Europe. Or, more precisely, the common interest of a coalition of democratic and social groups, as well as unionized industrial workers, who set themselves the goal of giving a capitalist economy, which was hardly regulated at the time, a new political form. The devastating effects of this capitalism without politics, which is known today as "wild capitalism", on the European workforce was described by Friedrich Engels, among others.

From an ideological point of view, the social democratic idea is based on the democratic revolutions of the modern age, such as the North American and the French. It was understood by the first socialists and anarchists as well as the Russian Bolsheviks (who named themselves underground after great French revolutionaries) as a continuation and to a certain extent radicalization of the ideals of the democratic revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is against this background that Marx's hymns of praise for the "revolutionary" achievements of the European bourgeoisie, including colonialism, can be explained. This hymn of praise is found in all its splendor in the ideological allegory of the Communist Manifesto.

A closer reading of the fundamental writings of the first socialist organizations in Germany, in which Marx and Engels were politically active from time to time, reveals a continuity from the social democratic idea to the democratic revolution. In the Eisenach program of the Social Democratic Workers' Party, written in 1869, the goal of "establishing a free people's state" appears in the first section. In other words, a state that - following the example of the French Revolution - was supposed to be the highest expression of popular sovereignty (the word "people" was not yet discredited in Germany at that time). And under point four it becomes even clearer: Political freedom is the indispensable precondition for the economic liberation of the working classes. The social question is therefore inseparable from politics, its solution depends on it and is only possible in a democratic state. «That was and is, in my opinion, the core idea of ​​social democracy.

According to the declarations of the workers' leaders in Eisenach, political freedom is a basic requirement for the economic liberation of the working class. This means that Eisenach's programmatic formulations attempted to combine the realm of freedom with the realm of necessity. The contradiction between these two terms arose later, when Marxist intellectuals took control of the workers' parties. This is a groundbreaking insight for the development of the democratic revolution of our time. As is so often the case, you have to look for the big ideas at the origin of the historical upheavals.

With the Gotha program of 1875, the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany changed the project of "social democracy" ("social democracy") originally announced in Eisenach, emphasizing its "class character". One of the most radical premises was: "The liberation of labor must be the work of the working class, against which all other classes are only a reactionary mass." Even so, the main goals of the Gotha program were essentially political in nature. It was about the extension of the right to vote and the establishment of the people (mind you, the people and not the class) as political sovereign. At the same time (I think for the first time in a political program) plebiscitary procedures for decision-making in crucial state affairs (e.g. for declarations of war) were introduced.

Compared to the Eisenach program of 1869, the democratic program of the German workers of 1875 became politically even more radical. In neither of the two programs, however, made a distinction between tactical (present) and strategic (overriding the present) goals, as is characteristic of anti-democratic socialism after Gotha. It was precisely the realism of the Gotha program that was criticized by Karl Marx.

The connection between academic circles (Left Hegelians) and parts of the labor movement from which Marxism was to emerge had not yet emerged (Marx himself can hardly be called a Marxist). The workers were not yet "the proletariat," the history of the class struggle had not yet advanced to "science" and history had not yet had a predetermined outcome. The transformation of the democratic aspirations of the working class into a world-historical determination did not take place until the Erfurt Program in 1891.

The proletariat

The proletariat appeared for the first time as a historical category in Erfurt. From that moment on, the aim of the workers should be to fight not only for their own interests but also for those of world history. Gradually the workers became the instrument of a new subject formed by the bearers of "scientific thought": the intellectuals politically organized in the workers' parties. The original idea of ​​social democracy gradually gave way to socialism concepts that are more oriented towards the present than the future.

The further course of the story is known. The "scientific socialists" who made the revolution usurped the interests of the organized working class in order to transform them into the historical goals of "the proletariat." Nevertheless, even in 1891, democratic politics still prevailed over revolutionary metaphysics. For example, at a rather subordinate point of the Erfurt program, one can read the following: "The working class cannot wage its economic struggles and develop its economic organization without political rights."

The final break between the goals of social democracy and historical socialism took place in Germany - and in all of Europe - only after the split in Russian social democracy as a result of the seizure of power by the social democrat Lenin and his followers. Lenin broke not only with the unity of democracy and socialism, which was so important to the first socialists, but also with Marx's thesis that the socialist revolution had to begin in the most developed capitalist countries. The Social Democrats were called traitors and apostates after the October Revolution (among other unflattering names). The concept of reformism, which until then had a positive connotation, soon became one of the worst swear words under the influence of the Leninists. This is how Stalinism began before Stalin. Its origins can be found in the tradition of socialism in Germany, in the split between the social democratic idea and the historical socialism of the left (post) Hegelians. While the metahistorical principles prevailed in Russia, the principles of social democracy stigmatized as reformism remained predominant in Germany.

It must be honestly admitted, however, that Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, the Austromarxists led by Rudolf Hilferding and even Rosa Luxemburg were the true Marxists of their time and by no means apostates or traitors, as the Marxist-Stalinist manuals would have us believe.

However, it must also be said that the so-called social democratic reformists have fallen into their own trap. In one way or another they had taken over the fatal theses of the Left Hegelians that historical development should proceed organically towards a society of the future called "socialism". They no longer fought for a social democracy, like most workers of the 19th century, but for the implementation of the supposed laws of history. Over time, a "Marxist" worldview developed around Marx and Engels, which was fed, among other things, from the following sources: - Social Darwinism, for which society - according to supposedly objective natural laws that exist independently of it - develops from a lower to a higher stage - Lutheran and Calvinist Protestantism, which, with its glorification of work as a means of absolution, contributed to the formation of the so-called "proletariat", which embodied the Platonic (and Hegelian) ideal of the worker as the Messiah and bearer of historical reason, and - the Hegelian Historicism, according to which history confirms the materialization of Hegel's "absolute spirit" in Marx's "capital".

According to Darwin's theses, which were adopted by Marx, the qualitative leap that leads to the mutation (revolution) from capitalism to socialism has to take place in the most developed capitalist economies as soon as they contradict the "social relations of production" (which Marx himself called it). to step. This thesis led to the division of the Russian Social Democrats into two camps: the Mensheviks waited for a higher development of the productive forces to attempt the revolution in Russia, while the Leninists or Bolsheviks (and later also the Trotskyists) assumed that the chain of capitalist- imperialist bondage must be broken at its weakest link, but on the condition that this should be the beginning of its total destruction. In its overthrow in 1917, Leninism relied on the world revolution, which, according to its misguided prognoses, was to spread from Tsarist Russia to the rest of Europe.

When the worldwide (or Europe-wide) revolution did not take place, a third but extremely powerful camp received a boost: national socialism.

National Socialism

The project of socialism in one country came in two variants: fascist national socialism and Stalinist socialism. The first variant represented Mussolini and Hitler. The most important representative of the second variant was, as the name suggests, Stalin. In the Stalinist interpretation (by which some thoughtless leftists still let themselves be guided) the view prevailed that there were irreconcilable contradictions between fascist national socialism and Stalinism. The fundamental contradiction, however, was only one: the fascist National Socialists did not recognize the international supremacy of the Soviet Union. On all other points, however, the similarities between fascists and Stalinists are overwhelming: in both cases, socialism should be the result of national or nationalist revolutions. The Revolutionary Party should merge with the state until they eventually merge into an inseparable unit. Society should be organized corporately and vertically from top to bottom until it forms a perfect unity with the state (the old Hegelian wishful thinking). That is the essence of the total (or totalitarian) state.

At the head of the state had to stand a messianic leader who leads history and its peoples. Hegelian Napoleon on horseback was followed by Hitler in a Goebbels automobile or - more fittingly to the literature of Soviet "socialist realism" - Stalin on a tractor. The national-socialist regimes implemented "on a grand scale" were Nazi Germany and the USSR; more modest versions were to follow later in different parts of the world: Tito in Yugoslavia, Nasser in Egypt, Castro in Cuba, the Ceauçescu dictatorship in Romania and the majority of the "people's democracies" allied with the Soviet empire.

After the democratic revolutions between 1989 and 1990 sealed the fate of the Soviet Union and its allies, a few national-socialist states remained scattered around the world as fragments of an imperial past that had crumbled into ruins. These include the post-Nasserist regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Muammar Al-Gaddafi in Libya and the socialist Republic of Yemen. In Europe, Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic and today Belarus under Aleksandr Lukashenko should be mentioned. And in Latin America Cuba. All of these remnants form the real face of 21st century socialism, which is certainly not a utopia but a terrifying reality. In all of these national socialisms (and there are others), traits peculiar to Stalinism and Fascism can be observed down to the smallest detail, which go so far that they are confusingly similar. It is clear to see that the lines between historical socialism and fascism were very blurred, if they existed at all.

The idea that there are fundamental differences between national socialism of the Soviet type and National Socialism in Germany and Italy is - this should be clearly stated here - an ideology and contradicts historical facts. From the point of view of the impoverished masses in Italy and Germany, the promises made by Mussolini and Hitler actually sounded socialist at the time. And it was them. Mussolini came from socialism; he also understood fascism as a way of enforcing the Marxist principles, which he knew very well, in a single country.

German National Socialism, on the other hand, was never fascist in the narrower sense, even if that may sound strange today. In fact, there is not a single speech by the German National Socialists in which they would describe themselves as fascists. The term is Italian through and through (fascio means "fraction"). Strictly speaking, "German fascism" was a typological invention of the post-war period that resulted from an agreement between conservatives, national conservatives, and socialists. Until 1945 nobody in Germany spoke of fascism. The whole world saw Hitler as a representative of National Socialism - including the real name of the regime, which affected nationalists and socialists alike unpleasantly. To repeat once more: the unfortunate term "German fascism" was the inglorious result of a political collusion, the main aim of which was to separate Hitler and the idea of ​​socialism from one another. That was just as important to the Stalinist socialists as to the social democrats. Today, however, with only ruins left of Stalinist National Socialism, it can be frankly said that Mussolini and Hitler actually pursued both socialist and national projects - as did the governments of Stalin and Tito.

In Latin America, where we do not stand out for originality (we have a self-tormenting tendency to copy the failures of others), the idea of ​​national socialism took shape and gained strength. The Communist International, on the other hand, could never really gain a foothold on our continent, except in countries like Chile or Uruguay. In these countries there are numerous aspects of the origins of the communist parties that can be associated with social-democratic rather than national-socialist ideas. Among other things, the writings and speeches of the founder of the Communist Party of Chile, Luis Emilio Recabarren, confirm this statement. National socialism, on the other hand, formed the core of the ideology of various nationalist and populist movements. In some cases, their ambitious popular tribunes used these movements as a cover to gain power.

Many parties founded in Latin America with socialist and nationalist-inspired ideologies were directly influenced by European national-socialism with a fascist character.In the Peruvian Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) this influence was more subliminal, in the National Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, MNR) in Bolivia, on the other hand, it was more explicit. In Argentine Peronism, the fascist temptations were so obvious that not even Eva Perón tried to hide them. It was similar with the Mexican Partido de la Revolución Institucional (PRI). In many cases the idea of ​​national socialism was promoted by the military regimes. Perhaps the most representative case was Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru, glorified today by the unspeakable Hugo Chávez. The Cuban regime, on the other hand, went through different phases. In its origins, the liberation movement Movimiento 26 de Julio presented itself as a representative of social democracy. Later, as it moved closer to the Soviet sphere of power, it took the form of a national socialism with a Stalinist stamp. After the dissolution of the USSR, Cuban socialism came closer to the type of national socialism with a fascist character. Numerous other examples could be cited. What is certain, however, is that the idea of ​​national socialism in its various forms is a constant in the modern history of Latin America. Today the project of national socialism is represented by Chavist militarism, the Cuban military dictatorship and, on the fringes, by the rest of the poor countries that are part of the Bolivarian Alternative for America (ALBA).

The return of European social democracy

In Europe, on the other hand, the break between social democracy and international socialism, which has never been able to consolidate, as well as national socialism has already taken place. However, we don't know if this break will last forever. The social democratic model is no longer only defended there by the social democratic, but also by the Christian social and even conservative parties. The British Labor Party - after all, islanders - has never given up the idea of ​​social democracy. The same can be said of the Scandinavian socialist parties. German social democracy, the cradle of national socialism, had greater difficulties. In the end, however, after lengthy discussions, splits and party expulsions, in November 1959 she adopted the Godesberg program. This historic event represents the reconciliation of the German socialists with the pre-Marxist ideas of social democracy that had been thwarted by the appearance of the two most powerful national-socialist movements of the 20th century in Russia and Germany. In doing so, German social democracy revived the democratic spirit of the classic democratic revolutions such as the North American and the French.

In contrast to the other social democratic approaches, the Godesberg program switched to focusing on people as people responsible for their own history, instead of a social class. The concept of socialism was wrested from the realm of necessity in order to anchor it also in the realm of freedom: "The socialists strive for a society in which every person can develop his personality in freedom". The following statement was already included in the preface: “The Social Democratic Party of Germany is the party of freedom of the spirit. It is a community of people who come from different faiths and schools of thought «. In Bad Godesberg, the socialists finally drew their conclusions from the experiences of the national-socialist era and the dangers that still threatened Russian-Soviet national socialism. At the same time, they acknowledged parliamentary democracy as the preferred form of government and committed themselves to the philosophical and moral values ​​that have shaped the West politically and continue to shape it today.

The idea of ​​social democracy, abused by two totalitarian national-socialist regimes, has been rehabilitated in Europe. The Godesberg program would later have a major influence on the development of socialism in Spain and France. In addition, its principles are the same to which Italian Eurocommunism under Enrico Berlinguer was to invoke a little later, an advocate of Western democracy who, strangely enough, is often forgotten by historians. The same happened with Christian-social organizations, which - at least in part - were supposed to take over the legacy of Bad Godesberg. Last but not least: The revolutionary dissidents who brought the Soviet empire to an end in various countries in Central and Eastern Europe did not know the Godesberg program, but they were undoubtedly filled with the same spirit of freedom.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ideas of social democracy captured the hearts and minds of the majority of the European population, be it in Eastern, Central or Western Europe. However, anti-democratic dangers still lurk. Socialist populism from the "left" and neo-fascism from the "right" threaten the democratic stability of Europe. Democracy will never be irreversible (this word should be deleted from all dictionaries). That is why social democracy is not an ideal state, but rather an ideal that has to be fought for over and over again.

21st century socialism

The idea of ​​social democracy has also made significant progress in Latin America, even if it is not always represented by social democratic parties. Since the end of the 20th century, the region has become part of the western democracies. After a terrible period of dictatorships like that of the military junta in Argentina or the cruel Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Cuba is now the only remnant from this past. But there, too, a way out of the long night of real socialism can be seen. The moves of the governments in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay and even Argentina, where the past is still mystified and revered, seem to be guided by the social democratic idea. The Latin American democracies freed from military dictatorships, however, have to face one final danger: the so-called "socialism of the 21st century", a final - and in its essence deeply reactionary - attempt to establish national-socialist regimes in some countries in the region.

Nobody should try to understand the theory of "21st century socialism" because such a theory never existed. Nevertheless, it should not be taken lightly. The term “socialism of the 21st century” encompasses state-directing regimes with clearly authoritarian and even militaristic tendencies. Its leaders come to power by co-opting and manipulating undeniably authentic social movements. All of these regimes are the result of profound institutional crises in the economically and politically least developed countries in the region. In one way or another, the states of socialism of the 21st century united in the ALBA are committed to a national socialism with a simple Stalinist character. No one has a reasonably coherent government program, but they all have a project to seize power. Hence their relationship to democracy is exclusively instrumental. For them, the democratic procedures are nothing more than the tactic of a strategy that is supposed to create the conditions for them to remain in power. However, your chances of success are doubtful. The reason is obvious: 21st century socialism has already reached its final phase in Venezuela - the country that drives it. On December 2nd, 2007 the majority of Venezuelans thwarted the ambitions of Caudillos Chávez to perpetuate his power by referendum. It wasn't just one person's defeat. On that day a political project failed. The cause of the failure of socialism in the 21st century is not only the opposition of the people - possibly also in the future - but also the fact that it is based on two obviously wrong assumptions (in order not to Telling lies) tries to legitimize it.

The first is the idea of ​​a common struggle of these countries against the "empire", i.e. the USA. In fact, however, no member of the ALBA is in a real territorial, economic or political conflict with the USA. In Venezuela, whose dependence on the United States has increased under the Chavez government, not even the Chavists themselves believe that something like a national liberation struggle is actually taking place. The fight against the empire is just a media-effective slogan that is far removed from the political reality of Venezuela.

The second false premise is even further from the truth. It is based on the idea that the ALBA governments are fighting against "oligarchies". However, none of the National Socialist governments in Latin America is confronted with a political or social oligarchy. The only exception seems to be the case of Evo Morales in Bolivia. But there it is a very special regional autonomy movement, albeit rooted in broad layers. Otherwise, the opposite is true: In Nicaragua, the main opponent of the government is a split from Sandinista, which is not exactly oligarchic. In Venezuela, the non-oligarchic nature of the opposition is even clearer. Through the concerted action of students from all universities in the country, a civil society has re-established there. The political structures have also been renewed in a remarkable way. The three largest parties are Primero Justicia (“Justice First”), Un Nuevo Tiempo (“A New Era”) and Podemos (“We Can Do It”). The latter comes from the beginnings of Chavism and the other two are recognized by the Socialist International.

The great merit of Chavez is to have created the conditions for the re-emergence of a structure that can enable political change. However, this happened against his will and that of the state militarism he embodied. From the above-mentioned center-left spectrum of parties (and not from any oligarchy) emerge the future democratic government that Venezuela so desperately needs. Then the government of Ecuador will also have to look for new, less volatile, more realistic and in any case more stable international alliances (if it is not already doing so) than the derogated "socialism of the 21st century" is currently offering it.

Fortunately, because Latin America (as I have already said many times) actually and rightly belongs to the less geographically than politically defined democratic West, from which it must not fall away - not least because it has no home anywhere else.

At least none other than the abyss.