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Issue #1916      May 25, 2020

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY AND THE LIMITS OF REFORM

Social democracy, or social reformism as it is often called, is an ideological current in the labour movement which aims to politically disarm the movement and make it subservient to the ruling class by destroying its revolutionary content.

Sewing Shop oil on board by Narin, 2004.

The majority of the parties of the Socialist International, including the Australian Labor Party (ALP), are part of this ideological current. The main ideological platform of all these parties is the concept of “democratic socialism” which is the product of West European social democracy. This concept derives from the theory of “neutrality” which in essence is nothing but a means of covering up the reactionary ideological positions of right-wing socialists. It is used to set socialism against Marxism in order to convince the working people that “socialism can be achieved without Marxism.”

The leaders of social democracy do not hide the fact that “democratic socialism” is a counter measure against communism.

The declaration of the Socialist International, Aims and Duties of Democratic Socialism, states: “Socialism is an international movement, which does not require strict uniformity of ideology. Irrespective of whether socialists base their convictions on the results of Marxist analysis or analysis by another method, whether they are led by humanist or other principles, all of them tend towards a common aim […]”

DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM

The concept of “democratic socialism” is used for the immediate, practical aim of presenting it as an alternative to the existing socialism of the countries of the socialist community.

It was no accident, therefore, that not only the reactionary forces of international imperialism but also social democracy everywhere — and Australia was no exception to the rule — greeted the “Prague Spring” and the most recent activities of Solidarity in Poland as a “higher form of socialism,” as “real socialism,” “socialism with a human face” and so on.

This position expresses the strong desire of followers of “democratic socialism” for removal of communist parties from the leadership of social life in the socialist countries so that socialism can be “renewed.” This is also the position of revisionist forces in all countries.

The revisionist concept of “renewed socialism” has a close spiritual affinity with the ideas of social reformism because both concepts are collaborators with the capitalist class and they are the fruits of the same tree – bourgeois ideology.

The Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union states that the “reflection of bourgeois influence on the working class is social democratism in the labour movement and revisionism in the communist movement.”

What is the essence of socialism? What is the main difference between genuine socialism of Marxist-Leninists and the so-called “democratic socialism” of social democracy and the revisionists?

Socialism is a social system in which the working class has become the leader of society by smashing the old power of capitalist exploiters and by socialising the means of production, thus eliminating private property (not personal property) and exploitation of man by man.

SOCIALISATION ESSENTIAL

There can never be socialism without socialisation of the means of production or while private property and monopolies exploiting the working people remain.

In his work Anti-Duhring, F Engels expresses this idea clearly: “The proletariat takes over the state power and transforms the means of production first of all into state property.”

Thus the main feature of socialism is that it seeks a radical system, revolutionary change in society, a change from the class power of the bourgeoisie to the power of the working class.

What is the main feature of social democracy and of the concept of “democratic socialism” today?

MINOR REFORMS

It can be summarised as an attempt to introduce minor reforms within the capitalist system, “beautify” the system or make it less oppressive and also to manage it better.

Despite all such reforms and better management methods, the class power of the capitalist exploiters remains intact and imperialism has little if anything to fear from all the talk about “democratic socialism.”

A vivid example of the concepts of social democracy in Australia, as expressed by the ALP leadership, is provided by the National Economic Summit Communiqué. Paragraph nine states: “The reality also is that we live in a mixed economy in which the private sector is an integral part providing some seventy-five per cent of jobs. The preservation of the private sector as a profitable operating sector is essential to Australia’s well-being and to encourage job creating investment both from within Australia and abroad.”

It is obvious the ALP Government believes the private sector is essential for Australia’s well-being. At the same time, however, it talks about “democratic socialism,” ignoring the fact that private property and big business corporations are incompatible with the basic principles of socialism.

THE “THIRD ROAD” CONCEPT

Another example of the misleading theories and formulations of social reformism is provided by PASOK, the socialist party currently in government in Greece. PASOK is the architect of the “third road to socialism” theory, a smokescreen for a system of mainly painless reforms to the capitalist system.

Exponents of the “third road” theory hold the view that Greek society is divided into privileged and non-privileged sectors. Until recently, the privileged sector included the monopolies and big business. Lately, however, PASOK’s position has shifted and monopolies are no longer included in the privileged sector.

THE REAL ENEMY

If the monopolies are not privileged and are therefore not an enemy against whom the working class has to fight in its struggle for socialist change, then who is the real enemy? To this basic question, the “third road to socialism” cannot provide an answer.

Even with these limited examples, it is clear that the theories of “democratic socialism” and political activity and programs of social democratic parties have nothing in common with real working class concepts of the socialist transformation of society.

The article originally appeared in The Guardian January, 1985.

Next article – SHARKEY TRIAL

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