Socialismo del siglo XXI (I): ¿Socialismo o SOCIABISMO? / Teodoro Petkoff

XXI Century Socialism (I): Socialism or SOCIABYSM?

No serious debate about socialism can be developed as if we were still in the XIX century, when there still hadn’t been any concrete experience of it anywhere. Not now. It is impossible, at the dawn of the XXI century, to talk about socialism while making an abstraction of what was advanced in its name throughout the XX century. What lessons does history throw our way?

On one hand, in the former Czarist Russian empire, Leninist-Stalinist practice made the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics a monstrous abortion of history, which ended up sinking itself, a victim of its own contradictions – in an ironic compensation for the ineffable “sinking of capitalism,” which at one brief moment Marx himself theorized as a possibility. Likewise in China, the Maoist practice led to another “museum of horrors” and almost collapsed the country, while in Cuba, the Fidelista practice has given as a result a sick society, one that is morally driven mad, socially and economically ruined and put under the submission of the iron will of its all-powerful “comandante in chief” for half a century. These three cases, to which we must add all those that were aligned with them, led to economic bankruptcy and social impoverishment, to tyranny and totalitarianism. The old social contradictions were substituted by new social contradictions. The nomenklatura occupied the space of the bourgeoisie and land owners, while workers and farmers went on to become vassals of the State, just as exploitative as ever. New privileges and abuses of power occupied the place of the old ones; new inequalities substituted those they intended to overcome; dullness and cultural poverty became proverbial and sports were transformed into a peculiar substitute for the “opiate of the masses” that Marx saw in religion, which was itself also substituted by its lay version, Marxist-Leninism. All of this was sustained by police and military apparatuses that made terror the axis of internal politics in each one of those countries, annulling any human rights and democratic conquests that were the product of the secular civilizing process of humanity, and of popular struggles. The global balance of these models is counted among the greatest tragedies of a century like the previous one, which was particularly generous with them.

On the other hand, also in the name of socialism, we have known the experiences of social democracy’s advanced reform, particularly in Europe. While admittedly these have not “flipped the omelette,” they have provided important advances, each time greater, in the quality of material and spiritual life throughout society, amplifying and deepening democracy and with it the deciding power of workers and of the poorest in general. They didn’t and don’t have the romantic allure of revolutionary adventures, but when their achievements are compared to those reached by their Bolshevik, Maoist and Fidelista “brother-enemies,” Bertolt Brecht’s brilliant paradox comes to mind: “Only the land that needs no hero is happy.”

The shadow of both historical experiences hovers over those who occupy themselves with these topics in this XXI century. Toward which of these versions could what we are now living in Venezuela be moving?

Translator's note: This is the first in a series of articles on XXI Century Socialism written by Teodoro Petkoff for his newspaper TalCual in Caracas this week. I will translate the following parts over the next few days.

{ Teodoro Petkoff, TalCual, 6 February 2007 }

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