the October Revolution, the workers’ movement has been
confronted with the choice between two political practices. This
is also a choice between two strategies.
does not concern the "advisability" of the struggle
for immediate objectives, both economic and political. It does
not deal with an option for or against taking part in elections
and participation in elected assemblies, not only for propaganda
ends but to get laws adopted that favour workers and other
exploited and oppressed sections of society 
systematically for the legal reduction of the working day
(week). He resolutely combated the super-exploitation of women
workers and fought against child labour. Engels sought to extend
to all countries the struggle for the 8-hour day and for
universal suffrage, simple and equal for all citizens .
particular conditions of Tsarist Russia, Lenin followed a
similar line, even more emphatically.
were based on the conviction that a working class that was in a
wretched state, incapable of fighting for its physical and moral
integrity, would also be incapable of fighting for a
breakthrough towards a classless society. History has confirmed
this diagnosis. Nowhere have bread riots led to a systematic
anti-capitalist struggle, to a struggle for a better world. The
path traced by Marx and the Marxists has on the other hand led
to millions of the exploited becoming conscious of the necessity
for such a struggle.
opposes revolutionary Marxism to social-democratic reformism is
the attitude taken towards the economic and political class
power of Capital. It is by the same token a fundamentally
different attitude towards the bourgeois state.
the illusion that a gradual dismantling of the power of Capital
is possible. First of all you nationalise 20 per cent, then 30
per cent, then 50 per cent, then 60 per cent of capitalist
property. In this way the economic power of Capital is dissolved
little by little. You take from the bourgeoisie first of all a
big city, then two municipalities, then the majority in
Parliament, then the power to dictate teaching programmes, then
the majority of the circulation of newspapers, then the control
of the municipal police, then the power to choose the majority
of top civil servants, magistrates and officers: the political
power of Capital will just fade away.
therefore essentially gradualist. Consequently, the real
theoretician of reformism was Eduard Bernstein, with his
celebrated formula: "the movement is everything, the end is
Today German social democracy goes one better: drop by drop, we
will dissolve the rock. We go from human history to the history
of geological formations. How many thousand years does it take
for a rock to dissolve?
Marxism is the rejection of gradualist illusions. Experience
confirms that nowhere, in any country, has the bourgeoisie lost
its economic and political power by the gradualist path. Reforms
can weaken this power. They cannot abolish it. (...)
nature, has a horror of a vacuum. That corresponds to the strong
centralising tendency that is inherent in the degree of
development of the forces of production. Every town, not to
mention every factory, cannot have its own currency, its own
Customs, its own pricing policy, its own telecommunications
centre, or even its own hospital. There can be a period of dual
power between the rule of Capital and the rule of the working
class. But history confirms that this period can only last a
If the working
class does not succeed in building its own centralised power,
the bourgeois state will maintain itself or be rebuilt. That is
the principal lesson of all the revolutions of the 20th century.
That is the positive balance sheet of the October Revolution. It
is the negative balance sheet of the German Revolution and the
Spanish Revolution, the two main defeats of the proletariat.
strategy does not differ from revolutionary Marxist strategy by
a more radical rejection of violence. Revolutionaries can even
send the ball back into the court of social democracy on this
question. Inasmuch as the working class and the other exploited
and oppressed social layers make up the majority, indeed the
overwhelming majority of the adult population, the use of
violence is for it marginal, indeed counter-productive for the
creation of working-class power. What is essential, for the
triumph of the proletarian revolution under these conditions, is
the conquest of a new legitimacy. This model of the conquest of
power is the October Revolution in Petrograd. It has been
correctly pointed out that it cost fewer deaths than occur
through traffic accidents in a weekend in any large country.
convinced that with a bold, resolute and coherent orientation by
the majority of the workers’ movement at moments of impetuous,
generalised mass action, the same process could have been
repeated in May 1968 in France and during the hot autumn in 1969
in Italy. A big majority of soldiers would have refused to fire
on their brothers, their sisters, their fathers, their mothers,
their workmates. De Gaulle, who was not lacking in tactical
intelligence, shared this judgment. That is why he did not send
troops to fire on strikers, he shut them up in their barracks,
for fear that they would go over to the side of the people.
On the other
hand, important sectors at least of the bourgeoisie cling
desperately to power, even in the face of the immense majority
of citizens. Like "Madam Veto" [nickname of
Marie-Antoinette in 1791], they are ready to massacre all of
Paris, all of Barcelona and Madrid, all of Berlin, all of Milan
and Turin, all of Vienna, all of Shanghai, all of Djakarta, all
of Santiago de Chile...in order to preserve their class power.
If we leave them the means to do so, they will make rivers of
blood flow .
democratic Right, which is opposed to the revolutionary seizure
of power, does not in fact really reduce the incidence of
violence. On the contrary, it encourages it, at least
objectively, if not deliberately.
counter-revolution begun by Noske, Ebert and Scheideman in
December 1918-January 1919, with the help of the Freikorps,
ancestor of the future SA and SS, did not only pass over the
bodies of Rosa Luxemburg, of Karl Liebknecht, of Leo Jogiches,
of Hugo Haase. It passed over the bodies of the thousands of
workers assassinated between 1919 and 1921, of the hundreds of
workers killed between 1930 and 1933. It led to the hecatombs
that the Nazi dictatorship caused. (...)
let us remember that the social-democratic Right fully accepted
the violence of the First World War in the belligerent
countries. This violence resulted in between 10 and 20 million
dead, while to the bourgeoisie, the war appeared
"normal", "natural", unavoidable. The
violence of the struggle for power, on the other hand, is
considered as "abnormal", "avoidable",
In this sense,
August 4th, 1914, the acceptance of the imperialist war by the
social-democratic Right, also marks a turning point in the
history of the 20th century. The inhuman and massive violence of
the war was accepted without ongoing resistance or revolt. Only
small minorities came out of it honourably. Passivity,
resignation and cynicism spread in the face of massacres, and
even of torture .
In this respect too, the historic responsibility of the
social-democratic Right is overwhelming.
reformism and the future of capitalism
If it is
necessary to act rapidly in order to carry through the
revolutionary seizure of power, it is also necessary for a
deeper reason. The power of Capital, including the repressive
apparatuses that protect it, are characterised by a high degree
of internal cohesion. Trotsky made in this respect a remarkable
analysis of the particular nature of the officer corps, in
conformity with its role, which reflects this cohesion .
practically impossible to shake this cohesion in normal times.
It is only at exceptional moments that we see soldiers refusing
to obey, or mass mutinies. That is one of the reasons why real
revolutionary crises are relatively rare. In general they do not
happen every year, or even every decade in each country. If we
do not seize these relatively rare occasions, the bourgeoisie
will remain in power for quite some time yet, with all that that
privileged moments for mass revolutionary action are in the last
analysis the result of the exacerbation of the intense
contradictions of bourgeois society. They lead to situations
that Lenin summed up in a classical formula: Those on high can
no longer govern as before, those below are no longer willing to
be governed as before.
between reformists and revolutionary Marxists is therefore
finally based on their different opinions concerning the future
of capitalism. Bernstein claimed that the contradictions
inherent in bourgeois society were steadily decreasing . There
would be fewer and fewer wars, fewer and fewer repressive
practices on the part of the state, fewer and fewer explosive
social conflicts. Kautsky added, in his book Terrorism and
Communism, that the bourgeoisie had become more and more
benevolent, nice, peace-loving, taking as his model the US
counter-posed to Bernstein’s diagnosis one that was
diametrically opposed. There would be more and more wars, more
and more social explosions, in comparison with the period
The history of
the 20th century has confirmed Rosa Luxemburg’s diagnosis and
not Bernstein’s. Similarly, reformist politics, gradualist
politics, have hardly been credible during the phases of acute
crises that have marked our century, in particular between 1914
and 1923, during the 1930s and the 1940s and from before May
1968 until the Portuguese Revolution of 1974-75.
They have also
been less credible since the beginning of the "long
depressive wave" that we are in at present, and of the
general offensive of Capital against Wage Labour and the peoples
of the Third World that is accompanying it.
aggravation of the internal contradictions of capitalism is not
linear and constant. It is interrupted by phases of temporary
relative stabilisation: the main ones were 1924-1929 and
1949-1968. The period of prolonged economic recovery after the
recession of 1980-82 produced some analogous symptoms.
phases, social-democratic reformism can regain a certain
credibility in a series of countries, profiting moreover from
particular situations, such as in the Scandinavian countries.
This credibility is expressed by an easier acceptance by the
broad masses of everyday reformist political practice.
alternation in time of revolutionary situations, of situations
of relative stability, of counter-revolutionary dynamics, means
that the victorious struggle for the seizure of power requires,
over and above a vanguard party that is oriented towards that
end, a working class that has been strengthened by sufficient
experience of self-activity and self-organisation, within which
this party can become hegemonic. This experience can only be
acquired during non-revolutionary periods.
The practice of
the workers’ movement that is advocated by revolutionary
Marxists does of course combine strikes for immediate gains, the
strengthening to this end of trade unions and other mass
organisations, participation in elections, the utilisation of
elected assemblies, the fight for social legislation.
priority is accorded to mass extra-parliamentary action, to the
mass strike, to the mass political strike, to the development of
forms of self-organisation and direct rank-and-file democracy:
elected strike committees; democratic mass meetings of strikers;
neighbourhood and "housewives’" committees;
initiatives of workers’ and popular control, etc. It was Rosa
Luxemburg who most systematically defended this strategy before
radically refused these priorities. The leaders of the German
trade unions before 1914 proclaimed: "Generalstreik ist
Generalunsinn" - the general strike is generalised nonsense
(stupidity). On this point too, historical experience has shown
that Rosa Luxemburg was right and the reformists were wrong.
There have been very many mass strikes, indeed general strikes,
from 1905 onwards, in many countries.
But history has
not shown that Rosa Luxemburg and the revolutionary Marxists
were entirely right about the real practice of the broad working
masses. There are a series of countries, and not the least
important ones, where mass strikes have never led to a general
strike on a national scale. We only have to think of the United
States and of Germany after 1923.
have experienced general strikes on a national scale have more
often than not subsequently gone through long periods where
extra-parliamentary mass actions were much more limited: for
example in France since May 1968. There have only been a few
countries where mass strikes, indeed general strikes, have taken
place more systematically: above all in Argentina, Belgium,
Australia, to some extent Italy and Spain, and more recently
During more or
less prolonged intervals, reformist practice has dominated the
activity and determined the conscience of the masses, as it did
in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s. During these periods, the
revolutionary strategy and project undoubtedly lost their
We also have to
recognize that even when the working class and the trade union
movement systematically engage in a mass strike, or even a
general strike, that does not automatically lead to a rise in
the political consciousness of workers. The case of Australia is
a good illustration of that. The case of Argentina confirms that
this practice can even coincide with the total absence of
elementary class political independence of the broad masses.
conclusion that emerges from historical experience is that the
development and the credibility of the social-democratic project
are very closely linked to the relative stability of bourgeois
society. This stability is in the long term unrealisable during
our century of the historic decline of capitalism. It is utopian
to base oneself on it. But that is not the case during specific
periods of shorter duration.
but not sufficient condition of these phases of relative
stabilisation is economic growth that makes possible a parallel
increase in real wages and in surplus value .
But even in periods of economic growth the working class can
unleash impetuous mass actions that shake the stability of
bourgeois society. That was especially the case of June 1936 in
France, of the revolutionary explosion of July-August 1936 in
Spain, of the Belgian general strike of December1960-January
1961, of May 1968 in France, of the Portuguese Revolution, of
the beginning of the rise of mass struggles in Brazil and in
South Africa. The motives can be extremely varied: defence or
conquest of democratic liberties; riposte to fascist threats;
fear of future worsening of the situation as regards employment
and wages; international class solidarity .
But the general
formula remains: the credibility and the influence of the
reformist social-democratic project are in direct proportion to
the degree of relative stability of bourgeois society. The
former cannot increase when the latter declines.
reformism and the bourgeois state
gradualism and the refusal to fight for the establishment of a
workers’ state in no way imply that the reformists do not
really attach importance to the question of power. On the
contrary, they are obsessed by it.
It is true that
before 1914, there was only one country where social democracy
had governed: Australia. But social democracy had begun to
conquer the administration of municipalities. And from 1914
onwards governments in which social democracy strongly
participated, and even entirely social-democratic governments,
were seen in a series of countries.
reformists rejected the taking of power by the working class,
they had practically no choice: they were condemned to
administer the bourgeois state. In this domain the rule that
there is no third option in universally valid. No partly
bourgeois and partly working-class state in conceivable. 
There never will be one.
mortale was best illustrated by Emile Vandervelde, boss of
Belgian social democracy and president of the Second
International. Before 1914, he had written an interesting book
entitled: Socialism Against the State. In 1914, he became a
minister. He proclaimed that it was necessary to defend at all
costs every scrap of power that was obtained. The majority of
social-democratic parties followed the same reasoning.
codified this in middle of the 1920s, commenting on the new
social-democratic programme adopted after the reunification of
the SPD and the USPD: "Between the government of the
bourgeoisie and the government of the proletariat there
stretches a period of transition, generally characterised by the
coalition of the one with the other" [Karl Kautsky, Die
proletarische Revolution und ihr programme, J.H.W. Dietz
Nachfolger - Buchandlung Vorwärts, Stuttgart - Berlin 1922, p.
The formula has
to be interpreted from the point of view of its substance and
not in a formal way. A government of coalition with the
bourgeoisie is a government of institutionalised class
collaboration. It is a government that accepts a permanent
consensus with Capital: not to touch the essential structures of
collaboration and this consensus are independent of the presence
of bourgeois ministers in the government. As a matter of fact,
the government which undoubtedly played the most nefarious role
in the history of social democracy, the German Council of
People’s Commissars (Rat der Volksbeauetragte) of 1918-1919,
after the departure of the USPD commissars, was an entirely
social-democratic government without a single bourgeois
minister. It suppressed the proletarian revolution, isolated
Soviet Russia, concluded a pact with the Reichswehr, covered
with its authority the murder of thousands of workers. It
institutionalised long-term class collaboration between the
employers and the trade union bureaucracy. All that in order to
conquer and keep "scraps of power" in the framework of
the bourgeois state.
In a moment of
lucidity, the leader of the British social-democratic Left,
Aneurin Bevan, nevertheless stated: "The goal cannot be to
exercise power (at any price, E.M.). The goal must be to
exercise power in order to carry out our programme". Even
more precisely, the American socialist leader Eugene V; Debs
proclaimed: "It’s better to vote for what you want,
knowing that you have little chance of getting it (rapidly,
E.M.) than to vote for what you don’t want, knowing that you
are sure to get it". Most social-democratic leaders have
not exactly respected these wise pieces of advice.
Léon Blum had
the undeniable gift of elegantly formulating half-truths, in
other words sophisms. He invented the famous distinction between
the exercise of power and the conquest of power (furthermore, he
did not hesitate to identify the latter with the dictatorship of
the proletariat). But he conjured away the fact that the
exercise of power would necessarily take place in the framework
of the bourgeois state. He did not at all point out that this
same exercise of power would consequently imply a permanent
consensus with the bourgeoisie, with all that flows from that.
The leader of
the Italian social-democratic Right, Filippo Turati, once
sighed, disillusioned: "How beautiful socialism would be
without the socialists!" The formula is worth what it is
worth; let’s accept it as such. He had hardly finished
pronouncing it than he made an offer to King Victor Emmanuel III
to participate in a government, or even to head it, ’in order
to block the road to fascism".
But one could
not participate in such a government without sharing the command
of the bourgeois army, without participating in the defence of
public order by repressive methods (no doubt less violent than
the fascists’ methods, but repressive all the same), without
participating in the administration of the Italian colonies,
where terror reigned.
willingness to "exercise power" has been manifested by
social democracy, with few exceptions, in the framework of
imperialist bourgeois states. These states all had exploitative
relations with the countries of the Third World. In addition,
some of them were at the head of colonial empires that subjected
the peoples of the Third World to cruel regimes of economic
super-exploitation and political oppression.
impossible to maintain the consensus with the imperialist
bourgeoisie, to govern or co-govern on that basis, without
simultaneously sharing the responsibility of administering these
colonial empires, with all that flowed from it.
MacDonald, leader of the Independent Labour Party in Britain,
subsequently leader of the Labour Party, dotted the ’i’s’
and crossed the ’t’s before 1914. In a book that created a
sensation and whose German edition carried a favourable
introduction by Bernstein ,
he defended theses that were revolting from a socialist point of
view. According to him, it was certainly necessary to
"democratise" the British Empire, but it was also
necessary to maintain it.
"democratisation" did not include according democratic
rights of self-government to the "inferior races".
These races were supposedly incapable of governing themselves.
MacDonald even defended the pre-apartheid regime in South
Africa. He went so far as to justify racial segregation in the
South of the United States and the absence of political rights
for Black people.
practice was in conformity with ideology. When MacDonald twice
became Prime Minister of Britain in the 1920s, he maintained and
defended the Empire, while implementing some minor reforms. When
the colonised peoples began to rebel in order to conquer
national independence, Labour governments continued the bloody
repression begun under bourgeois governments, sometimes
unleashing it themselves.
After 1945, the
Attlee government prudently disengaged from India and Palestine,
while causing the ravages of partition. But at the same time, it
sought to crush by military means the revolution in Indochina
and the anti-colonialist revolts in Malaysia and Kenya.
Front government in France similarly maintained the French
Empire and the repression that that implied. From 1944 onwards,
French governments in which social democracy participated or
which it headed unleashed large-scale colonial wars in
Indochina, North Africa and Madagascar. The social-democratic
leaders in the Netherlands acted in the same way in Indonesia.
tried to sum up social-democratic politics and strategy, in
opposition to those of the communist parties, both before the
advent of Stalinism and after its rise to dominance, in the
title of a book published in 1945: On a Human Scale [Léon Blum,
A l’échelle humaine, Gallimard, Paris, 1945]. On a human
scale, the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the
colonial wars and the continuing dire poverty in the "Third
To be sure, all
these horrors did not take place without meeting any opposition
within international social democracy. There was reticence,
there were protests and revolts. The French PS suffered a split
in reaction to the bloody repression and the tortures in
Algeria, co-organised by the "socialist" Lacoste and
backed up by the "socialist" leader Guy Mollet. The
Labour Left in Britain opposed Attlee’s colonial wars, the
Left of the Italian PS energetically opposed colonial wars.
Swedish social democracy gave discreet support to the revolts of
the oppressed. But these were very much minority reactions. The
historic responsibility of social democracy as a whole is on
this point too, a terrible one (...)
"municipal socialism" to the "socialism" of
socialist Daniel De Leon, much admired by Lenin, called the
reformist bureaucrats the "labour lieutenants of
Capital". The formula is correct if we respect each of its
bureaucrats are not part of the bourgeois class. They come from
the working class and the organisations of the workers’
movement. They defend their own interests when they
institutionalise class collaboration. These interests coincide
historically with the defence of the bourgeois order. They do
not necessarily coincide at every moment with the defence of the
immediate interests of the majority, or even the whole of the
bureaucrats want to increase their "share of the
cake". This increase implies some sacrifices on the part of
the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois class certainly appreciates the
fact that the reformist leaders contribute to the relative
stability of the bourgeois order. But to what extent is the
price that has to be paid justified in its eyes? The bourgeoisie
is often hesitant and divided on this subject. That is why, in
the inter-war period, social-democratic participation in
government was only intermittent, except in Sweden and Denmark.
On the other
hand, municipalities administered by social democracy became
more and more widespread. "Red Vienna" was the model
for them. It is undeniable that they brought an improvement in
the condition of the working class.
A new stage in
the administration of the bourgeois state by social democracy
began at the end of the Second World War. It saw the
nationalisation of important sections of industry in Britain,
France, Italy and Austria, and of the financial sector in the
same countries (except in Britain). In Belgium, a bank of public
origin, the Caisse d’Epargne, became the country’s principal
holder of bank deposits. Social democracy was jointly
responsible for this evolution, and was even the main initiator
of it in Britain and Austria.
There were also
much longer periods of ministerial participation, and even of
entirely social-democratic governments, than before 1940. At the
same time as the extension of nationalisations, there was the
generalisation of social security laws in almost all the
countries where social democracy participated in government.
This legislation in its turn contributed to improving the
condition of the working class, to a much larger extent than
Why was the
bourgeoisie ready this time to pay the price? Some of the
transformations corresponded to its own material interests. This
was in particular the case of the nationalisation of the sectors
of raw materials and energy, which were at the end of the day a
form of subsidies to manufacturing and export industries. Other
nationalisations corresponded to the principle of the
"nationalisation of losses".
fundamentally, it was a question of reforms that tended to
absorb the risks of social explosions that existed in these
countries at the end of the Second World War. The war had
exacerbated social contradictions and radicalised the popular
masses. The bourgeoisie and its power structures emerged
discredited by the whole of their conduct during the war.
were the minimum price to pay to avoid revolution. Social
democracy saved capitalism as it had done at the end of the
First World War. This time the Stalinist parties were jointly
responsible, and in France, Italy and Greece they bore the main
responsibility. But now the bourgeoisie was forced to pay a much
higher price for services rendered than in 1918-1919. The period
of economic expansion after 1949 facilitated the operation.
To all these
reasons which explain the advance of reforms from 1944 onwards,
must be added the influence of the Cold War. The bourgeoisie was
obliged to create a socio-political situation in capitalist
Europe that would reduce any attraction exercised by the
Stalinist Soviet "model" and its export to Eastern
exception of some countries in Southern Europe, it had the
material and political means to do so, with the help of the
reformist leaders. These leaders had an apparently valid excuse
for hitching their wagon to the locomotive of the imperialist
bourgeoisie engaged in the Cold War. The Soviet bureaucracy had
suppressed democratic freedoms in Eastern Europe. Was it not
threatening to do the same in Western Europe?
democracy obtained its scraps of power and its privileges on the
basis of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. So it is really
attached to this democracy and to the democratic freedoms that
go with it, even though it is ready to stretch them a bit, if
maintaining the consensus with the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois
order requires it. On their side, the working masses are deeply
attached to democratic freedoms, and this attachment became even
stronger after the Second World War, following the terrible
experience of fascism.
But there was a
way open for the social-democratic leaders to refuse to take on
joint responsibility for the Cold War in Europe, while avoiding
the Stalinist model: to opt for a workers’ state based on the
widest pluralist socialist democracy, maintaining and extending
democratic political freedoms. They deliberately rejected this
choice. They accordingly bear the responsibility, except in the
neutral countries, of having supported the imperialist Cold War.
responsibility was not a minor misdemeanour. It meant in
particular the establishment of anti-worker and anti-strike
repressive bodies, such as the CRS in France. It meant attempts
to break strikes when the reformists were in power. It meant the
responsibility of splitting trade unions, above all in France
and Italy, under the direction of the sinister Irving Brown,
financed by the CIA, splits for which the Stalinist communist
parties and the Kremlin also bear their share of responsibility.
participation in the Korean War, which cost several thousand
dead and which took humanity to the brink of nuclear war. It
meant the responsibility of the Labour Right in the fabrication
of nuclear weapons in Britain.
But having said
all that, it is nonetheless true that the period 1945-1970 led
in the majority of the countries of capitalist Europe to the
biggest rise in history of the standard of living of the working
class. The conviction that it was useful and possible to fight
for reforms, including radical reforms, spread among large
sections of the working class and throughout practically the
entire organised workers’ movement.
parties largely adapted to this situation. But in spite of the
impact of Khrushchev’s speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU
and the crushing by military means of the Hungarian Revolution,
this neo-social-democratic evolution did not prevent these
parties from maintaining on the whole their own identity and
remaining hegemonic in the workers’ movement in Italy, France,
Spain, Portugal and Greece.
These two and a
half decades therefore represent the apogee of the conquest of
reforms and of the struggle for even more radical reforms. We
only have to think of the programme of anti-capitalist
structural reforms of the Renardist Left 
and of the Socialist Left in Belgium. But that did not lead to
an acceptance by the masses of Welfare State capitalism as the
only model that was possible and desirable. Even less did it
lead to the permanent disappearance of large-scale explosive
mass actions, or even to growing passivity of the working class.
reasoned in this way, in spite of the warning shots of the
Belgian General Strike of December 1960-Januray 1961, made a big
mistake, on the level both of analysis and of prognostic. They
were spectacularly disavowed by May 1968 in France and by the
hot autumn of 1969 in Italy.
The reality is
that the working class did not feel that the improvement in its
living and working conditions was the result of the goodwill or
the wisdom of the bosses. It considered it rather as the result
of its own increased weight, in particular in the workplaces:
you only have to think of the increased power of trade union
organisation at plant level, which included elementary forms of
workers’ control. It often saw it as the result of its own
struggles. It instinctively understood that the long post-war
boom, by creating a situation of virtually full employment, had
created a relationship of forces between Capital and Labour that
was more favourable than during the two previous decades.
And above all:
economic growth itself, the real development of the forces of
production, whatever might have been its negative effects, in
particular from the ecological point of view, produced new needs
for the mass of the working class, needs that the system was
incapable of satisfying. Material needs, certainly, but also new
needs for a quality of work and of life superior to those of
Welfare State capitalism.
feminist demands, demands for self-management and direct
democracy, for solidarity with the struggles of the peoples of
the Third World, emerged massively between 1968 and 1975. These
were well and truly demands for a model of society that would be
superior to Welfare State capitalism. The organised workers’
movement, in its two main branches, the social-democratic branch
and the branch of the post-Stalinist communist parties, proved
to be incapable of giving expression to this historic aspiration
during the seven years in question. That is what made possible
the growth, although it was still modest, of political forces on
dynamic of "management socialism"
socialism" and the "socialism of
nationalisations" profoundly modified the social
composition of the reformist bureaucracies. In the beginning
they were recruited essentially from the mass organisations of
the workers’ movement, with which they broadly identified,
although it was according to the logic: we are the organisation.
conquest of red municipalities led to the recruitment of
professional administrators of public or mixed companies:
electricity, gas, water; public transport companies; companies
for building and managing housing, etc. In some countries, there
were also administrators of hospitals and municipally-run
educational institutions, as well as of public assistance
bodies, or even administrators of unemployment funds, over which
the trade union bureaucracy sought to establish its control.
To this vast
para-state bureaucracy was subsequently added a part of the
bureaucracy of the nationalised enterprises. The totality of
this bureaucracy became a growing part of the social-democratic
machine. It gradually became a majority in relation to the
bureaucrats who came from the organisations of the workers’
movement. This transformation led to important consequences
concerning the priority objectives pursued by social democracy.
of the public sector had the mentality of functionaries. They
tended to identify with the function and not with the
organisation (which however enabled them to exercise it). What
they sought above all was job security and advancement. Their
material privileges depended on it. The justification that was
invoked for this new motivation of social-democratic
apparatchiks was professional competence. It had to be
demonstrated that social democracy was capable of running things
better than the bourgeois parties. It was an argument that
weighed heavily with the social-democratic leaders who presided
over municipalities or ministries that were responsible for
nationalised enterprises. It progressively asserted itself. It
gave birth to "management socialism".
in priorities led progressively to transformations in several
domains. The maintenance of positions of political power which
made it possible to prolong the exercise of administrative
functions became more and more an end in itself. It detached
itself from the goal of strengthening the organisation from
which, however, it flowed.
management" was increasingly judged according to
"technical" criteria, independently of its effects on
the living conditions of the working class. But since the
maintenance of "red municipalities" and of ministerial
posts depends on the results of elections, winning elections at
practically any price became in its turn an end in itself. In
order to characterise this new type of behaviour, we could
paraphrase Bernstein’s formula: the elections are everything,
the movement is no longer anything. These transformations only
asserted themselves gradually. Social democracy’s electoral
clientele still remained essentially the working class. It was
difficult to win votes from it without promising or offering
something in exchange.
It is true that
electoralism, and above all prolonged participation in
government, also creates a phenomenon of clientelism, of
electors who are assisted, who depend on subsidies and
allowances from the state and are therefore predisposed to vote
for those who distribute them. Nevertheless, the objectives of
reforms did not quickly disappear from social-democratic
within the social-democratic apparatus the functionaries of the
public sector became the majority, within the socialist parties
the traditional members still dominated for a long time. The
defence of the organisation as such continued to predominate in
the leaderships of the parties. Management objectives must not
come into conflict with that objective.
Kinnock, John Smith
nevertheless, gradually, this conflict took shape. This was
especially the case following the prolonged presence of social
democrats in power, which followed the end of the rise of
revolutionary contestation from 1968-75. From then on,
guaranteeing the permanency of power even at the price of a
weakening of the party became an acceptable option, at least in
a series of countries. This turn was expressed in a new
conception of the party, made most explicit by Felipe Gonzalez
in Spain, but also by Neil Kinnock and John Smith in Britain.
party was supposed to represent its electors and not its
members. If its preoccupations and decisions came into conflict
with what the leaders considered - often wrongly - to be the
priority preoccupations of the electorate, these preoccupations
had to be imposed, if necessary against those of the members, or
even against what were obviously their interests.
were not taken in, especially when their immediate interests
were at stake. They massively left the parties concerned. These
parties became shadows of their former selves.
with winning elections at any price did not in the first
instance lead to substituting more right-wing policies for more
traditional reformist policies. It resulted rather in a
transformation of political life, which was, besides, wished for
and pursued by the bourgeoisie. The political struggle was
"de-ideologised", in other words depoliticised. The
confrontation of programmes, ideas, projects of society, was
replaced by the confrontation between leaders. Advertising
agencies "launched" candidates as one launches a brand
of detergent, and increasingly came to dominate the election
campaigns. This has been described as the emergence of a
"democracy of the opinion polls". These polls were
supposed to determine the preferences of the electorate. So the
personalities who were more or less charismatic, most apt to
represent these preferences, emerged, so to speak,
The reality was
quite different. The electorate remained divided according to
its opposing interests, in other words along class lines. If
only because of their ultra-simplified and arbitrary character,
the polls hardly expressed the real preoccupations of the
different classes. The high number of abstentions indicated that
the electorate did not really identify with this new way of
conceiving politics. And above all: the candidates chosen were
not the most charismatic or the most photogenic, not to mention
the most competent. Their selection was the outcome of quarrels
among different clans and of conflicts of interest, complex and
not very transparent, within the parties.
We are of
course dealing with a tendency and not a generalised reality.
The social-democratic parties did not all embark on this road.
Powerful counter-tendencies manifested themselves in many
countries. But it nevertheless has to be recognised that a
tendency in this direction affected social democracy as a whole,
although to differing degrees.
democracy manages the long depression in a climate of easy money
was in a certain sense the inheritor of the 1968-75 wave of
revolutionary contestation. When this wave did not end in
victory, a substantial sector of the masses replaced their hopes
of radical changes with hopes of reforms. Social-democracy came
forward to promise these. In Spain, it was able furthermore to
offer the perspective of a peaceful liquidation of the
dictatorship. The majority of former "leftists"
approved, and adopted this choice. They joined the
parties were then able to deploy all their ambitions to appear
as the best managers of the economy (which was of course
capitalist) and the state (which was of course bourgeois),
insofar as they remained in government for lengthy periods.
unfortunately for them, the period after 1975 remained one of a
"long depressive wave" of the international capitalist
Imprisoned by their desire to run the economy in a purely
"technical" way, the socialist leaders approached the
depression without any overall economic project that was
fundamentally different from the project of big capital.
Indeed for a
long time, they obstinately denied the reality of the
depression, or minimised its extent. This led them to endorse
the austerity policies advocated by the bourgeoisie. In the
countries where they were in power, they took the initiative
themselves in implementing these policies. The consequences for
the working masses were serious. In Spain they were disastrous.
Under the government of Felipe Gonzalez, the country had the
highest rate of unemployment in the whole of Europe.
participation in government after 1975 took place for the
socialist parties in an economic climate that was marked, apart
from the long depression, by the persistence of hyper-liquidity.
The capitalist economy continued to be characterised by a rising
rate of indebtedness. The total mass of floating capital took on
colossal proportions. 
socio-economic changes flowed from this. A get-rich-quick
mentality spread among important sections of the big and
middling bourgeoisie. The appearance of the layer of
"yuppies" partly expresses it. Credit for the asking,
cock-and-bull projects financed with other people’s money,
corrupt practices and generalised bribery were the result of
this climate. In the socialist parties, the idea prevailed:
since everyone is doing it, why don’t we do it too?
politicians enter social democracy
modification of its social composition favoured this moral
degradation within social democracy. Attracted by the lengthy
participation in government by the socialist parties, a series
of capitalists, especially middling ones, began to enter the
SPs. Their way of operating was substantially different from
that of the technocrats. They sometimes embarked on large-scale
speculative operations, hoping to be covered by the government.
The personages of Théret in France, friend of Mitterrand, or of
Maxwell in Britain, friend of Harold Wilson, are in this respect
beginning, the individual corruption of socialist leaders did
not come from these practices. They acted essentially with a
view to financing the electoral campaigns and the apparatus of
the party. The dramatic drop in membership increased the
pressure in this direction. But in a society where more than
ever money is king, the temptation to help yourself is very
great. Some leaders escaped it, many succumbed. The most typical
case is that of the leader of the Italian PS and former Prime
Minister, Bettino Craxi .
social-democratic cadres of the functionary type gave birth to
cold and authoritarian technocratic leaders, of whom Jacques
Delors and Craxi are the typical representatives. The new cadres
of "yuppie" origin are characterised by a
pleasure-seeking life-style and by the squandering of public
money. Jacques Attali and his management of the Bank responsible
for providing credit to the countries of Eastern Europe is the
perfect symbol of them.
Both types are
indifferent to the effects of their behaviour on the masses and
on the electorate. Experience has shown that they made a big
mistake about that. It shows a contempt for the masses that is
not so different from the contempt that characterised the
Stalinist bureaucracy 
The masses instinctively feel it, just as they feel deep
resentment at the growing corruption that has developed within
the socialist parties.
The result is
dramatic: a growing contempt for the leaders of these parties in
many countries; a growing contempt for "politicians"
in general. In the short term, these phenomena reinforce the
tendencies towards depoliticisation. They risk creating a
favourable climate for the far Right.
of the masses, faced with the corruption that has developed in
many socialist parties, are fully justified. But it must always
be remembered that the bourgeois parties, not to mention fascist
and military dictatorships, are even more corrupt. It must
especially be kept in mind that big capital is a source of
corruption and that the corruptors are more guilty than the
reactions of the masses are above all determined by the effects
of social-democratic policies on their conditions of existence.
Their main preoccupation is unemployment, as well as the fear of
unemployment. The main priority in these conditions is to wage
an effective struggle for a reduction of working hours without a
reduction of the weekly wage: the 35-hour or even 32-hour week.
The refusal of the social democrats to take this road is
doubtless the fundamental cause of their political bankruptcy,
the fundamental cause of their decline in Europe 
of working-class counter-culture
The effects of
the depoliticisation that is encouraged by social democracy have
been greatly reinforced by the collapse of working-class
counter-culture over the last few decades. The abrupt
disappearance, a century almost to the day after its foundation,
of the daily paper of the Austrian PS, Arbeiterzeitung, which
was for a long time one of the best socialist dailies in Europe,
is the symbolic expression of this.
One of the
principal achievements of the mass workers’ movement, first of
all traditional social democracy and then the mass communist
parties, was to organise a network of institutions that
immunised an important section of the working class against the
influence of bourgeois ideology, which is inevitably predominant
in bourgeois society.
The press and
socialist (later on, socialist and communist) books and
pamphlets played the main role in this respect. But to the role
played by the press has to be added the role of cultural
institutions such as theatre groups, choirs, adult and youth
brass bands, sports groups, etc. They developed among the
working masses needs that bourgeois society had stifled. In her
book Introduction to Political Economy (Einführung in die
Nationalökonomie), Rosa Luxemburg had rightly insisted on this
real civilising role of the organised workers’ movement.
The dykes that
were thus built against the ocean of bourgeois ideology were
undoubtedly fragile. The ideas that were spread by the socialist
press and publications consisted most often of elementary
vulgarisation. The understanding of Marxism was limited.
ideology contained quite a lot of petty-bourgeois influence and
prejudices (one only has to think of the prejudices concerning
women and of the ideas about sexual questions...). Later on, the
Stalinist and post-Stalinist press, publications and
institutions did the same. Nevertheless, the overall effect was
to considerably limit the direct ideological influence of the
bourgeoisie within the working class. The development of class
consciousness, of class political independence, of working-class
solidarity, was powerfully stimulated.
In the same
way, the progressive disintegration of these networks of
working-class counter-culture greatly contributed to weakening
the politicisation of the working class and to reducing the
surface of collective class reactions. Its interaction with the
new consequences of social-democratic practices is obvious. This
regression has an objective basis: the re-privatisation of the
leisure pursuits of the masses played a preponderant role. As a
result the networks of collective existence loosened. Less
collective existence led to less collective consciousness. Less
collective consciousness led to less resistance to bourgeois
should not be generalised in an abusive way. Important centres
of collective life remain, especially in workplaces and in the
unions. The pressure of people’s immediate interests is at the
end of the day stronger than ideological mystifications. The
breadth of mass reactions is witness to it.
Besides, it is
possible to reconstitute the networks of counter-culture.
Locally-based Christian groups have succeeded remarkably in
doing so in a series of countries: in Europe this is especially
centred on solidarity with the Third World, in the countries of
the Third World themselves, especially around the immediate
needs of the poor. The questions of ecology, feminism,
anti-racism, anti-fascism and the fight against social
marginalisation provide a favourable terrain for such
reconstitution in a series of countries in Europe.
But it remains
true that the social-democratic parties are no longer the
organising centres of this possible and necessary renaissance of
working-class and popular counter-culture. It is taking place
essentially outside them.
A prisoner of
its technocratic turn, corroded by its successive doctrinal
revisions and renunciations, dumbfounded by its electoral
defeats, severely hit by its loss of a popular audience, a prey
to deep internal divisions, social democracy is experiencing a
profound crisis of identity. Its ideological disarray is painful
expressed in the first place by an inability to recognize the
main aspects of reality such as it is and the challenges that it
poses to social democracy, and indeed to all the tendencies of
the Left. Faced with each of these problems, social democracy
adopts positions that are deeply influenced by those of the
bourgeoisie, suffering in addition from the incoherence of these
positions, and losing a large part of their credibility as a
result of the flagrant contradiction between words and actions .
What is the
nature of the economic, or socio-economic, system in which we
live? Many social-democratic leaders and ideologues deny that it
is capitalist, capitalism being according to them a thing of the
Is this simply
a semantic quarrel? Absolutely not. In considering that the
Golden Calf is still on its feet, we affirm at the same time
that the laws of development of the capitalist mode of
production still determine the main tendencies of economic
evolution. That implies in particular that periodic crises of
over-production are inevitable. Have we been mistaken about
this, or has social democracy been at odds with reality?
at the very moment when social democracy no longer knows how to
define the society of which it is part, the capitalists, and not
the least important of them, call a spade a spade and
capitalism, capitalism .
The policy of
austerity, jointly advocated by the bourgeois parties and the
socialist parties, does not correspond to an unavoidable
technical imperative. The priority given to the fight against
inflation at the cost of social regression is not the only
possible way to stop inflation. It is the only one that
corresponds to the interests of Capital: attain a new rise in
the rate of profit, encourage the accumulation of capital.
“opening up to the world”, in other words the rejection of
autarchy, does not in fact imply respecting the norms imposed by
the IMF and the World Bank. There are other possible forms of
international cooperation than those that favour the big banks
and the multinationals. These alternative solutions correspond
to the interests of the working masses. There is nothing
scientific about affirming that they are “unworkable”. At
best that is dogmatic prejudice, at worst a capitulation to the
interests of the bourgeoisie.
involved here is sharply illustrated when we examine more
closely the real functioning of the international economy. Far
from being run according to the ‘laws of the market”, it is
run according to the laws of “monopolistic competition”,
where all sorts of revenues are ensured by systematically
erecting obstacles to the hallowed “free competition”.
The claim, many
times repeated by socialist ministers, that “there is no
money” to effectively combat unemployment, given the extent of
the budget deficit, has no scientific foundation. It is exactly
the opposite that is true. Given the scale of public spending,
it is possible to radically redistribute this spending in order
to favour the re-establishment of full employment, without
increasing the budget deficit, in fact even better, while
It is true that
that would imply a Draconian reduction of the internal debt, for
example by bringing down to one per cent the interest on the
bonds of this debt, except for small investors. A Draconian
reduction of the military budget and of the money spent on the
repressive apparatus would serve the same objective. It is not
the money that is lacking. What is lacking is the will to
reorganise public spending in the interest of the working
masses, as against the interests of Capital.
self-evidently spending on health and education that is in the
long term the most productive, even from a strictly economic
point of view, not to mention a social point of view. But the
governments in which socialists participate are in the process
of reducing this spending. The government of the Netherlands has
just made a radical turn in this direction 
The priority is not to reduce the budget deficit or the
‘explosion” of spending on health. The priority is to reduce
the budget deficit without putting into question the consensus
with the bourgeoisie.
social-democratic leaders sometimes retort that there is not a
majority of electors that is ready for such alternative
policies. Let us accept that for the sake of argument, although
the assumption is no way demonstrated: unemployment and the fear
of unemployment occupy a preponderant place in the
electorate’s preoccupations. But even if the social-democratic
leaders were right, the answer flows quite logically. Given the
decisive importance under present conditions of re-establishing
full employment, is it not preferable to fight in opposition for
the realisation of this objective, combining extra-parliamentary
actions with pre-electoral agitation, with the hope of winning a
majority in the foreseeable future? For socialists to be
compromised by government policies that maintain and increase
unemployment - is that not to play the card of the greatest
evil, not the card of the lesser evil?
structural unemployment is a cancer that is not only eating away
at the well-being of the workers. It also leads to a growing
threat of a new rise of fascism. Fascism feeds on the extension
of the “dual society”, on the development of social layers
that are marginalized and de-classed. In the imperialist
countries alone we can estimate the real number of unemployed
today at 50 million .This
figure is likely to make a new leap forward during the next
social-democratic leaders are sincerely opposed to neo-fascism,
which could lead to their political and even physical
disappearance. Already during the 1930s Albert Einstein, a quite
moderate socialist, but a socialist all the same, affirmed: you
cannot effectively combat fascism without eliminating
unemployment. He was not mistaken.
between their anti-fascist proclamations and their obsession
with not breaking at any price the consensus with the
bourgeoisie, the reformist leaders opt at the end of the day in
favour of the latter imperative. Is this realistic? Is it not
veritable workers’ revolt took place at Crotone, in Southern
Italy, against the closure of the last important factory in the
region. While manoeuvring to defuse the revolt, the government,
including the socialist ministers, condemned the “workers’
violence”. But then the Archbishop of Crotone spoke out in
solidarity with the workers and their families. Of course he did
it for motives that we do not share, but nevertheless the
archbishop proclaimed that it was inadmissible that the welfare
of the workers and the survival of an entire region should be
subordinated to the imperatives of profit and profitability .
What a pathetic spectacle: here we have an archbishop who
expresses elementary socialist principles against socialist
for the 35-hour week and the 32-hour week, the struggle against
the practice of the multinationals who exercise blackmail by
threatening to re-locate jobs abroad, can only be effectively
conducted on an international scale. The social democratic
leaders present themselves as enthusiastic partisans pf European
unification. But when it is a question of countering the
multinationals and their threats to re-locate centres of
production, it is “sacred national egoism” that prevails.
Every government in which socialists participate, encourages the
multinationals to behave in this way by showering them with
concessions. The result is a foregone conclusion. Just as in the
past, unemployment increases everywhere. Is this realpolitik? Is
it not rather a fools’ policy?
The growth of
unemployment, of the “dual society”, of the fear of the most
defavourised layers of the working class of dropping even lower
down the social ladder, favours the rise of racist and
xenophobic reactions. The far Right systematically exploits
these reactions. The “respectful” Right just as
systematically makes concession to them. But now the social
democrats are going down the same road, for basely electoralist
motives. They also want to limit immigration, deport immigrants,
subject to a special regime people who are not “of native
stock”. Even though they are more moderate on this than the
Right, what does that still have in common with traditional
In the Third
World, barbarism is spreading before our eyes. There are 1.2
billion poor. Hunger has taken on such dimensions that in
Angola, for example, phenomena of cannibalism are spreading .
In Brazil, a new “race” of pygmies has been born in the
Northeast, through the accumulated effects of several
generations who have suffered malnutrition. .
According to UNICEF, another UN body, every year 60 million
children in the Third world die as a result of hunger and easily
incoherence of social democratic left
democratic ministers (and prime ministers and former prime
ministers, like the late Willy Brandt) denounce these horrors,
more or less pertinently. But in the exercise of their
functions, the follow the rule: laissez faire, let it pass. Even
the minimum objective of devoting one per cent of national
resources to the so-called “aid for the Third World” (in
reality, nine times out of ten, aid to national export
industries) has been attained practically nowhere. No question
of cancelling the debt (including the interest on the debt) of
the Third World towards the West. No question of reversing the
evolution of the terms of exchange, which are a source of the
permanent pillage of the third world. Once again: what does that
have in common with elementary socialist values?
In order to
rediscover a minimally coherent ideological identity, socialist
leaders have reacted. We can give the examples of the Frenchman
Michel Rocard, the leader of the Flemish FGTB unions Robert Voor
Hamme, the Spanish ex-leftist Sole Tura, and especially Tony
Benn, who is undoubtedly the most sincere among them. 
incoherence persists. They advocate a return to solidarity, but
not unlimited solidarity. To want a supplement of solidarity,
while maintaining a commitment to the market economy, therefore
to profit, is like trying to square the circle .
The imperatives of austerity policies are not questioned, except
by Tony Benn.
To complete the
tableau, we have to add the demonstration of ideological
aberration given by the Right (28). Professor Sachs and other
Chicago Boys consider that the application of the policy of the
IMF in Peru and Chile (as well as in Poland!) is a success:
inflation has been stopped. But at what a cost of unemployment
and massive poverty .
The Pope has
unleashed veritable crusade against birth control and the use of
condoms. Given the spread of AIDS, this is totally
irresponsible. Alexander Solzhenitsyn is unleashing a full-scale
attack on the ideas of the Enlightenment. According to him,
these ideas are responsible for separating ethical principles
from political and social practice .
This is a
historical falsification equivalent to that produced by
Stalinism. So then, the tens of millions of dead that were
caused by the Crusades, by the slave trade, by the extermination
of the Indians, by the massacres of midwives (called
“witches”), by the Inquisition, by the use of slave labour
in plantations, by the wars of religion, (a quarter of the
population of Germany wiped out), by dynastic wars - all
phenomena that occurred before the century of the Enlightenment
- were all the result of political and social practices
dominated by ethical principles?
A series of
Nobel Prize winners have gone back to mysticism and made science
responsible for all the evils of our epoch 
Do we have to
remind them that before the development of modern science, a
quarter of the population died of plague in the 14th century? In
an epoch when pandemics are spreading, which like cholera and
tuberculosis are directly linked to the development of poverty
across the world, it really is a case of a new ‘betrayal of
But the fact
that there are ideological aberrations much worse than the
ideological disarray of social democracy hardly compensates for
this disarray. It does not enable social democracy to surmount
its crisis of credibility.
After the 4th
of August 1914, Rosa Luxemburg described the right-wing majority
of social democracy as a “stinking corpse”. She was not
mistaken about the smell. It is even less pleasant in our epoch
than it was in hers. But she was wrong about the survival of
social democracy. It is still very much alive 80 years after
this mistaken diagnosis, although it has been seriously weakened
in a series of countries.
can be fundamentally explained by three reasons.
First of all
the isolation of Soviet Russia - a backward country - due to the
partial failure 
of the international revolution in 1919-23, which was, besides,
largely caused by the social-democratic Right itself. To this we
have to add the growing inability of the Communist International
and the communist parties to really undermine the hegemony of
social democracy within the workers’ movement in a large
number of countries from the middle of the 1920s, with important
exceptions like France, Italy and Spain.
social democracy has in the main held on to its bases in the
organised workers’ movement, even if they have been seriously
weakened. The case of New Zealand, where the entire trade union
movement has broken its links with the ultra-right-wing Labour
Party, is for the moment the exception and not the rule. The
suicidal attempt by John Smith to break the organic links of the
British Labour Party with the unions has absolutely no guarantee
of success. Although the Spanish, French, Swedish and Belgian
unions are partly taking their distance from social democracy,
there is nowhere, for the moment, a rupture.
The very nature
of social democracy explains the permanency of these bases. In
order to be able to obtain the advantages that it covets, the
social-democratic apparatus, even in its present phase of
degeneration, must keep a minimum of autonomy in relation to big
capital. Mitterrand, Felipe Gonzalez, Mario Soares, Neil Kinnock
and John Smith, Scharfing and Lafontaine, Guy Spitaels and Willy
Claes, are not on a par with the Agnellis, the Schneiders, the
Empains, the Wallenbergs, the Thyssens, the lords of Indosuez,
the masters of the City 
reason for the survival of social democracy is the relative
pertinence in the eyes of the masses of the argument of the
lesser evil. They continue to think that Kinnock and John Smith
are worth a bit more than Thatcher and Major, that Mitterrand
and Rocard are not exactly the same as Giscard, Chirac and
Balladur, that Scharping, Rau and Lafontaine are worth a bit
more than Helmut Kohl, that Felipe Gonzalez is not the same as
his adversary of the centre-right, even though the differences
between all these personages and between the practical measures
that they implement tend to become blurred, with all the serious
consequences that flow from that.
revolutionary Marxists reject the logic of the lesser evil, it
is certainly not because they prefer the greater evil.
of the masses, which explain for a large part the survival of
social democracy, are in the present situation part of the
general crisis of the credibility of socialism. In the eyes of
the masses, neither social-democratic reformism nor Stalinism
and post-Stalinism, have succeeded in creating a society without
massive exploitation, oppression and violence. On their left
there has not emerged a third component of the workers’
movement, sufficiently strong to be considered as politically
credible in the foreseeable future.
conditions, the masses react to the most pressing problems,
without turning towards global social solutions, towards
“another model of society”. Their reactions are often on a
large scale, on an even larger scale than in the past .
But they are
defensive reactions, fragmentary and discontinuous. They are
therefore more easily channelled.
electoral level, there is no general tendency that dominates.
than the electoral evolution, however, is the organisational
evolution. All the social-democratic parties have been very much
weakened in terms of the number of their members, without even
mentioning their implantation in the workplaces, including those
in the public services. Two of them have experienced splits,
although minor ones. The split in the British Labour Party,
clearly to the right, essentially led to a fusion of the
splitters with the Liberal Party. The split in the French PS has
led to the creation of the “Citizens’ Movement” of
Jean-Pierre Chevenement, whose dynamic is still uncertain.
in two countries, Italy and the ex-GDR, there have emerged mass
parties to the left of social democracy - the Party of Communist
Refoundation and the PDS - with a certain echo among not
insignificant layers of working-class electors. It is still too
early to say what will be the future of these parties. But for
the moment they represent a challenge on a mass level to social
democracy (and to the post-Stalinist neo-reformists) such as has
not been seen for a long time. (...)
conditions, revolutionary Marxists must combine in relation to
social democracy, to use fashionable terms, a “culture of
radical contestation” and a ”culture of dialogue’.
radical contestation” means on the practical level to refuse
to make any concessions to the logic of the electoral and
governmental “lesser evil”, which would imply an even
limited acceptance of austerity measures, restrictions on
democratic liberties, any concessions to xenophobia and racism.
That means giving priority, under all circumstances, to the
defence of the immediate interests and aspirations of the
masses, to the unhindered development of their initiatives,
their mobilisations, their struggles, their self-organisation,
without subordinating them to any “superior objective”,
chosen and imposed in an authoritarian and verticalist fashion.
radical contestation” means also on the level of propaganda to
present as concrete and structured a global socio-political
objective as possible. That means refuting all the
“theoretical innovations” of social democracy and the new
reformists, “innovations” which are ninety-nine times out of
a hundred regressions to pre-Marxist positions that are 150
years old, if not more.
vigorously defending the capital of Marxism, but of a Marxism
that is open, critical and self-critical, that is ready to
re-examine everything in the light of the facts, but not
lightly, not in an unscientific way, not without looking at
reality as a whole. Revolutionary Marxists have neither the
arrogance to have an answer to everything nor the claim to have
never been wrong about anything. But they are not ready to throw
out the baby with the bath water. The theoretical and moral
capital remains considerable. It deserves to be vigorously
dialogue” means engaging with social democracy, with every
wing of it that is ready to, including parties as a whole,
debates and confrontation whose aim is to facilitate common
actions in the interests of the working class and the oppressed.
operations are certainly facilitated by a modification of the
relationship of forces which would render too costly a
peremptory refusal by the reformists. They can facilitate
differentiation within social democracy. But independently of
this logic, we have to fight resolutely for the dialogue to be
engaged and pursued, so that a “third component” of the
organized workers movement, to the left of social democracy and
the new reformist parties, is de facto recognised.
is neither tactical nor conjunctural. It is strategic and long
lasting. It is directly linked to a fundamental conception of
the self-organization of the working class, which leads on to
our conception of the taking of power (...)
these two “cultures”, that is the task of revolutionary
Marxists today in relation to social democracy.
Social legislation makes it possible to extend to the weakest
and least organised layers of the working class the conquests
that the strongest sectors are able to win themselves.
There is certainly a contrary tendency within the workers’
movement, but with the exception of a few countries, it has
remained very much a minority.
From Eduard Bernstein’s book, Evolutionary Socialism,
published in 1899.
The counter-revolution in Indonesia in 1965 undoubtedly caused
the death of a million people.
The way in which the amnesty for the torturers of the Chilean
and Argentinean dictatorships was organised speaks volumes about
The unfortunate Allende, and General Prats who supported him,
had confidence until the last minute in the “constitutional
traditions” of the Army chiefs. They did not want to
“divide” the Army. They even invited four of its
representatives into the Popular Unity government. They paid for
this illusion with their lives. Cf. Carlos Prats, Il soldado di
Allende, Rome 1987.
Especially in Social Reform and Revolution and in her writings
on the mass strike. Trotsky did the same in Results and
Prospects, and Gramsci in his writings in Ordine Nuovo.
From a Marxist point of view redistribution of the national
revenue should not be confused with “redistribution of surplus
value”. By definition, each part of the national revenue which
goes to direct and indirect wages is part of variable capital
and not of surplus value.
On this subject let us remember the exemplary action of the
Swedish workers in 1905 to prevent the bourgeoisie of that
country using force to make the Norwegian people renounce
national independence; the strikes in solidarity with the young
Soviet Russia by workers in Berlin and Vienna in January 1918,
against the rapacious peace treaty imposed by German and
Austrian imperialism at Brest-Litovsk; the general mobilisation
of the British working class and workers’ movement in 1920 to
prevent a military intervention in Poland with the aim of
crushing the Red Army and Soviet Russia; the broad mobilisation
of the international working class, including the Soviet working
class, in support of the Spanish workers in 1936; the
enthusiastic mobilisation of the Cuban working class with Angola
and Ethiopia against the semi-fascist bandits, a struggle which,
it is true, was diverted by the Castroist leadership in the case
of Ethiopia towards support to a repressive and indefensible
There has never been one In his book New Democracy published in
1940, Mao defended the idea of a state (and therefore also of an
army) part proletarian and part non-proletarian. But his
practice was opposed to this theory. He maintained de facto the
independence of his army, which in the end made possible the
victory of the Chinese Revolution. It was only in the course of
the Cultural Revolution that he finally corrected his
theoretical line and admitted that the People’s Republic of
China had been, since its proclamation in 1949, a dictatorship
of the proletariat (we would add: highly bureaucratised from the
beginning). But in Indonesia, the leadership of the CP adopted
the theory of New Democracy, with the full support of Mao. They
considered General Suharto’s army as a two-class army. They
paid for this error with their lives and those of countless
communists, workers, intellectuals and poor peasants... .
James Ramsay Mac Donald, Socialism and Government, 2 vols.,
Independent Labour Party, London 1909 (The Socialist Library,
Bd. 8); Socialismus u. Regierung, ed. by Eduard Bernstein, Eugen
Diedrichs, Jena, 1912.
From the name of the Walloon socialist trade union leader and
founder of the Walloon Popular Movement, Andre Renard (1911-62).
See on this subject our work The Long Waves of
It became largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable See our
article, “Monetary chaos”, International Viewpoint 248,
Enzo Biaggi, La disfatta - de Nenni e compagni aCraxi e
compagnia, Rizzoli, Milan 19993, deals in detail with the case
of Craxi. Our comrade Hans-Jurgen Schulz has dealt with the
scandal, more limited but analogous, of the West German housing
cooperative controlled by SPD apparatchiks: Die Ausplunderung
der Neuen Heimat, Frankfurt 1987, isp-Verlag (isp-pocket 28).
We do not believe that the masses are never wrong. But the same
remark also applies to experts, technocrats, ideologues,
political leaders. That the masses are often right against all
of them is well illustrated by the case of Chile. When on the
day of Pinochet’s coup the masses demanded arms - they had
also vainly demanded them in the preceding weeks - the leaders
replied: “Stay in the factories and don’t let yourselves be
provoked”. We know what the result was..
We might add in relation to this that even when social democracy
finally decided to impose the 35-hour week - in the case of the
government of Lionel Jospin in France after 1997 - it did it in
the framework of its attachment to the consensus with big
capital. Thus the “Aubry Laws” of the Jospin government
knowingly combined the reduction of working hours and the
modification of working conditions, in the sense of an
intensification of the workers’ efforts. Because of this these
laws had only a slight impact in reducing unemployment. Felling
that they had been tricked, the workers did not vote for Jospin,
who had claimed to be their “benefactor” in the presidential
election of 2002.
As a good indication of the increasingly small difference
between the centre-left and the centre-right the SPD chose as
its new Geschaftsfuhrer (sort of general secretary) an ex-leader
of the FDP, a liberal party. In France, in a book that created a
sensation, Edwy Plenel exposed the use of the secret services
and the attacks on democratic liberties under Mitterrand.
The Welfare State is supposedly a system of “mixed economy”
The formulas of “organised capitalism”, “state
capitalism”, “monopoly capitalism” are only paraphrases of
the “mixed economy”. Under cover of “Marxist” language,
they all presuppose, against the opinion of Marx, that there can
be a “capitalism” without the laws of development of this
system remaining in force. All the leaders of social democracy
peremptorily proclaim that the reign of the market is
“inevitable”. It is only a question of limiting its
This is particularly the case of Agnelli, the boss of FIAT, and
of Lord Lawson, ex-minister of Margaret Thatcher (Republica,
September 4th, 1993, The Times, September 1st, 1993).
Le Monde, September 13th, 1993. It clearly emerges from a report
by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton University that
it is an increase and not a reduction of spending on education
that is urgent. This report reveals that almost half the adults
in the United States are illiterate or semi-literate (Time
magazine, September 20th, 1993)..
The official unemployment figures are considerably below the
reality because they do not include those who are excluded from
the benefits of unemployment insurance, often on the initiative
of “socialist” ministers.
La Stampa, September 8th, 1993 and Il
Manifesto, September 11th, 1993.
L’Unita, Septmber 17th, 1993.
According to UNCTAD, a UN institution, poverty is constantly
spreading in Latin America According to a recent report of the
World Bank, at the end of the 1980s, the poorest 20 per cent of
the population of Latin America only received 4 per cent of the
national revenue and 32 per cent lived below the poverty
threshold, compared with 22 per cent ten years earlier.
See in particular: Le Figaro, July 1st, 1993 for Rocard, the
article by Sole Tura in El Pais, reprinted in De Morgen, April
30th, 1993 and the article by Robert Voor Hamme in De Morgen,
April 3rd, 1993.
Rocard speaks in the vaguest and most mystifying fashion of a
“vast movement, open and modern, extrovert, rich in its
diversity and even encouraging it, a movement that federates all
those who share the same values of solidarity, the same
objective of transformation” (Le Figaro, July 1st, 1993).
“Values of solidarity” without putting into question the
laws of the market and profitability? Show us how it’s done!.
In Chile, income per head of population has decreased by 15 per
cent under the neo-liberal regime. Spending on health was
reduced from $29 a head in 1973 to $11 in 1988. Twenty per cent
of the population receive 81 per cent of national income.
Die Zeit (weekly), September 17th, 1993.
See the book Il Ccranio de Ccristonballo - Evoluzione della
specie e spritualismo de Giacomo Scarpelli (Bollati
Boruinghieri, Turin, 1993.
We speak of a partial failure, because international class
struggles nevertheless powerfully contributed to the survival of
According to the Sunday Telegraph, seven former Conservative
ministers have joined the boards of management of big trusts in
the City: Lords Prior, Moore, Young, Walker, Lawson, Fowler and
Among the very large mass movements let us mention the
demonstrations against the Pershing missiles in the Netherlands
and Belgium, certainly the biggest in the history of these
countries; the impressive mass anti-austerity demonstrations in
Italy, and, in a different political context, the million women
who took to the streets in the United States to defend the right
to abortion against a verdict of the Supreme Court.