On Some Minimal Criteria for a Discussion of 21st-Century Socialism

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If We Do Not Want to Speak of Capitalism’s Strengths We Should Not Speak of Socialism

On Some Minimal Criteria for a Discussion of 21st-Century Socialism


Michael BRIE


Praise doubt! I beseech you, send my warm and respectful greetings to the person who examines your word like a bad penny!

I would like you to be wise and not to give your word all too sanguinely.

 - Bertolt Brecht


Since ... our desire for knowledge is not mindless, we wish to have, under the given circumstances, a knowledge of our ignorance. If we are completely successful in the latter then we will have achieved a learned ignorance... The more one knows something about one’s ignorance the more learned one is.

-  Nicholas of Cusa


There was an historic changing of the guard during the night of December 31, 1991 to January 1, 1992. The red flag of the October 1917 revolution, with hammer and sickle, gave way to the February 1917 flag of post-Czarist bourgeois Russia. Communism and socialism had their moment on stage and then disappeared into Hades.


At the same time capitalism, already pronounced dead by so many, ascended again at the end of the 20th century - more vital, global, successful, attractive and aggressive than ever. The spectre of communism and socialism[1] was banished by the reality of a global mode of development, which Marx had already characterised in 1848 in these words: “Through its rapid improvement of the means of production, by infinitely easier means of communication, the bourgeoisie pulls everyone into civilisation, even the most barbaric nations ... It forces all nations to adopt the bourgeoisie’s mode of production if they do not want to go under ... In a word, it creates a world after its own image.”[2]


In the end, Soviet socialism had no place in this world of the bourgeoisie. It was not able to assert itself and lost the struggle for a “higher productivity of labour” (V. I. Lenin). But could there be, will there be, another socialism in a sustainable way? Are the developments in China, Vietnam or Cuba anything other than attempts to carry out the introduction of capitalism under the control of a state party? Is 21st-century Venezuelan socialism more than a left-nationalist corrective to the excesses of neoliberalism? Where are the regimes in Bolivia or Ecuador leading their countries?


The newly initiated discussion of socialism comes out of the crisis of hegemony of neoliberal capitalism, the crisis of financial-market capitalism and the consequences of a new imperialism and its wars. The search for ways out of these concrete crises and catastrophes at the same time poses the question of a more fundamental alternative. However, the very genesis of the new discussion reveals its fundamental weakness: Its strength still grows above all out of a critique of the catastrophic tendencies of contemporary capitalism and until now much less out of a knowledge of the superiority of another, a socialist, order.


After the demise of state socialism and the collapse of other socialist projects in the 20th century and the resurgence of capitalism, a discussion of socialism that is worthy of its name should be aware of the difficulties inherent in speaking of socialism in a theoretically consistent and politically responsible way. Easy answers are not what the left should be looking for.


After the monstrous crimes committed in the name of socialism, the slightest apology for a socialism that opened its door to the barbarism of totalitarian terror is impossible.[3]  In view of the creeping slide of the Soviet Union into inefficiency and stagnation there is no basis for the naïve assumption that any non-capitalist society will necessarily be at least as capable of development as a social order characterised by capitalism. Aware of the ever new and, in the end, failed attempts to reform Soviet socialism, even Marx’s and Engels’s hopes that future generations would find solutions for those problems that are connected to the construction of socialism have not been validated.[4] And if we consider the 20th century’s many alternative socialist experiments it is not only the “Soviet model” which has failed.


Throughout the world the left is always proclaiming that capitalism is not, cannot be and will not be history’s last word unless it is the end of human history. Why is it so certain of this? And why should socialism be the next word? Beyond mostly vague ideas of a solidaristic economy, participatory democracy and the special role of public property, as well as single fragmentary experiments[5] and Michael Albert’s radical conception of a participatory economy, in distinction to a centrally administered economy and to the market,[6] as well as Franz Hinkelammert’s and Ulrich Duchrow’s concept of an economy of life,[7] there is little available, and even this has hardly been critically evaluated. Even Ota Šik’s market-socialist approaches are gathering dust in the libraries.


Of socialism almost nothing remains other than the “categoric imperative to overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence...”[8]  However, in this case socialism would be nothing but an ethical regulatory adjustment - although it would be the most significant one in human history. In the eighth year of the 21st century, the discussion of socialism is far removed from being a formative idea that can grip the masses, one that gives a concrete answer to their concrete interests.


Speaking about a socialism that is counterposed to capitalism only as “another world”, as a “good [social] order”, without demonstrating theoretically and practically that it really would be a better world, is, first of all, seductive in a cheap way. In this kind of talk the speaker is constituted as a “good person” and is at the same time relieved of the responsibility for his thought and action. It is precisely the high moral claim of socialism that is quickly transformed into mere moralising. Karl Marx, who grappled with this tendency as a 24-year old editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, wrote in a letter to Arnold Ruge in reference to the Berlin Young Hegelians: “I demanded of them less vague reasoning, magniloquent phrases and self-satisfied self-adoration, and more definiteness, more detailed attention to the actual state of affairs, more expert knowledge.”[9]


However, Marx himself already succumbed in this letter to another erroneous assumption with far-reaching consequences when he accepted that the critique “of the inverted reality”[10] at once contains within itself the key to its positive transcendence. Forty years later Engels wrote of how socialism developed in proportion to the emergence of the labour movement: “Its task was no longer to draw up the most perfect possible social system, but to investigate the historic economic evolution which necessarily sprung from these classes and their conflicts, and to discover in the resulting economic conditions the means to a solution of the conflict”.[11] But are these two things really identical?


This points to a second difficulty of the socialist critique of capitalism: From the critical exposition of the functional contradictions of capitalism and its tendencies to become aggravated one can only derive the problems of the reproduction of capitalism that, but in no way can one unambiguously derive various solutions. The works of Marx and Engels therefore even remain necessarily imprecise when it comes to the concrete definition of socialism as an alternative order. However, to the extent that they did attempt a definition, it was that of a cooperative economy in which, thus Marx, “the means of production are a common good, and the total labour is regulated co-operatively”.[12] Engels likewise sees the resolution of the contradictions of capitalist society as inevitably lying in a society in which “social production according to a pre-determined plan”[13] arises on the basis of social ownership of the means of production. The capacity of such an economy to function remained untested at that time, and the question was not settled as to whether the demonstrated contradictions might not be resolved in another and better way on the basis of, and within, capitalism. After the demise of Soviet state socialism this question becomes all the more urgent.


At the end of his fundamental critique of a socialist cooperative economy, Ludwig Mises comes to the conclusion: “It is not understandable how one could make the judgment that socialism is in any respect better than capitalism if one is not able to assert that, as a social system, it works better than capitalism. Similarly it would be justified to claim that although a machine based on a perpetuum mobile is indeed better than one that has to take account of the given laws of mechanics, it regrettably could not be put into practice. If there is a defect in the conception of a socialist social system - that the system cannot achieve what it is supposed to, then socialism is not at all comparable with the capitalist system that has proven that it works; in this case it can be characterised neither as nobler, nor more beautiful nor more just.”[14]


Even many of those who regard global capitalism as a social order without alternative in the 21st century are thoroughly aware of its problems. Social polarisation and disintegration of societies, destruction of the environment and the danger of climate change, exhaustion of natural resources, imperialism, militarism and terrorism are obvious. People are posing the question of meaning in conditions of uprooting and exclusion. Fundamentalist ideologies are on the rise again in the north and the south. However, does all of this speak against capitalism as such or does it merely indicate that it needs to be regulated so as not to go out of control?


Just as the discussion of socialism is principally a political discussion in the struggle for hegemony, so the question of alternatives is also no mere theoretical question (although it is also this). Are the alternatives really “socialism or barbarism”, or are they “a contained, regulated capitalism or barbarism”? If socialism is not an alternative capable of life and development, or, worse still, if it itself might promote new unknown barbarisms, then the above-mentioned categorical imperative would oblige the democratic left to commit itself to reforms in and of capitalism. Applying socialism for the sake of the debased, enslaved, abandoned, and despised would then not suggest “another world” but another capitalism. The alternative would then not be between “socialism or barbarism” but between a “socially and ecologically regulated capitalism or barbarism” ! Not revolution but reform would be on the agenda.


James Fulcher formulates this idea as follows: “The search for an alternative to capitalism is a vain endeavour within a world in which capitalism has become completely dominant and no final crisis is in sight nor is it, apart from an environmental catastrophe, even really imaginable. The socialist alternative has lost its credibility; today’s anti-capitalist movements appear to lead nowhere because they do not offer credible and constructive alternatives that could relate to the existent models of production and consumption. He who wishes to reform the world, should concentrate on the potential for change within capitalism”.[15]


Socialists and communists give in all too easily to the reflex of meeting this argument with an enumeration of an infinity of irrefutable real problems - hunger, poverty, immiseration, environmental destruction, waste of resources, climate catastrophe, old and new wars and the arms build-up, fundamentalisms in the western and non-western world, etc., etc. What is contestable is by no means the existence of these facts and tendencies - to which other facts and counter-tendencies can be juxtaposed - but their explanation and the strategies by which they can be confronted.


The person who speaks of socialism speaks secondly of an alternative to capitalism. First of all, this is counter-factual. Capitalism has until now survived all of its crises, has converted, worn down or defeated all of its adversaries, and has integrated or displaced every alternative. The global world of contemporary capitalism arose from the small islands of northern Italian city states within the ocean of pre-capitalist modernity[16] - through letters of credit and the sword, law and violence, emancipation and oppression.


Secondly: All theoretical attempts by Marxists to indicate an immanent limit of capitalism - law of capitalist accumulation, fall of the rate of profit, transition from industrial to knowledge society[17] the predicted end of the society of work[18] or conversion to non-fossil fuels[19] - have failed or were at least not convincing. Rosa Luxemburg’s thesis that at the moment of the consummation of the capitalist world market surplus value would no longer be realisable and that capitalism would die from its own generalisation[20] can be confirmed only in so far as capitalism must produce from within itself a strong public sector.


A discussion that derives the necessity of a 21st-century socialism directly from the functional problems of contemporary capitalism does not begin to approach what is required of such a discussion. In the face of the uncritical apology for neoliberalism, financial-market capitalism and the new globalisation, a reference to the “dark side” of this development doubtless represents progress. Pointing out the “wickedness” of this world, however, still does not establish what responsible action would be, but in the best case becomes a point of departure for social engagement; however, it can also lead to representing oneself as “good”. In the worst case it will be used to legitimise one’s own leaderist action. It could even prove that a morally extraordinarily justified engagement for the overcoming of capitalism and for a socialist society leads to a real reinforcement of oppression and exploitation and of war and terror.


The ideological trap of sheer transfiguration of one’s own interests can only be avoided if one faces the hard work of critical analysis. The ambitious project of 21st-century socialism proposes that we go beyond - transcend - capitalism practically. For this purpose, however, criteria must be formulated and then the proposals for alternatives have seriously to be examined according to these criteria.


It is said of the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (born 412 or 404 B.C, died 323 B.C.) that he discussed with his students one of Zeno’s paradoxes. The latter had claimed that the world’s fastest runner, Achilles, could not even catch up with a tortoise. For if he were to have caught up only halfway with the tortoise, the tortoise would then be a bit further on. If Achilles were then to cover a half of this new advance the tortoise would have covered still a another additional distance. To illustrate this Diogenes walked in a circle around his students. In order to show that Zeno was speaking nonsense a student stood up and caught up to his teacher without any difficulty. Diogenes looked at him, smiled and slapped him, commenting: “Here we were arguing in order to understand, not experimenting in order to spare us from understanding!”[21] Zeno’s paradox was first solved 2000 years later through infinitesimal calculus. The lesson is also: a mere fact is no substitute for an argument, but at the most problematises an argument. As Hegel mockingly said: “Using homespun remedies to put on the basis of feeling that which is the - several-thousand-year-old -  work of reason and intellect, admittedly spares one all the effort of the insights of reason driven by concepts used for thinking”.[22]


The way in which the “21st-century socialism” discussion has been placed on the international agenda is one more reasons why we need to demand serious reflection. In his second successful electoral campaign as Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez proclaimed a socialist orientation and then wanted to codify this in a constitutional reform which, among other things, would limit the division of powers and abrogate the president’s term limits. The Venezuelan left intellectual Edgardo Lander analyses this more extensively as follows:


If we are to understand by “21st-century socialism” a model that distinguishes itself from that of the 20th century it is necessary to draw up a comprehensive balance sheet: What was the nature of the experiences of authoritarian bureaucratic 20th-century state socialism ? What are the basic differences? What should constitute the new socialism of this century? It can only be a politically feasible, desirable and legitimate alternative to capitalism if its society is far more democratic than liberal representative democracy. In this sense, the Soviet model of socialism was in its final result a total failure. At the same time, it is essential to determine that the construction of a social post-capitalist order implies a radical renunciation of the established model of permanent war against the rest of humanity. In the historical experience of Soviet socialism this model was never questioned. Venezuela’s petroleum-based society transforms this question into a particularly complex matter.


A comprehensive debate on the following central questions is therefore necessary: What role does the state play in the proposed society? What do the political organisations look like? What are the relations between party and state? How will the greatest possible autonomy of social organisations vis-à-vis the state by guaranteed? In the case of Venezuela, which has inherited a society highly dependent on oil, what answers can be given to the most urgent needs arising from climate change and other dangers?


In Venezuela there were lively debates on these questions. However, now that socialism is on the agenda as an option for the future these debates have not been continued in a sufficient way. The current debate often proceeds as if socialism had no past, no historic burden, from which there is something to learn.


Without these necessary discussions it is impossible to understand what is meant in the proposal on constitutional reform by “socialist state”, “socialist democracy”, “socialist participation”, and “socialist economy”. What did seem clear is that it involved a model of a highly nationalised society with a centralised bureaucratic government. The blurring of the boundary between the public-state sphere and the political, or rather party-political, sphere, which was becoming apparent, as well as the intention of the state to control or limit the autonomy of social organisations, left open questions, especially as regards the differences between 20th-century socialism and the 21st-century socialism that was to be promoted by this reform.[23]


In what follows, some, and only some, challenges will be named which must be faced by a modern discussion of socialism. This discussion has first of all to develop an adequate understanding of capitalism; secondly it must understand this capitalism’s capacity to prevail as against pre-capitalist societies and specify criteria for progress; and, third, it must find an explanation for the special capacity for development of this capitalism; and, fourth, indicate at least approaches to a superior social order. Fifth and finally, we will suggest how the antinomy of reform or revolution can be resolved.


The socialist who speaks of capitalism’s strengths is inevitably vulnerable to the accusation that he is giving up the goal of an alternative order. This accusation can be met by a double argument: (1) A general who sends his troops into battle can only do so with some hope of victory if he has studied the strengths of his opponent and has developed strategies to deal with these effectively. It would be frivolous and irresponsible to go into battle on the basis of sheer trust in one’s own moral superiority. (2) Beyond such military metaphors, the already mentioned categorical imperative demands that socialist strategies be developed to diminish and not increase misery, oppression and exploitation, war and barbarism. The history of Soviet state socialism and Maoism in China showed how it was possible to react with repression and terror to the functional problems of a communist order (in the sense of state cooperative ownership of the means of production and of a centrally administered economy). The human measure applies not only to the goal, but perhaps still more to the path.[24]


Is productivity and the humaneness of a socialist alternative compatible? In the words of Wolfgang Fritz Haug: “Today an epoch-making emptiness yawns where there used to be a historically fundamental faith (in socialism and its productive potential - M.B.). It forms the negative core of the post-communist situation. An anti-capitalism that does not go beyond the “anti” in respect to capitalism to arrive at a “pro”, a “pro” that attempts to liberate that kind of productivity from the competitive logic of profit and in so doing from its destructiveness, cannot dispute capitalism’s right to exist ... Even those suffering under capitalism will in great part not follow a project that falls behind capitalism. Measuring oneself critically in this way in relation to capitalist productivity does not glorify it but directs one’s energy to the project of the progressive transcendence of capitalism in the direction of production for people and of keeping the planet habitable.[25]


The First Challenge: What is Capitalism, Actually?


The person who speaks of socialism, speaks willy-nilly of capitalism and of capitalism as a form of society that is to be overcome. Socialism has historically always been understood as a post-capitalist order or as a movement that negates capitalism and aims at another order. If one wants to understand socialism, one must first understand capitalism - which is why Marx’s work is just as much an analysis of capitalism as it is a critique of it.


Orthodox conceptions of socialism, such as prevailed in the Second International at the end of the 19th century, were characterised by a central assumption: “All societal evil has its source without exception in the social order of things, which rests at present, as we have shown, on capitalism, on the capitalist mode of production, by means of which the capitalist class is the owner of all means of production and carries out on this basis the exploitation and oppression of the great majority of the people, which results in the growing existential insecurity of the exploited classes, the pressure on them and their debasement”.[26] The conclusion that was drawn from this was unambiguous: “Accordingly, the shortest and quickest step would be to transform this capitalist property into social property (cooperative property) through a general expropriation. Commodity production would be transformed into socialist production, that is production carried out for and by society. The large firms and the continuously growing production capacity of social labour, until now a source of misery and oppression for the exploited classes, will become a source of the greatest welfare and harmonious education of all”.[27]


The capitalist class seems to have become, at the latest by the time of the transition to stock companies and concerns, just as superfluous and parasitical as knighthood became after the invention of fire arms: “The cartel, the trust, brings things still further - it is not only the single entrepreneur who disappears as an independent person, but also the stock company becomes a servile link in a chain in the hands of a committee of capitalists whose task it is to squeeze and plunder the public. A handful of monopolists appoint themselves as masters of society, they dictate the prices of commodities to it and wage and living conditions to the workers. This development shows how superfluous the private entrepreneur has become and that production directed at the national and international level is where society is headed. With only one distinction: that finally organised production and distribution will benefit not the capitalist class, as it does today, but the totality”.[28]


An understanding of capitalism, which sees its essence in the capitalist ownership of the means of production misses the specificity of what is “capitalist” in this kind of property. The general formula of capital discovered by Marx is M-C-M1 - the transformation of money (M) into more money (M1) by way of commodity (C). The claim to property rights embodied in money is given on credit in the expectation of getting back a higher claim (money with interest: surplus value)  in the future.[29] It is a question of the “self-valorisation of value”. Capitalist economy is credit economy.


A serious of logical implications result: first, the movement of self-valorisation of value is tied to the future as the general form of movement of capital. The protagonists of capital assume that the future (at least for them) will provide more claims on property than those over which they already dispose. It is a matter of speculation or betting on a better future. Capitalism is therefore growth oriented.[30]


From the point of view of the development of the last century’s gross social product, this bet on the future has paid off (illustration 1). Until 1750 the worldwide increase of per-capita gross social product was no more than 0.08 % (less than one thousandth per year). This doubled in the next hundred years until 1850, was quintupled in the period between 1850 and 1950 (0.88 %) and between 1950 and 1990 it reached more than 2.2 %.[31] At present it is still higher: According to the data of the International Monetary Fund the gross domestic product predicted for the U.S. economy in 2008 is 1.4 %, for the developed world (without the USA) is 2.1 %, and for the rest of the world 6.4 %. The bottom line is that there is an expected global economic growth of 3.2 %.


Secondly, the lender - and this is what is often forgotten - is not at all the owner of the concrete means of production. The owner of capital (lender) must be differentiated from the capitalist enterprise as the second protagonist-type of capitalist reproduction.[32] These [which?] are the enterprises which have ownership titles. The enterprise can naturally also give itself credit, but it then does so in a specific role and will only do this if this credit cannot be gotten more inexpensively externally. It is the enterprise which uses credit to have access to the factors of production (means of production, labour power), and combines them utilising knowledge.


Capitalism only takes hold of all society when it can freely dispose of the factors of production, when these can therefore be torn out of their embededness in traditional contexts. This applies in the same way to land, raw materials, instruments of production as well as above all to labour power. Capitalism can only spread when the traditional connection between means of production and labour power is broken (“primitive accumulation of capital”) and can be newly combined via markets (capital market, labour market, market for means of production) on the basis of credit. Capitalism is at once always destructive and creative (Joseph A. Schumpeter). The second aspect of capitalist reproduction is the possibility of continuous renewal.


Third: This possibility is realised when the enterprises have to compete for credit, that is when the lender can choose among competing offers. This then institutionalises on the one side [“einerseits” - where is the “andererseits”?] the compulsion to grow (for the sake of its own survival the enterprises must produce surpluses) and to renewal (the enterprises can generate higher yields especially through innovative combination of the factors of production). The monopolisation of credits or the monopolisation of entrepreneurial function (for example through the trade societies of the 17th and 18th centuries) lead to stagnation. It is through competition that the constant renewal of production and communication is perpetuated.


Fourth: In Soviet state socialism the party-state took over the function of the propulsive force of competitively oriented markets. This at times enabled a rapid extensive development but came up against two fundamental problems: On the one hand, forced labour is always less productive than free labour. War is the exception, since there the workers themselves directly identify with the goals of the state. Post-Stalinist socialism therefore knew, and as an exception, relatively free labour markets.[33] [MICHA: THIS SENTENCE, WITH ITS “THEREFORE”, DOES NOT FLOW NATURALLY FROM THE PRECEDING ONE. BY “FREE” DO YOU MEAN THAT THE WORKER IN STATE SOCIALISM HAD A KIND OF LEVERAGE OVER THE LABOUR MARKET BECAUSE THERE WAS ALWAYS A SHORTAGE OF LABOUR? ALSO, IN THE NOTE TO THIS SENTENCE, BY “INFLATIONARY” WAGE DYNAMIC DO YOU MEAN THAT THE MONETARY VALUE OF WHAT WAS LITERALLY PAID TO THE WORKER AS A KIND OF WAGE (APART FROM THE NON-MONETARIZED BENEFITS) WENT UP? ALSO, IT IS UNCLEAR WHAT THIS IS AN “EXCEPTION” TO.] On the other hand, at the moment in which the state becomes simultaneously lender and entrepreneur, it loses the possibility of rational price formation and thus of the assessment of costs and benefits. It increasingly pursues its goals “whatever the cost”, and at the same time takes away from the economic units subordinated to it the possibility, as well as the necessity, of working with an orientation to efficiency and developing their independent capacity for innovation.


A relatively clear separation between state and economy, as well as the access to productive capacity as special property vis-à-vis the state and other enterprises, are conditions of an efficiency-oriented innovative development in essential areas of the production of goods. This at the same time requires state safeguards of the rights of property both of the lenders and of the enterprises in their relation to each other and among each other. Without a stable accounting of the obligations and without the security that future-related commitments can be kept, capital valorisation and the reproduction of enterprises becomes impossible.


Fifth: The propositions made so far are based on assumptions based on a series of immanent limits of capitalist reproduction: These assumptions only stand if no parasitic expropriation takes place, if the prices for labour power, land, raw materials and also money are not left to the free market,[34] if capitalistically organised markets are limited to those domains in which public goods are not involved and in which the basic goods for the self-determined lives of individuals are not touched. A capitalist economy can moreover neither resolve questions of the goals of social development nor the questions of the meaning of individual lives.


Proceeding from these limits one can also draw the conclusion: The capitalist mode of economy is not generalisable. It can only exist as a particular mode of economy alongside others or it destroys society. In the moment in which the economy of a society is completely penetrated by capitalism and this economy determines society, exactly those phenomena arise, which are always enumerated by the critics of capitalism. It therefore makes sense to distinguish from capitalism itself the capitalist mode of economy as an element or sector of a modern society capable of development. Capitalism is the dominance of the tendencies peculiar to the capitalist mode of economy over the whole economy and the subordination of the whole society to this economy.


The reverse can, however, also be asserted: As long as no substitute is found for the special innovational strength and efficiency orientation of the capitalist mode of economy, it should be retained as an element of a socialist transformational strategy and be limited to those domains in which it is productive. This in turn is only possible if the total economy is subject to non-capitalist objectives, if natural conditions of life, if labour power and cooperatives are,  in their reproduction, not subsumed under capital valorisation, and if the latter is accorded a subordinate functional role.


The containment of capitalism by the social and welfare state, above all in the second half of the 20th century, was a first attempt at this, one that has now been sharply rolled back by the neoliberal counter-revolution. Thus, alongside the study of the experiences of state socialism, it is also the analysis of social-state capitalism which is meaningful for a renewal of socialism. Clearly, elements of an order were produced here, which limited capitalism and created areas of reproduction which had a non-capitalist functional logic and pointed beyond capitalism.



The Second Challenge: What is Socialism?


The answer to the simple question “what is socialism” appears clear in so far as the English Wikipedia article on socialism can write without the slightest attempt at relativisation: “Socialism refers to the goal of a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community”.[35] However, the sentence itself contains a hidden contradiction. On the one hand it is asserted that “socialism” relates to a goal; but then, on the other hand, it refers to a system of property and wealth distribution. This, however, is not measured by the standard of the achievement of the - unnamed - goal.


Socialism is certainly the only major intellectual-political tendency of modern times, whose consciousness of its goal has gotten lost within its own history. Swayed by the apparently insuperable problems of its implementation, it has become absent-minded. The constant failure of the various paths to socialism have always caused its goal to be pushed into the background.


This makes clear what the source of modern socialism is: It arises from the contradiction between the goals of the free development of each person proclaimed by the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the societal structures that oppose these goals from the standpoint of the disadvantaged.[36] The women’s movement formulated this contradiction from the standpoint of women’s liberation, the movement of people of colour from the standpoint of anti-racist and anti-colonial freedom struggles, and socialism from the standpoint above all of those who are socio-economically discriminated - the so-called Fourth Estate of the Great French Revolution.


What Jacques Roux, spokesperson and leader of the enragés, cried out in 1793 to the National Assembly is still valid for many today: “Freedom is an empty illusion as long as one class of people can starve out the other with impunity. Equality is an empty illusion as long as the monopoly of the rich have the right over life and death of their fellow human beings. The Republic is an empty illusion as long as the counter-revolution is at work day after day, with prices for goods which can only bring three-quarters of the citizens to tears”.[37] Up to the present day, socialism sees itself as being a human-rights movement from below and thus makes the question of the socio-economic order and of property relations the center of focus.[38]


Modern socialism aims at generalising freedom by creating the societal bases that allows “the free development of the individual as the condition of the free development of all”.[39] Such a “free association” makes the free development of the individual the point of departure and the aim of societal reproduction - mediated by the contribution to the solidaristic development of all.[40] Equality of freedom could be used as a shorthand for socialism. Analogously to the general formula of capital, a general formula of socialist reproduction could be delineated: Free individuality (I) mediated through the solidaristic development of all (S) leads to a higher form of free individuality (I’): I - S - I’.


Such a socialism is based on the recognition that freedom without equality is exploitation, equality without freedom generates oppression, and freedom and equality are only possible on the basis of a solidaristic economic and social order. Socialist transformation can also be understood as a process of the step-by-step reorganisation of society, which brings about such a solidaristic order. The community’s control of the economic and property order is not an end in itself within such a conception of socialism, but is a mere means of socialist politics and has to be judged according to the extent to which it serves these goals.


The goal of capitalist production is the production of surplus value. The goal of socialist production is the creation of the conditions of a free individuality or of true wealth.[41] Goods have a socialist “value” if they are goods of freedom, goods on which the free development of the individual depends - a good and self-determined work, democratic co-determination, education, knowledge, health, a livable environment, etc., etc.[42] Socialism subordinates production to the primacy of free cultural development. It therefore represents a culture society.


Such a conception sheds completely new light on the question of property. Even the socialist left was for a long time wedded to the bourgeois-material conception of property as disposal over means of production. As a social-scientific category property is a relation between people from the point of view of what interests finally achieve dominance in the economic process of production and reproduction. In capitalism it is capital valorisation, in socialism it is the free development of the individual. The owner in socialism is therefore not something like “society” or the “community” but the individuals. The cooperative disposal over the means of production is therefore only one of possible means.[43] Only from this standpoint can we understand how Marx could have written that the negation of capitalist private property would recreate “individual property on the basis of the achievement of the capitalist era: of cooperation and of common ownership of the earth and of the means of production produced by labour itself.”[44]



In order to accomplish this goal of transition to a culture society, three conditions have to be fulfilled. First: socialism begins where democratic and conscious intervention in the social processes of reproduction is undertaken in the interests of the disadvantaged, where there is the predominance of “control of social production by social intelligence and foresight [=insight and foresight]”.[45] Socialism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries has interpreted this intervention mainly either as the transformation of society into a centrally directed factory in the sense of a centrally administered economy and / or as the transformation of all enterprises into cooperatives. In both cases, the competition of enterprises on the basis of the free combinability of resources is destroyed. Both types of socialist experiments run aground due to their smaller capacity for development than the comparable capitalist economies, or they remain individual [partikulär ???]. Historical experience shows that a higher level of social order arises only when it is accompanied by progress in the freedom of the individual and of the forms of organisation chosen by her and when there is an increased capacity to transform this progress in freedom into progress of the total society.[46]


A socialist democratisation of democracy is aimed at stripping away from society that quasi-natural aspect which is an effect of its subordination to capital valorisation. As Alex Demirovic writes: “The 21st-century socialism perspective has as its goal bringing international economic processes under the control of individuals, individuals that determine themselves and their common destiny”.[47] Demirovic sees three possibilities for this - the market-socialist path which subjects the economic parameters to a far-reaching democratic decision-making process, the council-democratic path which democratises economic decisions from the macro to the micro level, and a participatory democracy, which ensures an economic self-organisation from below (Michael Albert).


Second: the relations of power, ownership and access are to be changed in such a way that societal as well as, and especially, economic decisions are freed from the pre-eminence of capital-valorisation interests and can be geared to the free and solidaristic development of the individual. Tying decisions to the solidaristic realisation of social, cultural and political rights of freedom and comprehensive democratisation are the main paths for this. The questions of the social obligations of property (ownership), or a new economic division of power, of a just national, European and international economic order, of the co-determination of enterprise personnel, regions, consumers, the question of social planning and investment control, all these are at the centre of socialist politics.[48]


A capitalist economic order is one in which the competing enterprises are under the primacy of an economistically reductive efficiency. The strategy of reducing costs and maximising yields, rational for the individual enterprise, is socially generalised. Wages are, to the extent possible, pushed below the socially necessary reproduction costs of labour power, nature is unscrupulously exploited, the consequential costs are ignored or are passed on to third parties. As a consequence, capitalist accumulation undermines “the sources of all wealth ...: the earth and the worker”.[49]


Historically, since the laws shortening the workday in Great Britain - acclaimed by Marx as a “victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of capital”[50] - there have always been new attempts at relativising the capitalist primacy of the economistic efficiency of single economic units: social state, wage partnerships, corporatism, etc. Counterposed to this there were waves of counter-reform or even counter-revolution, the most recent of which is neoliberalism.


A socialist economic order begins where democratically conscious intervention succeeds in sustainably altering the criteria of efficiency socially and ecologically and subordinating economic development to the cultural goals of a free and solidaristic development - structurally and materially as regards energy [a bit clumsy but I think this is what it means].[51]


Third: the overcoming of the “enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour”[52] is on the agenda of socialism. The transition to the information economy ought not to be accompanied by new divisions but must be used to transcend the hierarchical division of labour itself. New pre-conditions for this have emerged through the micro-electronic revolution of the forces of production and the enormous expansion of human-oriented services.


As Judith Dellheim writes: “If everyone could live in self-determined dignity, the social division of labour would have to undergo far-reaching changes, such that:


- those social conditions can gradually be overcome, which are determined via profession, concrete employment and the domain of employment of people [Beschäftigungsbereich der Menschen?] by social and ethnic origin, gender, by place of birth and residence and by physical constitution,

- all according to their capacities and increasingly according to their inclinations can participate in professional work, running the factory or facility, the deciding on, and shaping of, social concerns,

- in daily work life simple and complex jobs can be gradually and extensively so combined that for people of various skill levels the work content remains interesting or becomes interesting or more interesting” [not clear].[53]



The Third Challenge: Reform or Revolution. A Plea for a Socialist Politics of Transformation


In the classic Marxist conception, socialism could, in distinction to earlier social formations, not be established in the folds of the old order, since the appropriation of the means of production by the producers could only occur collectively and therefore on the level of the whole society. There was necessarily a wide abyss between the maximal programme (of seizure of power by the workers and the expropriation of the capitalist class) and the minimal programme (of the enlargement of democratic, social and cultural workers rights and the struggle for a peaceful foreign policy).[54] Reforms were to pave the way to revolution by improving the conditions of struggle and by training the workers in a class-conscious way as well as enabling them to take over the management of production.[55]


The question of the relationship between reform and revolution appears in a completely different light if, on the basis of the conception of capitalism and socialism described above, contemporary societies are understood as a battlefield of social classes and political groups, which are fighting for or against the dominance of capital valorisation or, conversely, for or against the strengthening of free and solidaristic development. In this light one can understand the vehemence of a neoliberalism which sees in the New Deal, in general public health insurance, unemployment compensation and all forms of basic insurance, socialist tendencies or which denounces all this as fascism.[56] Their slogan: freedom or socialism” is deadly serious; but by freedom they mean the unbridled dominance of capital valorisation.


The problems of an unchecked unleashing of capital valorisation leads to crises which, on the one side, delegitimise the unbridled dominance of profit and, on the other side, endanger social reproduction (socially, ecologically, in international relations, etc.). Reacting to this, the rulers themselves resort to conservative means of restraining capital valorisation (Bismarck’s social reforms as a “revolution from above”, in order to pre-empt a revolution from below); or democratic reform movements, which shift the very relations of power in society in favour of the middle and lower social groups, win acceptance. Forms of socialisation (institutions) are used,[57] and tendencies emphasised, which relativise the dominance of capital valorisation. In the wake of social and political struggles, a social logic” is counterposed to the “logic of capital”.


The known “variants” of capitalism[58] are also characterised by a different proportion of profit dominance over economy and society and are distinguished by the degree to which universal interest in participation, social security, democratic co-determination and goals of ecological sustainability are emphasised.[59] The struggle for social, ecological, democratic and peace-oriented regulation of capitalism is therefore at the same time a struggle for the pushing back of the domination of capital valorisation and the development of elements and tendencies which, in their essence, can be designated as socialist.


Only such a perspective opens the road to a politics of “revolutionary realpolitik”[60] (Rosa Luxemburg) or of “radical reformism” (Joachim Hirsch). This does not aim “at improving bureaucratic controls, but at self-organisation, not at nationalising the capitalist-formed means of production, but at their democratic control and at the reconfiguration of technology that has been determined by capital; it aims not only at a materially better life, but at a richer more rational life, in fact for all”.[61] The integration of social logic which would reinforce capitalist domination is counterposed by a form of development of socialist tendencies which undermine this domination and strengthen self-administration, participation and solidaristic self-determination. The containing of the domination of profit can be carried out by the right or the left, can be reactionary or progressive, authoritarian or democratic, socially divisive or solidaristic.


The Strategic Triangle of Left Politics


Concrete entry projects


(1) Vision of a new society of productive spaces for action as a condition of solidaristic freedom and [after this text not visible]


(2) Social middle-lower alliance


(3) Change in the social relations of forces



The project of a solidaristic-emancipatory transformation can only be realised as a middle-lower-strata project. It requires an alliance of interests, a social contract between those groups which form the productive core strata (the “general productive worker”) and those who have been marginalised by neoliberalism. In such an alliance, the new (and old) middle strata can gain a greater degree of social security, a stabler social environment and social integration, higher-quality services, greater human dignity, and increased domestic demand for products and services. On the other hand, the lower strata would have decent basic insurance, access to the “goods of freedom” of a society which has opportunities for an extensive and equitable participation in its life. This all has to consolidate into a project of a new and higher social productivity. However, the middle strata are still prejudiced by the illusion that the opportunities offered by the neoliberal project are greater than its dangers, or they see no alternative and just accommodate to the given reality.



The institutional strengths of global capitalist power lies in the fact that they are hegemonic in the sense of being capable of “defining and carrying out their own interests as the general interests of society”.[62] The G8, WTO, IMF, USA and NATO claim that they are promoting freedom and human rights, are liberating an enormous social productivity, and are realising projects to politically shape globalisation in the interests of broad social groups.


Considering the major crises, we should not underestimate the relative successes of this strategy. The strength of these institutions lies secondly in the fact that the alternatives are so weak; for even the worst situation can linger as long as there are not convincing alternatives. Therefore, we have to work practically on another, higher, more human and ecologically respectful productivity which will connect the social groups of the threatened middle stratum and of the dependent lower stratum in Germany, globally in a solidaristically equitable way. We have to show that things can be different and better, much, much better.


In addition, concrete entry projects are needed. They have a five-fold function: “(1) Entry projects mediate between reform and revolution as well as between protest and constructive proposals by inducing sustainable shifts of power relations, and thus entail broad new groupings, new emphases of actors in society... (2) Entry projects have to be designed not only for success but for enabling us to deal with success... (3) Entry projects mediate between locality, the regional level and the global level... (4) Entry projects convey the wholeness of a mode of life, of cultural and historical identity... (5) Entry projects are processes of conscious social learning in unity with change and self-change”.[63] It is through such projects that the subjects of comprehensive change appear in the first place.


The left needs a dialectical politics that aims at reaching several goals at once - delegitimisation of the dominant power, introduction of social, ecological and democratic reforms and finally also the reconfiguration of our own mode of production and life as well as of the property and power relations on which they are based. Radical realpolitik aims at altering the bases of our own action, [relation of the two clauses?] the strengthening of those forces struggling for another world. Demands and negotiations require being embedded in a liberating, radical democratic politics. In the shaping of politics as radical liberating realpolitik practical dialectics has proven to be the art of sailing against the wind.


“A class formation is ‘historically progressive’”, according to Wolfgang Fritz Haug in the Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus in reference to Antonio Gramsci, “due to its historical ‘productiveness’, i.e. the expansiveness of a concrete political-economic regime which it carries, thanks to which it ‘drives forward the total society, since it not only satisfies existential requirements but broadens its leadership forces through a continuous occupation of new industrial-productive areas of activity’ and so nourishes the credible expectation of individual ‘life perspectives’”.[64]


Which projects could drive society forward, meet its existential requirements and above all open up new productive areas of activity and thus broaden the individual life perspectives especially of those groups which would potentially support such a change of direction? The existential significance of these projects can hardly be doubted, but are they also productive? Do they create more freedom, self-determination, conditions for individual creativity and living community? Can a power formation be based on it, which is capable of transformative action and which can also withstand sharp conflicts, or is reality really “immune from all attempts at shaping our way of living together in a more human direction”?[65]


Is there a possibility of challenging neoliberalism and finance-market capitalism by a “counter-hegemonic praxis’s” which “try to dismember the existing order in order to establish another form of hegemony”?[66] If it is correct that the “subsoil on which the new left party can grow is the epidemic fear of social decline, no longer contained by credible promises of globalisation and of ‘information society’, as well as the increasing concern over the accelerated disintegration of civil society”[67] - where are the positive answers found?


How can the general insecurity be confronted, which for almost all citizens has arisen due to the emergence of social groups for whom access to the basic goods of a life with dignity is blocked? How can the “political economy of insecurity” (Zygmunt Baumann) be overcome, which arose from economic deregulation and makes intervention so difficult?[68]


What could those projects consist of, which link the broader social bottom and the lower middle strata of threatened workers as well as employees with those groups which can be called “comfortable [IS THIS RIGHT?] bourgeoisie” and “critical educated elites”? What relationship do they have to a “solar revolution” and the solidaristic commitment to global social rights? And how does all this secure the transition from neoliberal authoritarianism, which promotes deregulation and privatisation as inherent necessities”, to serious democratisation and broad participation?


If one wants seriously to face the problem of the under-class, the question of today’s subproletariat, one must at the same time change how power is exercised along with social and economic policy. Lutz Brangsch writes on this: “We will increasingly be confronted with social disintegration on the one hand, and tendencies to growing repression on the other. This situation requires the combining [consolidation] of demands for democratisation as a political orienting value, after the implementation of poverty-proof social security systems as a social-political fundamental value and active employment and structural policies as an economic-policy fundamental value. A developed network of public services offered without discrimination and repression (education, culture, public transportation ...) is a decisive factor of such a counter-strategy”.[69]


If this is so, then the most important common project of a social-ecological transformation could be the renewal of the public sectors. To this would belong the development of a democratic cooperative economy, the shaping of education, culture, health care [Vorsorge und Pflege?], as core tasks of a living cooperative system and the backbone of a self-determined shaping of individual and [partnerschaftlich?] life. They represent the actual core framework of a life lived in freedom.[70]


Reclaim the Public ! - this could be the common slogan of the manifold forces for a social-ecological change of direction. It would demonstrate [=Dabei wuerde sich zeigen?] that this is at the same time the basis of an innovative and dynamic economic development which integrates society and conserves nature.


In the wake of the new capitalism, a market individualism (Alan Fox) has arisen. Individuals are cultivated [gefördert], who define themselves as “non-social beings”[71] and enter into relations only in an instrumental way. Everything is subject to utility. The result is a division of society “into those who can combine individualism and independence, because their social position is secure, and those who bear their individuality as a cross because for them it stands for a lack of connections and the absence of protection”.[72]


What positive perspectives open up if one thinks of this “society of individuals” (Robert Castel) from below? If one places at the centre the interests of those who experience their individuality as a menacing insecurity, as unconnectedness, exclusion, constant deprecation and social as well as cultural poverty? What they lack is positive security. And what are those people missing, who - rich in social, cultural and economic resources - know how to manage their professional and private flexibility in order to assert themselves? They are confronted with meaninglessness, due to an existence that does not point beyond itself solidaristically.


Where should the energy for the revolution, necessary for survival, in our relation to nature come from? Where could the capacities be formed successfully to push back the disintegration of our societies? What can tie together the so diverse groups in this country if the naked interest of survival in a market society drives them apart?



Taming the Parasitic Excrescences [Excesses] and Stabilising Social Security


A renewal of the commons could begin at a quite simple point, that is where it is a matter of reining in the worst excesses of the dominant market radicalism. If profitable enterprises or parts of enterprises are closed only because they cannot manage with profits of 15 % or even 25 %, then this has to be prohibited. Means to doing so include workers votes in the case of a threatened factory closing as well as the cancellation of the tax exemption introduced by the Schröder-Fischer government for capital gains of enterprises, the outlawing of special dividends and other withdrawals of capital by investors from the fund and [from] [investment companies?] as well as the limiting of speculative credit financing in mergers or takeovers.[73]


Neoliberalism has freed corporate finance from the restraints imposed on it after the Second World War. However, this is also the Achilles heel of this new capitalism. As Aglietta and Rebérioux emphasise: “Corporate finance is the lever to bring a new boom to the labour society. Society has to acquire control over the use of savings which the neoliberal finance doctrine led astray under the cloak of shareholder value. However, this control can only be effective if the enterprise becomes an institution that is governed by a defined collective interest and is supported by initiatives of democratic participation”.[74]


The parasitic evolution of finance-market capitalism is also based essentially on the creation of insecurity for everyone. This is why the introduction of a need-based basic insurance and the guarantee of poverty-proof pensions are the cornerstones of an overcoming of the current social crisis. Freedom needs security; without it it is nothing more than disguised or open duress.


For a New Full Employment


The renewal of public services, the development of publicly organised employment, the transformation of the business sector, social-ecological conversion, a just distribution of work, these are the conditions to make gainful employment possible for all.[75] This project, in the words of the Church-Trade-union Initiative, “would offer people what they want and need - not just some work, but good work; this means secure jobs, income for a life without existential worries, health protection, co-determination at the workplace and in the enterprise, as well as meaningful work, work possibilities for self-development and opportunities to advance”.[76]


However, such politics demands a transformation of economic policy, a concentration on areas of growth that create employment, on shortening of work time and the just redistribution of work, the construction of a solidaristic economy from below and the development and renewal of public services and publicly organised employment.[77]



For the Renewal of the Public Sector


There is much talk of the service economy. This economy can develop as a servant society, in which continuously more services are privately paid by a well-earning middle class relieved of tax burdens. However, it can also develop through expanding a publicly financed sector which provides these service cooperatively to all. The latter would also mean changing the character of these services and increasing the participation of those affected.


This would today be tied to very concrete single projects. First of all, the transformation of day care centres and schools from custodial and mere instructional facilities and of the preparing, on the part of maturing marketable entrepreneurs, or their labour power [????] into places of individual development and lived solidarity.[78] These would be schools that combine play and work, open discussion and concrete projects, schools that no longer give priority to learning for later life, but which themselves represent meaningful living places in the here and now. Cooperation and solidarity, help to other children and young people and the solidaristic responsibility for one another would be much more important than previously. Schools would have to become a model for a society in which we want to live. Today more schools are increasingly becoming a horror vision of that society which we must fear.


Such a fundamental change in the educational system requires the embedding of day care centres and schools in vital municipalities. The municipalisation of energy supply, of water and sewage, the creation of an infrastructure with short-distance transport, the necessary co-habitation of increasingly more older people with ever fewer young people, the creation of urban spaces of security and freedom from fear - all of this urges the reorganisation of municipal life: from coexistence to cooperation. A publicly promoted employment sector, which as a complement to the private and state sectors offers labour conditions on a par with them, has its special place here. “Job-creation measures”, as a kind of waste-disposal of surplus workers, would become recognition and solidaristic activity. Especially for older people in an aging society this non-profit sector could  - assuming systematic and lasting public subsidy - be a domain which uses their special capacities, experiences and motivations and gives them possibilities of self-realisation.[79]


Social services and a high employment rate (especially targeting women) are the bases of a modern social state. Basic insurance for children, the transition from monetary transfers to services without cost especially for children and the youth, but also in the domain of culture as a whole, the support of a real reconciliation of profession and parenting and a greater self-determination in the use of time are important elements of a renewal of the social.[80]


Private businesses, however, will also have to change. The brutal subordination to shareholder value violates their status as institutions in which there is also a public interest - on the part of work crews, the municipalities and the customers. Reclaim the public also means (re-)appropriation of firms. On the one hand, they expect flexibility, competence and motivation on the part of their co-workers, on the other hand they have been providing constantly less of the conditions for this - lifelong professional training, social facilities, participation in firm decisions. This, however, requires still more influence on the control of capital - even if only to put brakes on the short-sightedness of today’s financial investors. Co-determination is in fact not a relic.[81]



The Ecological Turn


The renewal of the commons can also be undertaken based on the necessary revolution of the relation between human beings and nature. A three-quarter reduction of the use of fossil fuels or a nine-tenth reduction in the use of primary raw materials is not possible through a technicist refinement of the contemporary mode of production, consumption and life. Cooperativeness in the use, longevity, regionalisation and municipalisation of production and consumption, decentralisation, simultaneously with a global communication networking, become all the more important here.


If there were free competition over what types of enterprises and what competitive positions are best suited to ecological requirements, many present-day giants would die out just as the dinosaurs did 65 million years ago. In such a competition, ecologically efficient services, the provision of service and functionality at the direct local level and for a concrete purpose and for a specific time period, all this would be rewarded.[82] Egalitarian use of nature, regionalisation, implementation of the principles of consent and sufficiency are incompatible with financial-market capitalism and are at the same time indispensable conditions of solidaristic sustainability.[83] Nevertheless, the ecological agenda has still today not been “comprehensively connected to questions of social justice”.[84]



The Return of the Property Question[85]


Financial-market capitalism has fundamentally altered the property order of the Federal Republic. It has established the direct and strict control of owners of capital, represented mostly by financial funds, over the enterprises, and it has subordinated the state to the interests of these owners more radically than did any other attempt in the post-1945 period.


According to the key programmatic points of Die LINKE, “the Federal Republic’s Basic Law requires a guarantee, through laws and regulations, that property serves the common good. Article 14 and 15 of the Basic Law make it possible to counteract the accumulation of economic power that becomes political power. Accordingly, key domains of the economy can be transformed into common property. Die LINKE is elaborating concrete proposals on how specific key areas of the economy and of basic services should be converted into public forms of property for the welfare of the whole society. Die LINKE sees the presence of diverse forms of property as a foundation for an efficient and democratic economy rather than continuation of the path of privatisation and monopolisation”.[86] The document points especially to the democratic and social control of the arms industry, the municipalisation of a decentrally developed energy economy and the social responsibility for these economic domains “which rely on networking and which provide for basic supplies to the population”. This applies, “for example, to the railroads, to electricity, gas and water supply and to the telecommunications sector”.[87] The creation of private monopolies and private concentration of power should be prevented by the government.


The demands, however, go beyond this and concern areas which are not always associated by the left with property questions. Financial-market capitalism can only be overcome if the ever quicker accumulation of money capital and property [and assets?] titles is rolled back. Savings must be converted into productive investments; enterprises have to be able to retain their independence from corporations [Unternehmen -enterprises, Kapitalgesellschaften-corporations?] .[88] Public insurance systems, a public bank system with strong requirements for the extension of credit as well as an enterprise reform which, seeing enterprises as public institutions, strengthens especially those people who have put more than just their money into an enterprise but have contributed their labour, living time and future.


Perhaps it is also time to connect the enormous social and ecological challenges to a fundamental idea of Saint-Simon’s: the socialisation of credit, that is the public access to credit as a cooperative fund, in order to place the enterprises in an innovation- and efficiency-oriented competition.[89] [“in order to ...” [I did not understand the syntax here.] And the point could come at which Keynes’s supposition proves to be unavoidable necessity: “I think ... that a rather comprehensive nationalisation of investments will prove to be the only way to achieve anything near full employment, although this does not have to exclude all sorts of intermediary solutions and procedures by which public authorities will cooperate with private initiative”.[90] Public control of investments and of the development of interest is the condition for the overcoming of financial-market capitalism.



Participatory Democracy


A political change of direction puts the democracy question on the agenda in a twofold way. First, in terms of form: direct participation will become steadily more important.[91] The readiness to delegate decisions is diminishing and the demand is growing to gain influence from below through greater transparency, participation and the enhancement of the right to veto. It is true that a broad network of NGOs has formed, but the possibilities especially for the lower social strata remain slight. For this there is a lack of institutional and social as well as cultural pre-conditions. And public spaces for participation are scarce.


Second, the question of democracy exists in relation to the whole range of areas it covers: in the form of economic democracy,[92] of participatory budget politics, of the democratisation of public basic services and of the social security systems. The crisis of neoliberalism can be tackled progressively only by a new wave of democratisation.


Just as in Latin America, it will also be seen in Europe and Germany that: “The reconstruction of political democracy will not only depend on economic grassroots processes and a new politics of social equalisation but also on the reconstruction of a public space and of state authority / regulations which will make it possible better to control the (economically and politically) powerful”.[93]



A New Productivity Pact and a New Constellation for Growth


The revolution in the means of information and communication has generated a new technological mode of production. From the globalisation of markets has come the globalisation of assembly and also of many services. Information-technology work [?] has taken centre stage and is spreading. Network-type cooperation has become a decisive resource of productivity.


Financial-market capitalism tries to unleash this productive potential through the aggravation of the classic forms of exploitation: The managers of capital are subjected to a direct orientation to the stock value of firms - at the cost of the long-term investment development of fixed capital and of “human” capital. The pressure of the market penetrates deeply into each work team and thus increases the intensity of work and lengthens work hours. At a global level and in each region and workplace the working classes are split into “high performers” and the “working poor”.


An alternative “productivity pact”, which unlocks the potential of the new technological mode of production needs “an enhanced social regulation and intervention vis-à-vis the basically boundless valorisation drive of capital... that is it needs a relativising precisely of this capitalist character of the relations of production”.[94] To this belong, according to Stephan Krüger, the changes in property structure presented above, the shifting of the relation of forces in favour of the wage worker and a renewal of the public and non-profit sectors.


The current favourable conjuncture in Germany is for the first time also seen in a considerable section of the growing internal demand. This can be a good point of departure for putting on the agenda the theme of redistribution as a condition of a new constellation for growth - by the raising of wages, especially at the lower income levels (including the introduction of a minimum wage), by the development of the public sector, by a social, ecological and regional structural policy that aims at a long-term reorganisation of the conditions of production, infrastructure and consumption.



A Social and Peace Oriented Turn Within the European Union


Within the project of a “single European domestic market” the European ruling classes have, since the 1980s, particularly pushed for a negative integration of Europe: “In the place of ‘positive’ integration through the shaping of a common general framework for competition there was a ‘negative integration’ through the removal of all barriers to the market without any further communalisation [?]. Performance competition became competitive-advantage competition”.[95] And this leads to an underbidding competition between countries and regions through the lowering of social and ecological standards. It results in the subordination of politics to an unfettered economy. Without a European justice policy its economic and innovation policy cannot succeed.[96]


A change in European policy is a condition of a change of direction in Germany. As Gabi Zimmer formulated it: “The EU-European integration also must be politically (co-)shaped by the left”.[97] It is urgently necessary to wage a battle for increased cooperation in setting the framework for higher social and ecological standards. To this belongs especially a social union which would, for one thing, set minimal standards and, for another, would fix - in relation to the given economic level of development - a corridor of social standards below which one is not allowed to fall and which there is an obligation to raise in the case of economic progress.[98] It is a matter of an “EU-wide economic policy ... which creates a counterweight to the power of capital and promotes sustainable growth, the creation of jobs and the redistribution of wealth from top to bottom and which also legitimises a Europe-wide regional and structural policy [via the European Central Bank (what is the syntactical relation of “EZB” to the rest of this sentence?]”.[99]


A peacefully oriented EU policy, that bids farewell to military logic and which emphasises Europe’s strength as a civil power, is the reverse side and at the same time the condition of a social turnaround. In this connection, Mohssen Massarat names an alternative concept for Iraq, a peace-political total concept for the Near and Middle East as an area of common security and development as well as the strengthening of the OECD and also the transition to an international economic order based on renewable energy and solidaristic cooperation.[100]


* * *



The world is ill from a capitalism that has freed itself from the limits imposed on it after 1945. The wave of social and democratic reforms was followed by a storm tide of neoliberal counter-revolution. It is time to remove the causes of this tsunami. It is time for a socialist transformation. It will only succeed if it opens up truly superior perspectives - economically, socially, politically and above all humanly. This is where 20th-century socialism failed. Another such failure and we, and this planet as the home of humanity, will be lost.


As Arundhati Roy said in Porto Alegre in January 2003: “The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling - their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We are many and they are few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing”.[101]

[1] Uli Schöler, Ein Gespenst verschwand in Europa. Über Marx und die sozialistische Idee nach dem Scheitern des sowjetischen Staatssozialismus. Bonn 1999.

[2] Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei. In MEW, vol. 4, p. 466.

[3] “That socialism can even make barbarism possible ... is painful, but this cannot be dealt with simply by excommunicating these societies from socialism.” Uwe-Jens Heuer, Marxismus und Politik. Hamburg 2004, p. 178.

[4] See sources.

[5] Boaventura De Sousa Santos (ed.), Another Production is Possible: Beyond the Capitalist Canon (Reinventing Social Emancipation: Toward New Manifestos). London 2007; ibid. (ed.), Democratizing Democracy: Beyond the Liberal Democratic Canon (Reinventing Social Emancipation: Toward New Manifestos). London 2007.

[6] Michael Albert, Leben nach dem Kapitalismus. Grafenau 2004.

[7] Ulrich Duchrow, Franz Josef Hinkelammert, Leben ist mehr als Kapital. Alternativen zur globalen Diktatur des Eigentums. Oberursel 2002.

[8] Karl Marx, Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie. Einleitung. In: MEW, vol. 1, p. 385.

[9] Karl Marx: Brief an Arnold Ruge vom 30. November 1842. In: MEW, vol. 27, p. 412.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Friedrich Engels, Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft. In: MEW, vol. 19, p. 208.

[12] Thus Marx following and correcting the Gotha Programme of the SPD in: Karl Marx, Kritik des Gothaer Programms. In: MEW, vol. 19, p. 18.

[13] Friedrich Engels, Op. cit., p. 226.

[14] Ludwig Mises, Die Gemeinwirtschaft. Untersuchungen über den Sozialismus. Second, revised, edition. Jena 1932, p. 474.

[15] James Fulcher, Kapitalismus. Stuttgart 2007, p. 178 f. And elsewhere: “It is only the alternatives offered within capitalism which have electoral potential in a world in which there no longer are workable alternatives to capitalism”. Ibid. p. 121.

[16] Fernand Braudel, Das Modell Italien (1450 - 1650). Stuttgart 1991.

[17] These three subjects are treated by Marx in the first and third volumes of Capital and in the Grundrisse zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie.

[18]  xxx

[19] Weber, Altvater, Lövy [Löwy ?]

[20] “Capitalism is the first economic form with propagandistic power, a form whose tendency it is to spread itself around the globe and sweep aside all other economic forms; it tolerates no other form alongside itself. However, it is at the same time the first one that cannot exist alone without other economic forms as its milieu and soil. As, at the same time, it has the tendency to become the sole global economic form it falls apart through its internal incapacity to be a world form of production”. Rosa Luxemburg, Die Akkumulation des Kapitals. In: ibid., Gesammelte Werke, vol. 5. Berlin 1975, p. 411.


[22] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts oder Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse. Edited according to the Eduard Gans edition, with an appendix by Hermann Klenner. Berlin 1981, p. 20.

[23] Edgardo Lander, Das Refereundum zur Verfassungsreform. Der politische Prozess in Venezuela ist an einem kritischen Scheideweg angelangt (

[24] Michael Brie, Gewalt und Befreiung. Solidarische Emanzipation unter den Bedingungen des neoliberalen Kapitalismus (publication in preparation).

[25] Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Zur Dialektik des Antikapitalismus. In: Das Argument 269/2007, p. 20.

[26] August Bebel, Die Frau und der Sozialismus. Berlin 1973, p. 409. ( ). We have consciously chosen to cite August Bebel’s work, since, after the “Manifesto”, it was the most popular work within the German labour movement.

[27] Ibid. p. 409 f.

[28] Ibid. p. 382 ( ).

[29] Karl Marx, Das Kapital. Volume One. In: MEW, vol. 23, pp. 161 ff.

[30] Without growth, capital can only reproduce itself by redistribution among the owners of capital and thus with growing polarisation; in doing so it would come to a natural end with the complete concentration of all property in one hand.


[32] In pre-capitalist societies the owner can directly determine the rate of exploitation; in capitalist societies this is mediated by the extension of credit to enterprises. The owner has only one, albeit decisive, power: he can deny credit.

[33] The specificity of the labour market in state socialism was that due to the deficit economy (Kornai) demand for labour power always exceeded supply, so that there was a strongly inflationary wage dynamic.

[34] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. Politische und ökonomische Ursprünge von Gesellschaften und Wirtschaftssystemen. Frankfurt a. M. 1978. The current financial-market and real-estate crisis in the USA makes this clear once more.

[35] In so doing the article takes no critical distance from the “socialism” entry of the online edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica when referring to it.

[36] “For the first time in world history, the Enlightenment delineated the picture of an emancipated humanity. What for the Enlightenment was a hope, became, for the social movements, an unfulfilled yet realisable programme”. Werner Hofmann (in collaboration with Wolfgang Abendroth), Ideengeschichte der sozialen Bewegung des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, New York 1974, p. 8.

[37] xxx

[38] See Michael Brie, 31 [????]. Ist eine sozialistisch orientierte Wissenschaft überhaupt möglich? In: Umbruch zur Moderne? Kritische Beiträge. Ed. Michael Brie / Dieter Klein. Hamburg 1991, p. xxx.

[39] Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei. In MEW, vol. 4, p. 482.  [MICHA: “worin die freie Entwicklung eines jeden die freie Entwicklung aller ist.”]


[40] Rosa Luxemburg’s famous sentence “Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently” can therefore be generalised thus: Freedom is only possible if everyone stand up for the freedom of the other. See on this: Michael Brie, xxx.

[41] Marx

[42] This conception of socialism was made the basis of the PDS’s Chemnitz party programme in 2003 (

[43] Michael Brie, Die wiederentdeckte Eigentumsfrage. In: Michael Brie (ed.), Mit Marx ins 21. Jahrhundert. Kritik des Neoliberalismus und Alternativen. RLS papers 2005 (

[44] Karl Marx, Das Kapital. Volume One. In: MEW, vol. 23, p. 791.

[45] Karl Marx, Inauguraladresse der Internationalen Arbeiter-Assoziation. In: MEW, vol. 16, p. 11.

[46] Michael Brie, Der sowjetische Saatsparteisozialismus im Lichte der Marxschen Theorie “progressiver Epochen der ökonomischen Gesellschaftsformation”. In: Ernstgert Kalbe, Wolfgang Geier and Holger Politt (eds.), Aufstieg und Fall des Staatssozialismus: Ursachen und Wirkungen. Leipzig 2004, pp. 197 - 233.

[47] Alex Demirovic, Wirtschaftsdemokratie. Ms. 2008.

[48] On this see Zinn and ... Huffschmid, Dieter Klein, xxx.

[49] Karl Marx, Das Kapital, op. cit., p. 529 f.

[50] Karl Marx, Inauguraladresse der Internationalen Arbeiter-Assoziation, op. cit., p. 11.

[51] On this see: Hans Diefenbacher et al., Nachhaltige Wirtschaftsentwicklung im regionalen Bereich. Heidelberg 1997; ... Spangenberg, Dieter Klein, Reformalternativen - xxx.

[52] Karl Marx, Kritik des Gothaer Programms. In: MEW, vol. 19, p. 21. This idea is central to Marx’s work starting with the German Ideology and also permeates Das Kapital.

[53] Judith Dellheim, Die gesellschaftliche Arbeitsteilung verändern. In: Beiträge zur Klausur des Bereichs Politikanalyse. June 2007, p. 12. Michael Albert: xxx

[54] This disjunction between maximal and minimal programme is not, for example, the work of Kautsky and Bernstein in the drafting of the Erfurt party programme of the SPD in xxx, but is already present in Marx. On this see: Karl Marx, [Einleitung zum Programm der französischen Arbeiterpartei von 1880]. In: MEW, vol. 19, p. 238.

[55] Rosa Luxemburg: xxx

[56] “Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal. It was Mussolini’s success in Italy, with his government-directed economy, that led the early New Dealers to say ‘But Mussolini keeps the trains running on time’”. Ronald Reagan in Time Magazine, May 17, 1976.

[57] As Marx confirmed early on in his work: “As long as capital is weak, it itself looks for the crutches of past modes of production or those which died out with the appearance of capital. As soon as it feels strong, it discards the crutches and moves according to its own laws. As soon as it begins to sense a barrier to its development and become conscious of it, it resorts to forms which ... by restraining free competition are at the same time the harbingers of its own dissolution and the dissolution of the mode of production that is based on it. Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. In: MEW, vol. 42, p. 551.

[58] Gosta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1990; Bernhard Ebbinghaus, Philip Manow (eds.), Comparing Welfare Capitalism. Social Policy and Political Economy in Europe, Japan and the USA. London: Routledge 2001; Peter Hall, David Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001.

[59]On this see also: Cornelia Heintze, Wohlfahrtsstaat als Standortvorteil. Deutschlands Reformirrweg im Lichte des skandinavischen Erfolgsmodells. Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Saxony 2005.

[60] Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Marx. Werke, vol. 1.2, p. 373.

[61] Joachim Hirsch, Kapitalismus ohne Alternative. Hamburg 1990, p. 146.

[62] Ulrich Brand, Christoph Scherrer, Contested Global Governance. Konkurrierende Formen und Inhalte globaler Governance.

[63] Lutz Brangsch, Überlegungen zum Charakter von Einstiegsprojekten. Ms. 2004.

[64] HKWM, vol. 6/I, p. 14 f.

[65] Zygmunt Baumann, Leben in der Flüchtigen Moderne. Frankfurt am Main 2007, p. 109.

[66] Chantal Mouffe in conversation with Elke Wagner. In: Heinrich Geiselberger, Und Jetzt? op. cit., p. 109.

[67] Ingar Solty, Transformation des deutschen Parteiensystems und europäische historische Verantwortung der Linkspartei. Op. cit., p. 341. English version: The Historic Significance of the New German Left Party. Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 22, No. 1 (March 2008), p. 25.

[68] “Today, in ... what we might call the era of trumphant capitalism, what remains of human society can only be liberated from its milieu of fear surrounded by dread and powerlessness, when its poorest part is liberated from its misery”. Zygmunt Baumann, Die Krise der Politik. Fluch und Chance einer neuen Öffentlichkeit. Hamburg 2000, p. 251.

[69] Lutz Brangsch, Perspektiven des Sozialen-Strategische Fragen. Von der Produktion der “Unterschicht” in Deutschland - Warum gerade jetzt diese Diskussion? RLS, December 2006 (

[70] One of the few comprehensive German-speaking analyses of the public is found in: Stephen A. Jansen, Birger P. Priddat, Nico Stehr (eds.), Die Zukunft des Öffentlichen. Multidisziplinäre Perspektiven für eine Öffnung der Diskussion über das Öffentliche. Wiesbaden 2007.

[71] L. Dumont, quoted in: Robert Castel, Die Metamorphose der sozialen Frage. Eine Chronik der Lohnarbeit. Constance 2000, p. 403.

[72] Robert Castel, ibid., p. 412.

[73] Joachim Bischoff, Zähmt die Heuschrecken. In: Sozialismus, 2007/3, p. 23.

[74] Michel Aglietta, Antoine Rebérioux, Vom Finanzmarkt-Kapitalismus zur Wiederbelebung der sozialen Demokratie. Sozialismus-Supplement 2005/3, p. 35.

[75] The “full-employment” of the Fordist era was based on the division between masculine gainful employment and domestic housewife work.

[76] Church-Trade-union Initiative [Kirchlich-Gewerkschaftliche Initiative], Soziale Ungerechtigkeiten als Herausforderung für Gewerkschaften und Kirche.

[77] On this see the comprehensive concept in: Dieter Klein, Zukunft statt ‘Reformen’: Arbeit für alle. Ein realistisches Konzept. Berlin 2004.

[78] See Armin Bernhard, Bildung als Ware - Die Biopiraterie in der Bildung und ihr gesellschaftlicher Preis. In: Utopie kreativ, No. 197 (March 2007), p. 202 - 211.

[79] Eckhard Priller, Dienstleistungen und die Älteren. In: Neue Gesellschaft/Frankfurter Hefte, 2006/9, p. 38 - 41.

[80] Caren Ley, Abschied vom “Ernährermodell”. Zur Familien-, Sozial- und Arbeitspolitik der Neuen Linken. In: Utopie kreativ, No. 193 (November 2006), p. 1011 - 1014.

[81] Jürgen Kocka, Die Zukunft der Mitbestimmung. In: Neue Gesellschaft/Frankfurter Hefte, 2006/6, p. 61.

[82] Klaus Dräger, Sozial oder marktradikal? Die Zukunft der Dienstleistungen im Europäischen Binnenmarkt. In: Sozialismus, 2006/1, p. 9.

[83]  Ulrich Schachtschneider, Soziale Nachhaltigkeit als konkrete Utopie. In: Utopie kreativ, No. 196 (February 2007), p. 138.

[84] Anthony Giddens, Warum die Ökologie kein grünes Thema mehr ist. In: Berliner Republik, 2006/3, p. 6.

[85] See the contribution of Dieter Klein in this volume.  [what volume?]

[86] Programmatisches Gründungsdokument der Partei Die Linke (

[87] Oskar Lafontaine, Freiheit durch Sozialismus. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 9, 2007, p. 5.

[88] Christoph Lieber, Politischer Quantensprung? Was ist neu an der neuen Linken. in: Sozialismus, 2007/3, p. 39.

[89] See Die saint-simonistische Lehre. In: Joachim Höppner, Waltraud Seidel-Höppner, Von Babeuf bis Blanqui. Französischer Sozialismus und Kommunismus vor Marx. Vol. II: Texte. Leipzig 1975, pp. 161 f.

[90] John Maynard Keynes, Allgemeine Theorie der Beschäftigung, des Zinses und des Geldes. Berlin 1955 (cited in Rudolf Hickel, Keynes ist tot - Es lebe die Keynessche Theorie. In: Sozialismus, 2006/7-8, p. 47).

[91] See “Projekt Partizipation”, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, directed by Lutz Brangsch (

[92] Joachim Bischoff, Heinz J. Bontrup, Alex Demirovic, Jörg Huffschmid, Julia Müller, Michael Schumann, Wirtschaftsdemokratie. Alternative zum Shareholder-Kapitalismus. Hamburg 2006; Heinz J. Bontrup, Wirtschaftsdemokratie statt Shareholder-Kapitalismus. In: Utopie kreativ, No. 186 (April 2006), p. 299-310; Alex Demirovic, Demokratie in der Wirtschaft. Münster 2007; Stefan Sjöberg, Collective Capital Formation as a Strategy for Economic Democracy - The Cases of Germany and Sweden (

[93] Dieter Boris, Linkstendenzen in Lateinamerika. Supplement der Zeitschrift Sozialismus 2007/7-8, p. 37.

[94] Stephan Krüger, Anforderungen an gewerkschaftliche Betriebspolitik. Einordnung in aktuelle Entwicklungstendenzen der Kapitalakkumulation. In: Sozialismus, 2007/1, p. 29.

[95] Jörg Huffschmid, Die neoliberale Deformation Europas. In: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 2007/3, p. 310.

[96] Anthony Giddens, Die Zukunft des Europäischen Sozialmodells. In: Berliner Republik, 2006/1, p. 24.

[97] Gabi Zimmer, Worüber streiten wir? Über Inhalte, Wege und Politikstile, um linker Politik zu nachhaltigem Gewinn an Wirksamkeit zu verhlelfen (

[98] André Brie, Die erneuerte deutsche Linke wird europäisch oder nicht sein. Ein soziales Europa oder kein Europa. Das ist die Frage, das ist die Antwort (, p. 9).

[99] Position taken by the European Social Forum. Europäisches Netzwerk von GewerkschaftlerInnen “Auf dem Weg zu einem neuen europäischen Sozialmodell” (

[100] David Harvey, Mohssen Massarat, Globalisierung und neuer Imperialismus. Supplement der Zeitschrift Sozialismus 2004/3, p. 30 ff.

[101] “Wie widerstehen wir der Weltherrschaft? Nachdenken über eine andere Welt. Die Rede von Arundhati Roy auf dem Weltozialforum 2003 in Porto Alegre (Auszug)