June 14, 2024

In a previous article, we briefly explained why communists must participate in bourgeois elections, even in an imperialist state, drawing on the works of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. To sum up, communists must utilize bourgeois elections as a platform for educating and mobilizing the masses—for whom bourgeois “democracy” remains an inescapable reality—in the direction of the proletarian revolution. Though bourgeois “democracy” can never give rise to socialism, we can leverage it as a platform for educating people on communist theory and organizing the proletariat into a new Communist Party, a crucial task for communists in the United States.

In our explanation, we contrasted our position with those of the “left-wing” communists, who view bourgeois elections as solely a barrier to revolution, and of the “right-wing” opportunists who insist on a reformist path to socialism. However, we did not touch on the currents that utilize elections as an end goal. While the previous article focused more on the errors of the “left-communists,” in this article, we deal mainly with the views of the social-democratic and “communist” organizations that espouse a “democratic road to socialism,” another supposed national pathway to socialism. Here, we also dive into much greater detail, as the social-democratic current is much stronger globally than the ultra-left.

Historical Overview

We can trace the historical development of social democracy back to various bourgeois and petty-bourgeois theories of socialism opposed by Marx and Engels, such as those of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the Laborism of the British Trade Unions, and Ferdinand Lassalle. During Lenin’s time, these ideas reemerged in the “Marxist” theories of Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, which fueled a wave of opportunism in the revolutionary movement that culminated in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I. In both instances, the result was the collapse of the Second International.

In 1915, Lenin advocated for the separation of revolutionary forces from the Second International in his article “What Next?” where he highlighted that the era of imperialism had given rise to a labor-aristocratic trend that rejected the socialist revolution by dismissing class struggle as a struggle for power. The course of the struggle validated Lenin’s analysis, first at the end of World War I and again in the early 1920s when right-wing factions within the communist movement began interpreting the new United Front tactic as a strategy for unprincipled alliances with the former parties of the Second International and the new parties of its successors, the International Working Union of Socialist Parties and the Labour and Socialist International. These “2½” Internationals played a pivotal role in the anti-communist movement by inadvertently fueling the rise of fascism in several countries, with many fascist forces emerging from their ranks. This error led to widespread confusion within the Communist International, with “right” opportunist ideas gaining traction and clashing against “ultra-left” tendencies, which rejected the immediate revolutionary goals outlined in the Comintern program.

During the interwar period, social democracy openly adopted bourgeois characteristics, aiming to govern within the existing political system. Abandoning their revolutionary character, the social-democratic parties embraced policies oriented toward the “management” of capitalism through reforms, advocating for a gradual transition to socialism. Meanwhile, throughout the 1920s, the Comintern struggled to address contradictions in formulating a unified strategy for the alliance policies of communist parties.

Exacerbating this issue were the prevailing perspectives of the 1930s, such as the idea of forming a broadly antifascist Popular Front to gain parliamentary power and thwart the growth of fascist entities. Mirroring these debates, the Comintern, at its Seventh Congress in 1935, passed resolutions endorsing the Popular Front strategy to intensify the class struggle. In practice, these resolutions facilitated unconditional agreements with social-democratic and bourgeois parties while supporting participation in bourgeois governments amid imperialist wars, with figures like Togliati and Browder being prime examples.

Browder took the thesis of alliance with the parties of capital and social democracy to its extreme, even considering the existence of the communist party in the US unnecessary and attempting to dissolve it. His influence proved detrimental to the communist parties of Cuba, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia. Despite opposition within the international communist movement, similar ideas developed in other communist parties, especially in Europe. Despite opposition from the Executive Committee of the Comintern, talks of merging the communist and social-democratic parties commenced. Within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the struggle against Trotskyism and Bukharin gained momentum, the two ideological trends having evolved throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The fight against these and similar doctrines persisted during the socialist construction phase and, amidst World War II, culminated in 1943 with the dissolution of the Comintern.

This dissolution marked a setback for the international communist movement. Without a centralized body to formulate a unified revolutionary strategy, it created a void that allowed Western communist parties to propagate errors. Thus, they failed to transform imperialist wars or national liberation struggles into battles for seizing state power. These issues became more pronounced in the 1950s due to the dominance of the “right” opportunist deviation solidified at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU.

The “peaceful coexistence” stance romanticized capitalism and fostered the illusion of peaceful cohabitation and competition between the two systems. Further, the belief in “varied forms of transitioning to socialism under specific conditions” and the so-called “democratic road to socialism” became prevalent. This new strategy of the CPSU was adopted by many other communist parties, particularly those aligned with the Eurocommunist trend, such as the Italian and French parties.

Moreover, there was an underestimation of imperialist forces and an overestimation of socialist forces, leading to a failure to recognize the potential for capitalist restoration. Lastly, there was a prevailing belief that the conditions were “not yet met” for the necessity of the socialist revolution.

In practical terms, many parties went on to advocate for governmental goals that did not align with the necessary concentration and organization of forces to overthrow capitalist power during times of economic and political crisis. In other words, they denied the need for the violent overthrow of the capitalist system in favor of a peaceful transition.

After WWII, capitalist states reshaped their alliances, and the international imperialist system remained robust, even as socialist forces gained strength. The imperialists, now led by the US, established various economic, military, and political alliances, such as NATO, the IMF, and the World Bank. These alliances exploited the opportunistic deviations and lack of ideological unity within the communist movement, investing millions of dollars in projects to foster discontent or disagreement within the Soviet Union and the CPSU. Meanwhile, the theory of “democratic socialism” spread in major capitalist countries, particularly those in the West.

Without a unified communist center, the communist parties also failed to understand the contradictions among capitalist nations and the question of dependency. The theses of the Twentieth Congress nurtured utopian perceptions, reinforcing the idea that every country was dependent on and subordinate to the US. Communist parties in capitalist countries struggled to address the adaptability of the bourgeois class, which formed alliances to maintain its power and restructure its international partnerships. Instead, these parties aimed to establish “anti-monopoly democratic governments” through parliamentary reforms or as an interim step in the revolutionary process. This approach was even adopted by the Communist Party USA, leading to the participation of communist parties in governments that managed capitalism in alliance with social democracy.

Thus, many communist parties opted to form alliances with bourgeois forces, particularly the so-called “national bourgeoisie,” distinguishing them from the capitalists they perceived as subservient to foreign imperialism, the “comprador bourgeoisie.” This perspective was predominant among the faction of the communist movement that, during the 1960s split, aligned itself with the Communist Party of China and represented the Maoist current.

Many communist parties in Western Europe adopted Eurocommunism, which included an approach to social democracy that divided it into “left” and “right” factions, weakening the ideological struggle against it. Eurocommunism rejected the scientific principles of the socialist revolution and the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Over time, parties engaged in socialist construction began to lose their revolutionary characteristics and close relationship with the working class. The international communist movement became fragmented and failed to formulate a cohesive strategy for countering the evolving and expanding tactics of the US, further exacerbating the rift between the CPSU and the CPC.

The subsequent shift from right opportunism to overt counterrevolutionary betrayal in the 1980s, which manifested at the Twenty-Seventh and Twenty-Eighth CPSU Congresses, was the final consequence of this failure.

Old Wine in New Bottles

The counterrevolutionary downfall of socialist construction in the USSR and Central and Eastern Europe represented a significant setback and retreat for communist forces. This development invigorated the infiltration of bourgeois ideology within the political working-class movement. The inclination towards compromise and assimilation took on new dimensions and depth, plunging many parties into profound crises and, in some instances, leading to their self-dissolution, political degradation, isolation, or disappearance into obscurity.

Today, the international communist movement finds itself deeply divided, suffering from a negative correlation of forces. Though there have been partial positive steps, such as in the founding of the European Communist Action and, in our country, the establishment of the Communist Workers’ Platform USA, opportunism in all its varied forms continues to dominate the broader movement, espousing outdated theories under new banners. The phrase “old wine in new bottles” comes to mind.

With the question of reform or revolution at the foreground of debate once again, many answer on the side of reform, cooperating with one or another section of the bourgeoisie in the name of “defending democracy” and seeking to “build” socialism through the bourgeois state. In the US, multiple opportunist and social-democratic formations—including the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the formerly revolutionary CPUSA—are competing to absorb the rising tide of revolutionary consciousness brought on by the crises of capitalism. Here, we will focus on the current front-runner, the Democratic Socialists of America.

The DSA formed in a merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the New American Movement at a joint convention in March 1982, rallying around a “democratic road to socialism,” opposition to communism, and adherence to a strategy of “realigning” the Democratic Party. Michael Harrington, whose ideas influenced the War on Poverty programs of the JFK and LBJ administrations and continue to shape the DSA’s political strategy, expressed this vision:

“We believe that the left wing of realism is today found in the Democratic Party. It is there that the mass forces for social change are assembled.”

The DSA exploded following the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Though Sanders failed to win the Democratic primary, his campaign generated significant enthusiasm among voters. The DSA, which had endorsed Sanders, soon saw thousands of new members join its ranks. The Trump presidency, AOC’s victory, and the second Bernie campaign in 2019-2020 further bolstered it. The DSA boasts an exceptional presence in trade unions, schools and universities, and community organizations, with many of its candidates winning in local, state, and national elections.

How does the DSA command such influence? By advocating a policy of gradual reforms aimed at forming a so-called socialist government in the US—a democratic road to socialism.

These theories align with other variants that claim the class interests between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie no longer exist, asserting that the imperialist state has become an organization above classes and that every state-owned enterprise is a “socialist” enterprise. Labor leaders in Britain, for example, argued that the nationalization of the Bank of England, railways, and other industries were triumphs of “democratic socialism.” In reality, these were bourgeois measures that did not change the capitalist nature of these enterprises. The power in Britain remained with monopolies, and the owners of the newly nationalized enterprises received generous compensations while workers faced more intensive labor for low wages. Theories of “democratic socialism” served, and continue to serve, as a screen concealing the growing oppression of the working masses by the bourgeoisie in a parasitic system.

The “democratic road to socialism,” as a line of social democracy, is justified by the anti-communist conception that a revolution does not need to be led by Marxist-Leninists, negating the role of the communist party. It is the same banner upheld by the opportunists of the European Party of the Left and the parties of the Sao Paulo Forum, joining the various theses of “national pathways” to socialism in placing bourgeois democracy as the starting point for socialism.

Mike Macnair, though writing from the (non-revolutionary) perspective of the Communist Party of Great Britain, may as well be describing the DSA’s strategy in his book Revolutionary Strategy when expounding (favorably) on the “strategy of patience” practiced by the opportunist wing of the Second International:

“The [Kautskyist] centre’s strategic line was, then, a strategy of patience as opposed to the two forms of impatience; those of the right’s coalition policy and the left’s mass strike strategy. This strategy of patience had its grounds in the belief that the inner-logic of capital would inevitably tend, in the first place, to increase the relative numbers and hence strength of the proletariat as a class, and, in the second, to increase social inequality and class antagonism. Kautsky makes the argument most clearly in The social revolution. In this situation the workers’ party/movement could expect to build up its forces over the long term to a point at which it would eventually be able to take power with majority support.

This strategic line can be summed up as follows. Until we have won a majority (identifiable by our votes in election results) the workers’ party will remain in opposition and not in government. While in opposition we will, of course, make every effort to win partial gains through strikes, single issue campaigns, etc, including partial agreements with other parties not amounting to government coalitions, and not involving the workers’ party expressing confidence in these parties.

When we have a majority, we will form a government and implement the whole minimum programme; if necessary, the possession of a majority will give us legitimacy to coerce the capitalist/pro-capitalist and petty bourgeois minority. Implementing the whole minimum programme will prevent the State in the future serving as an instrument of the capitalist class and allow the class struggle to progress on terrain more favourable to the working class.”

What does this road to “socialism” offer to the workers and people? Rather than avoiding the elections, its proponents push for abandoning the revolutionary perspective in favor of a social democracy with “radical” overtones. They claim that the working class can utilize the bourgeois state apparatus to build its power, combined with “movements from below.” This belief centers on the “transition” from capitalism into socialism by transforming the bourgeois state in favor of the workers. These strategies envision the bourgeois state subsuming entire branches of production through state monopolies or outright nationalization as a progressive step towards socialism, but this is an illusion rooted in the formerly progressive nature of capitalism. In reality, they integrate the working masses into the capitalist exploitative system and disarm militant, progressive forces that favor social development. The “democratic road to socialism” is pure demagogy, promising changes without proposing the overthrow of capitalism.

(To be continued)