21st Century Socialism: A New Theorisation of Old Anti-Marxist Ideas

Protests against the Ecuadorian government’s dissolution of the National Educator’s Union in 2016.

By Alejandro Rios

Originally published as Socialismo de Siglo XXI: Nueva Teorizacion de Viejas Ideas Antimarxistas, Ediciones de la Revolucion Ecuatoriana (Quito, 2008).

Originally appeared in English translation in Revolutionary Democracy, Volume XIV, No. 2, September 2008.


The offensive that tried to convince the workers and the world that the epoch of socialism had come to an end lasted little more than one decade. In the middle of the political debacle to which revisionism led the countries of East Europe, Francis Fukuyama tried to contradict the laws of the historical development of humanity. He spoke of the eternity of bourgeois society, declaring that the end of history had arrived. Shortly thereafter, forced by the circumstances that the world is undergoing, Fukuyama had to acknowledge his error.

There was no naiveté in his error; his argument was part of the ideological arsenal used by U.S. imperialism to combat the revolutionary forces and impose its world domination. This became an ideological-political support for the anti-communist forces in their struggle against the world revolution. Its effect was felt in the popular and revolutionary movement, among some progressive and left-wing intellectuals who were convinced by it and swelled the ranks of reaction. At best, in their disillusionment they sought to ‘put together’ proposals that would make capitalism a less savage system, in a clear demonstration of their state of defeat.

The effect on the international workers movement was great. The revisionist parties, which in some countries and regions had a significant influence on the mass movement, petty-bourgeois left-wing organisations and even Marxist-Leninist parties that were weakened ideologically and politically, and other forces in the revolutionary and democratic movement on a world scale succumbed to the attack. Confusion gained ground and only a few parties and organisations understood the transitory nature of the political process that humanity was undergoing. Our Party was one of them; it never lowered the banners of the revolution and socialism, despite being the target of attack by the bourgeoisie, by organisations and people who called themselves ‘leftists’ – a light, moderate and ‘modern’ left – who accused the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador (PCMLE) of being ‘traditionalist,’ ‘conservative,’ ‘primitive,’ etc.

In these circumstances, the international political scene was under the absolute control of the right-wing forces and the workers movement lost the political initiative. However, capitalism itself refuted the fallacies of the bourgeoisie; its intrinsic contradictions made the idolatry of the system crumble. Once again events proved the revolutionary forces correct; the supposedly buoyant capitalism, which grew and succeeded in embracing the whole planet, could not conceal its crisis, much less its disastrous social effects, by macro-economic figures. Under the ‘neo-liberal model’ poverty and wealth have become even more polarised throughout the whole world, not only between the imperialist and the dependent countries, but also within the former. Three billion people in the world live in poverty, of whom one billion are suffering from hunger. In the developed capitalist countries food is hoarded while the subsidies that the European States grant leave fertile fields fallow. These are a few demonstrations of the insurmountable inequality that the system produces.

The development of capital produced the inevitable: the discontent and protest of the workers, youth and peoples in general. The years in which the workers movement noticeably reduced its resistance struggle were left behind (the period of ebb) and during the last 5 years the revival of the mass movement on the international level has become evident, clearly with differences between one country and another, between one region and another. In some places the revival took place earlier but it is now taking place all over.

In this manner, the preaching of the health of capitalism, of the impossibility of surpassing it – much less by revolutionary means – has been losing ground, has been defeated by the battles of the working class and peoples. Particularly in Latin America the struggle against the neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes and their negative economic and social consequences has allowed the consciousness of the masses to develop, to affirm their desire for change and the certainty that it is possible to achieve this change. In the heat of battle, in various countries the neo-liberal forces have been cornered, leading to a change in the relationship of the social and political forces.

This can be seen in the development of the political forces and movements that raise progressive and left-wing platforms that, in some countries, have won important electoral victories, unfurling the banners of opposition to neo-liberalism, and nourishing the hope of the peoples that they can politically defeat their class enemies.

In this context the ideas of the left have gained ground, so that it no longer seems strange to speak of socialism; there are even State leaders who say that this is their objective. However, a platform called 21st century socialism is being forcefully promoted – making every effort to distinguish itself from Marxist-Leninist socialism – which would be ‘more democratic and humane’ than the socialism known to history, reminding us of some theorisations used in the past by the old revisionists.

Socialism Without Socialist Thought

On December 15, 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made a speech at the Teresa Carreño Theatre in Caracas, which has been called transcendental. The versions that have circulated on the internet were called Features of Building 21stCentury Socialism, and, in fact, contain aspects that signify new positions in the policies of the Venezuelan government.

In that speech, Chavez spoke of working for a new era, which would combine three main elements: the theme of socialism, the formation of the single party and constitutional reform. But when he deals with the theme of socialism he begins by acknowledging that he lacks written material that defines how to advance toward building it.

This does not seem strange, since the ‘theoreticians’ and/or the most noted fighters for ‘21st century socialism’ have always stated that this has to be ‘invented.’

The theoretical and political basis of this socialism can be found in the thought of various Latin American patriots who led the independence struggles and in the thought of some revolutionaries of our day. The former, in their great majority, were bourgeois liberal figures from whom one could not draw a socialist doctrine, either because they did not profess socialism or because some of them in that historical period could not conceive of it. To try to find the ideological base of this ‘new socialism’ in the liberal and republican thought of the beginning of the 19th century is not only absurd, above all it negates the universal and current validity of Marxism-Leninism, but above all as the revolutionary scientific doctrine of the working class for the struggle for its social emancipation and the building of socialism. In this manner it joins forces with the bourgeois campaign which, for many years, has tried to bury Marxism-Leninism, precisely because of its threat to bourgeois domination.

Heinz Dieterich, possibly one of the few who claims to have a formula for ‘21st century socialism,’ in his work of the same name states that it has three components: ‘participatory democracy, a democratically planned economy of equivalences, a non-class State and, consequently, the rational-ethical-aesthetic citizen.’1 We will give our opinion of these components in this article, except for the theme of the economy of equivalences which we will do in a subsequent article.

The theme of ‘participatory democracy’ is the primary one, as Dieterich speaks of it as synonymous with 21st century socialism.2 For his part Haiman El Trudi (presidential adviser to the Venezuelan government), in his book The Leap Forward, in enumerating some characteristics of the socialism that is being built in that country, begins by making clear that this has nothing to do with State capitalism nor with the totalitarian logic that was reproduced in other areas at other times. He then comments that it will not infringe upon liberties and human rights and that it will focus all its attention on the common good. El Trudi not only wants to show that he is far removed from Marxist-Leninist theses, but that he is in agreement with the bourgeois ‘criticism’ of revolutionary socialism which, rather than being a criticism, is a furious campaign of slanders.

The international bourgeoisie has used the crude lie that socialism is synonymous with repression, violation of human rights, lack of public and political liberties, as a weapon, and now El Trudi, Dieterich and others are echoing that lie. Actually existing socialism – says Dieterich – considerably lessened economic exploitation, but not socio-political (top-down) domination nor alienation, which enormously diminished its democratic attractiveness for advanced societies.3 He even states, further on, that there has never been developed ‘the formal and participatory democracy’ in any of the experiences known to humanity.

Since the first unsuccessful attempt of the proletariat to seize power (Paris, 1872 [1871 – translator’s note]), and later in the victorious revolutions in Russia, China, Albania and other countries, together with the adoption of economic measures to put an end to the power of the bourgeoisie and landlords and the creation of the seeds of the new society, they applied measures aimed at guaranteeing the democratic participation of the working class and other labouring classes in the definition of state politics, in the formulation of the economic and political plans, in the application of measures of control, etc.

Karl Marx4 stated that, when the proletariat seizes power, the bourgeois State will be replaced by a communal structure, based on ‘self-administration of the producers,’ making clear the criterion of democratic participation of the masses in defining their destiny. Before the victory of the revolution of November 1917 in Russia, there arose soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers which were the foundation upon which the great socialist State was raised and they fulfilled the role of motor for the development of the revolutionary tasks. There were organisational forms of the masses, true popular parliaments in which all state policies, local and specific policies were discussed. In other countries of People’s Democracy popular councils, revolutionary committees, etc. were created with functions similar to the soviets in many cases, but always with the aim of incorporating the workers and people in the direct exercise of power, They created a new form of democratic participation, proletarian democracy, qualitatively different and superior to the representative or participatory democracy of capitalism.

The first Soviet Constitution, approved after the victory of the revolution, made a great leap forward in the recognition of the political rights of women and youth, which did not exist in capitalist countries; it was the pioneer in the recognition of the economic, social, and cultural rights of the second generation, it advanced in the recognition of the rights of communities and of national groups as collective rights.

The democratic participation of the working class and the labouring classes in the exercise of power in the former Soviet Union and in the countries of People’s Democracy allowed the masses to mobilise enthusiastically in the defence of the new system that they had won.

Anyway, it is necessary to point out the difference between the initial period of building socialism in the USSR and in the other countries of East Europe, and the period in which the Khrushchev revisionists seized power (in the middle of the 1950s) and opened the doors to the restoration of capitalism; on the political level this led to the restriction of democratic rights, the adoption of bureaucratic and authoritarian mechanisms in the exercise of power, the repression of the masses, all in the name of a supposed socialism that in reality no longer existed.

Marxism requires the establishment of the State of the dictatorship of the proletariat as an obligatory tool of the working class for building socialism, to prevent and block the restorationist activities of the local and international bourgeoisie. This state form creates terror among the exploiters which in their more refined criticism they condemn as ‘top-down socio-politics.’ The dictatorship of the proletariat is a state of full democracy for the masses and control and repression for the former exploiting classes; it is built on the principles of democratic centralism, which ‘Engels did not at all understand… in the bureaucratic sense in which this term is used by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologists, the anarchists among the latter. His idea of centralism did not in the least preclude such broad local self-government as would combine the voluntary defence of the unity of the state by the ‘communes’ and districts with the complete abolition of all bureaucracy and all ‘ordering’ from above.5

Without Affecting Private Property, There Is No Socialism

If the former has already led to a dangerous distortion, Dieterich has no reservations about going further when in another one of his writings he calls for overcoming ‘the dogmatism of the discourse of the thirties that confused the problem of socialism with the problem of the form of ownership…’(our emphasis).6 Two elements emerge from this: a) that socialism would result from the adoption of measures in the superstructure and not of measures in the base of society: the economic structure; and b) consequently, that it is possible to build socialism within the framework of capitalism.

How can one have a system that surpasses and is qualitatively different from capitalism without changing its essence, the form in which production is organised determined by the form of ownership of the means of production?7 Can one conceive of a socialism that respects the ownership by the bourgeoisie and therefore the instruments it uses to accumulate wealth through the exploitation of the working class?

The socialism of Mr. Dieterich, in fact, defends the permanence of the bourgeoisie – and with it local and international private capital, even though he states the opposite – not in vain does he call for the establishment of a ‘non-class state.’ This reminds us of the old thesis of the government of the whole people, with which the Soviet revisionists carried out the restoration of capitalism in the former USSR. Inspired by that thought, Hugo Chavez maintains that he is fighting for a socialism ‘that is based on solidarity, fraternity, love, liberty and equality,’8 a rather vague characterisation that is not different from the slogans raised by the French revolution of 1789: liberty, equality and fraternity. On the other hand, he has clearly stated that he is seeking ‘a socialism that does not exclude private enterprise.9

One cannot build socialism if the economic foundation of capitalism is maintained: private ownership of the means of production. Socialism can only be built by establishing the social ownership of the means of production, expressed in the form of state socialist property and cooperative socialist property. That form of organisation of the economy demands a qualitatively different State from the present one.

One cannot build socialism if private ownership of the means of production is not replaced by social ownership and if every form of exploitation of man by man is not suppressed. But one must note that – as distinct from pre-capitalist economic formations, in which the new type of economy matures within the previous mode of production – socialist economy cannot arise from within bourgeois society. Therefore, the revolutionary road is the only one that leads to socialism, by means of expropriating the expropriators, as Karl Marx stated.

When new forms of ownership are established, the relations of production will be radically different – in their essence – from the relations of production under capitalism. These will be expressed by the domination of social ownership of the means of production; by the emancipation of the workers from all exploitation and the establishment of relations of fraternal collaboration and socialist mutual aid; and, by the distribution of products in accord with the interests of the workers themselves in harmony with the principle of ‘to each according to his work.

We have noted all this to show the difference between Marxism and social-democracy represented by Dieterich and company. According to him, ‘the way to emerge from underdevelopment is a policy of development… (that) is kept within the market economy and in the framework of the superstructure of the bourgeois State.10 This contains an extremely dangerous political element, because it would mean that the working class and the peoples should abandon the struggle for the seizure of power and take up the demand to return to the welfare State. This was put forth six decades ago by the bourgeoisie as a mechanism of capitalist accumulation and development to face the crisis that at that time consumed the system and as a political means to confront a flourishing socialism that attracted the attention of the masses.

That political conduct for its part would demand the support of the labouring classes for the local bourgeoisie in carrying out their programme, until the stage of development is reached that would allow the advance to socialism, on the basis of a strategic republican alliance between the peoples and the governments.11 According to Dieterich only countries such as the United States, China and Japan are in a position to advance toward socialism; the rest of us should be satisfied with having a benefactor State and a bourgeoisie that heads a course for development.

In August of 2006, Yasser Gomez (of the Peruvian journal Mariategui) interviewed Dieterich about the way out of neo-liberalism, and this was his answer: ‘The strategic way out of neo-liberalism is, of course, socialism, that is a post-capitalist civilisation, but at this time the conditions to create socialism do not exist, because in the first place the historic project of the new socialism has not been circulated on a mass scale,… if the theory has not been circulated among the people, if neither mass movements nor vanguard movements are there to implement it, it would be a pipe dream to speak of socialism as an alternative to neo-liberal capitalism. The immediate alternative is Keynesianism, State capitalist development(our emphases). …one must combine the two elements, because the peasants, the unemployed, want an immediate answer and socialism cannot be the immediate answer. The two historic projects have to be linked: Keynesianism and 21st Century Socialism.’ These comments should suffice; it is not a slip, because in the same interview he states that both Bolivia and Venezuela are advancing along the road of that Keynesianism.

But the latter it is not what gets the most attention. The ineffable Dieterich (ineffable because he is inexplicable, not because he is extraordinary), in another interview, this time with Cristina Marcano, published in http://www.aporrea.org, responded to the question as to whether conditions exist to implement 21st century socialism in Venezuela in the following way: ‘Yes, such conditions exist today. I will mention only some of them. Two thirds of the population voted for the President with full understanding of his slogan of 21st Century Socialism [sic]. This is a substantial mandate from the citizens. The advance in the educational and economic system and in the consciousness of the people has been notable. Latin American integration and the destruction of the Monroe Doctrine already seem unstoppable. The Armed Forces are now dependable and three key sectors of the national economy are in the hands of the government: the State, PdVSA-CVG [state oil company of Venezuela – translator’s note], and more than a hundred thousand cooperatives.’ We note that this answer was given barely five months after the one given to Yasser Gomez and in the days in which Chavez acknowledged the lack of written material that marks the path towards socialism, as we stated in the first paragraphs of this article. Could things have matured so rapidly, or did he respond in that way to praise the readers of Aporrea, the Venezuelan electronic media.

The Road to Socialism Is the Mixed Economy (?!)

Let us say a little more to understand this thinker who has made a few intellectuals dizzy who lost their way when the Berlin Wall collapsed, as if it had fallen on their heads.

On February 10 of this year aporrea.org published an interview with José Luis Carrillo. The title of that interview is decisive: ‘The mixed economy is the road to 21st century socialism,’ and synthesises the essence of the interview. According to Carrillo, Dieterich is convinced that the nationalisation of private property does not lead to socialism, because ‘if State property was socialism, then already under (King) Charles V we would have socialism in Latin America, because when the Spanish Crown arrived in the Americas, all the property of the land, the subsoil and what is above was the king’s patrimony, but this was feudalism, not socialism. The only possible way is a mixed economy, which would have three elements, the State, private enterprise and social property in the form of cooperatives,’ Dieterich states.12

Argumentative ingenuity or bad intentions? Of course there is no ingenuity in that argument, but a crude attack on one of the fundamental pillars of socialism: the elimination of private ownership of the means of production and its nationalisation.

State property by itself is not synonymous with socialism, and actually it existed under feudalism and under capitalism; but he ‘forgets’ to state who, which social classes are at the head of the State in those societies. In a society in which the workers are in power, state ownership is not the same as what it is in the capitalist framework, in which the bourgeoisie and finance capital are the beneficiaries.

Let us return to the last lines of the text quoted above and we will find that Dieterich is a supporter of ‘a mixed economy with three elements, the State, private enterprise and social property…’ as the road to socialism, placing himself, in fact, as a defender of private property.

In that ‘socialism’ the role of the private enterprise would be conditioned, neither more nor less, by efficiency, by ‘the capacity of administration. If an entity administers an enterprise adequately – Dieterich states – you do not really have a motive to take its property or possessions, if it abuses them that is another matter. I would assume a functional vision.’ So much for this socialism, in which the exploiters, those responsible for the miserable conditions of life of the workers and peoples, become redeemers, thanks to their capacity for administrative management. He forgets the insurmountable class barriers which place the working class and labouring classes, on the one hand, and the bourgeoisie and imperialism, on the other, on opposite sides.

The Keynesianism put forward by the defenders of 21st century socialism seeks to create the material conditions for the development of socialism, and therefore – as we stated a few lines above – only the imperialist powers would have the possibility of achieving it. As Dieterich himself states, development unfolds in the framework of the capitalist market and bourgeois institutionalism; but capitalist development by itself does not lead to socialism. What capitalism generates are certain economic and social conditions, thanks to the development of the productive forces, to the ever greater socialisation of labour and concentration of production. But that is not enough to build socialism if one does not expropriate the means of production of the bourgeoisie and transform them into collective property after the seizure of power by the working class. That is, the transition from capitalism to socialism is only possible after the seizure of power by the working class and in the framework of the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Socialism and the period of transition from capitalism to socialism are qualitatively different. Until the achievement of social ownership and the elimination of private ownership of the means of production, one must take measures aimed at reconstructing the productive forces of society. ‘Lenin stated this when he declared at the Congress of the Communist International in 1921, that “the material basis for socialism cannot be other than large mechanised industry able to also reorganise agriculture.’’’13 In that epoch, this represented the greatest development of the instruments of production; now we must utilise the most advanced technological achievements and the most developed scientific knowledge.

In this period all the means of liquidating the bourgeoisie are applied, tearing capital away from it little by little and centralising the instruments of production in the hands of the State; its nature and duration will depend on the particular conditions of each country.

This means that, at the beginning, together with state property there will coexist and be respected: a) small private property (small commercial production created by peasants and artisans); b) elements of State capitalism, arising from concessions and agreements with capitalists in sectors where the new State does not have the technological and scientific capacity to develop the productive forces. But this will be temporary and in the framework of a new, qualitatively different system, because the working class will have the power in its hands and will have gone from being a dominated class to being the ruling class. It will be a State of the dictatorship of the proletariat and all activities will be oriented to crushing the vestiges of capitalism and not, as Dieterich states, to living together with the bourgeoisie in a non-class State.

It may seem that there is no difference between these two programmes in regard to the existence of various forms of property, but the contrast is radical. Marxist-Leninist socialism speaks of a period of transition from capitalism to socialism in the initial phase, but under conditions in which the working class has taken power into its hands, creating a qualitatively different circumstance, in a process led by the proletariat and its political vanguard. Dieterich, on the other hand, when speaking of socialism or of the new historic project does so in terms of the most advanced phases. ‘The realisation of the NHP (new historic project) – he states – will take place in three phases: a) the final phase is a society without a market economy, without the State and without culture of exclusion… b) the intermediate phase will be a period of coexistence of elements inherited from bourgeois global society and elements from the new global post-bourgeois society. It will serve to gradually harmonise the technological, educational, economic, political, cultural, military, etc. levels of development, between the States of the First World and the neo-colonial States… The first phase (‘c’) of overcoming global capitalism is the time in which we are living… characterised at present by the process of formation of the programme for post-bourgeois society …14 Note that at no time does he refer to the forms of ownership of the means of production; only in the higher phase does he refer to the sphere of the market and to elements of the superstructure.

We had to cite Dieterich extensively to show that his programme does not foresee a break, but rather an evolutionary process of capitalism into socialism, which in the case of Latin America would have as its essence the formation of a regional power bloc, based on MERCOSUR [South American Market – translator’s note].15

‘…Today, – says Dieterich – as in the 19thcentury, it is only possible to overcome underdevelopment in the conditions of a global neo-colonial economy with the strategy of protectionist development employed by Germany and Japan; later by the Asian tigers and in Latin America, by Cardenas, Peron and Vargas. But there is a vital difference: it can no longer be applied only on a national level. The smallest area in which it can be successfully implemented is in a regional market and State that can defend itself from the United States and the European Union, a protectionist Latin American bloc that will allow the development of its industries, the recovery of the countryside, the conservation of its natural resources, the promotion of cutting edge sciences and technologies and the defence of its own identity.

In the present political conditions in Latin America, characterised by the failure of the centre-right and centre-left in power, and the persistent insistence of Washington to continue squeezing the last drop of surplus value from the Great Fatherland [Latin America – translator’s note], the national and regional Bolivarian project is the only immediate hope for change. The nucleus of this Great Fatherland can only be Mercosur, which is the only regional economic space not controlled directly by Washington, with incipient structures of a regional proto-State. This regional bloc, of course, is a capitalist entity, just as the Great Fatherland presented by the Liberator, Simon Bolívar. And there will be citizens who say that they are not willing to struggle for a capitalist project. About this question, which is absolutely legitimate, one must make two reflections.

In the first place, the programmes of national change that will be carried out in coordination with the Latin American regional bloc are the immediate answer to the present situation in Latin America. The strategic horizon of Our America, as that of all humanity, is participatory democracy or the new socialism. Upon integrating this third programmatic level of change into the national and regional struggle, the road is opened up toward the ‘kingdom of liberty’ and the stagnation in the policies of the day-to-day struggle is avoided.

In the second place, the present alternative for the Latin American countries is not between the implementation of regional capitalism or regional socialism, but between neo-liberal annexation to the United States by means of the FTAA and Plan Colombia, and the deepening of the national balkanisation and africanisation that we are experiencing. Because, not only is there no Latin American socialist programme with roots among the masses, but there are no organised social subjects with the operating capacity to carry it out. There are no Latin American confederations of students that could go on strike against the academic life of Our America; of workers that could paralyse the regional economy; of peasants that could block the highways that lead to the cities, of small and medium-sized businessmen, unions, political parties, etc. that could express their political will on a hemispheric level. Therefore, to present the implantation of regional socialism today as an alternative to the balkanisation or neo-liberal annexation to the United States would be nothing more than a wish. Because it is clear that a political project without a programme and without social subjects, is a pipe-dream’ (our emphases).

He then summarises the three elements that the ‘strategy of State protectionist capitalism’ should fulfill to be successful: ‘1) it has to be national – regional; 2) it should be based on four poles of growth; and, 3) it should solve the problem of financing of the expanded accumulation of capital.’ The poles of development mentioned in point 2 refer to:‘1) the small and medium-sized businesses; 2) the transnational corporations; 3) the cooperatives and, 4) the strategic State enterprises.

These are the central ideas of Dieterich regarding the period of ‘Latin American transition to the new socialism,’ a completely capitalist process that is radically different from the Marxist-Leninist conception.

A final element in this aspect. On analysing the political options for Latin America to emerge from underdevelopment, Dieterich does not miss any opportunity to deny the validity of the use of organised violence to defeat the forces of capital. ‘The third option – says the above-mentioned author – classic guerilla warfare is no longer an option – for many reasons, from the urbanisation in Latin America to military technology and the impossibility of an independent national development – a strategic access to a non-capitalist society. The use of arms continues to be legitimate, of course, in the defence of the interests of the peoples, when the democratic institutional roads are closed.’ This bourgeois pacifism, added to the evolutionary conception of the transition from capitalism to socialism, makes Dieterich a social-democratic ‘thinker’ disguised as a socialist.

The Non-Class State

Let us return to the theme of the ‘non-class state’; but before we do, it would help to recall some basic elements of Marxism that will serve us as premises for the analysis.

In his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels states that ‘The state is therefore by no means a power forced on society from without… rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable opposites which it is powerless to exorcise. But in order that these opposites, classes with conflicting economic interests, shall not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power seemingly standing above society that would moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.16

A central point of the Marxist conception of the State is that it recognises it as resulting from the irreconcilable character of the class contradictions, from which it concludes that as long as they exist, the State will remain. Another fundamental aspect is the distinct roles of the State as an instrument of domination of one class by another, both under capitalism and under socialism. The bourgeoisie cannot exercise its class domination without basing itself on the State and its special apparatus of repression; whatever its form, it looks for mechanisms to strengthen and develop it. On the other hand, the working class upon seizing power adopts a series of measures that lead to the weakening and final extinction of the socialist State.

The inconsistencies and contradictions that appear throughout Dieterich’s work are clear, including on this theme. At one moment he says that a component of the institutionalism of 21st century socialism is the non-class State and at other moments he says that this State will disappear. In point 2.2.3 The Class State, after a few argumentative words regarding the functions of the State, he limits himself to saying that ‘it will disappear with participatory democracy. In its place there will be a new authority that makes its priority the general interests and that, upon losing its class functions it will lose its repressive identity.17 On this point the author does not recognise or differentiate an initial phase and a separate advanced phase of socialism; he speaks of 21st century socialism in general. And it is logical that he uses those terms because, as we have already shown, he understands the transition to socialism within the framework of capitalism.

If with this Dieterich is referring to the period that Marxism identifies as the higher phase of socialism, then the State would have disappeared, it would not exist and one could not discuss the administrative organisation of society using this concept. If he is alluding to the initial phase, we are faced with an enormous fraud, because in this phase classes still exist and the class struggle is no less intense and open than under capitalism; therefore the continued existence of a state form is natural and indispensable. To speak of a State is to tacitly recognise the existence of classes, so it is irrational or contradictory – to say the least – to speak of a ‘non-class State’ as the institutionalism of 21st century socialism.

With this concept the State is made into an organ of class conciliation, while we Marxists maintain that that is an organ of class domination. ‘That the state is an organ of the rule of a definite class which cannot be reconciled with its antipode (the class opposite to it), is something the petty-bourgeois democrats will never be able to understand,’ Lenin states in The State and Revolution.18

On this point one must remember the old and fierce struggle that has taken place since the time of Marx and Engels between Marxism and opportunism, that led Lenin to point out that someone is not yet a Marxist if he recognises the existence of social classes, but only if he extends this recognition to the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx, in a letter to Weydemeyer (March of 1852), writes the following emblematic words. ‘Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was 1) to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3) that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.’19

The Uruguayan anarchist Raul Zibechi, who also is also a supporter of 21st century socialism, distorts history when he states that Karl Marx ‘never wagered the State as the key to the vault of the construction of socialism, an institution that he always considered an obstacle on the road to emancipation.’ Actually, we Marxists do not see the State as an end; we understand it as a tool utilised by classes to exercise their power and that it will disappear when the conditions for communism have been created. Since our objective is a classless society – and not the equality of classes – we implicitly struggle to put an end to the State as a tool for the domination of one class over another.

Karl Marx, in his ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’ states that ‘Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat,20 to which one should add the following formulation of Lenin: ‘Marxism differs from anarchism in that it recognises the need for a state and for state power in the period of revolution in general, and in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism in particular.

‘…Marxism differs from the petty-bourgeois, opportunist “Social-Democratism”… in that it recognises that what is required during these two periods is not a state of the usual parliamentary bourgeois republican type, but a state of the Paris Commune type.21

But the proletariat needs that State temporarily, since it must disappear and ‘the transitional form of its disappearance (the transition from state to non-state) would be ‘the proletariat organised as the ruling class.”’22 Therefore, while it exists it will maintain its class character.

‘The Subjects of Change’

Under this subtitle Dieterich analyses the forces and programme of the New Historic Project. Here, as in his invention of the non-class State, he refuses to recognise the vanguard role that the working class fulfills in the leadership of the anti-capitalist movement, as well as in the construction of socialism. ‘The emancipating subject is formed by the community of victims of neo-liberal capitalism and all those who are in solidarity with them. The working class continues to be a fundamental detachment within this community of victims, but probably will not constitute its hegemonic force.23 This form of denying the role of the working class is also seen in another aspect when, several lines earlier, he states that ‘Nor do there seem to exist conditions for the armed revolution in the traditional sense…’ Neither ‘traditional’ nor ‘modern,’ because under the logic of 21st century socialism the use of organised violence by the masses is incompatible with the transition from developing capitalism into ‘socialism.’

He also attacks the Leninist thesis of the possibility of building socialism in one country; earlier he attacked the Leninist thesis of the weakest link, when he stated that only countries with a high degree of capitalist development (such as the United States, Japan, China, etc.) can advance to socialism. On page 61 we find the following: ‘No project of profound national change can prosper at present, if it is not conceptualised and carried out as an integral part of a world project. This is because the dependency of the national economies with regard to their surroundings is so profound that the survival of a non-capitalist project within its own national space becomes impossible in the medium term. In this sense, the old theoretical discussion about the possibility of building socialism in a single country has been resolved by the historical evolution of the last decades (our emphasis). Capitalism is a systemic problem, not a local one – like cancer; in the end, it can only be defeated with a strategy of defence and advances on a system-wide level. In the same way, the democratised praxis of the world subject of change can only accumulate the force necessary to advance beyond the present system, if one conceives of the struggle on a global and regional level, in order to act on national and local level.’ (Think globally, act locally.) Playing both sides, as he also does in other themes, immediately afterwards he states that ‘this does not mean that the transformation has to take place at the same time in the whole global village in order to be viable, (…) generally the new system will be established in one sector of the dominant system and then expand gradually and be converted from a subsystem or new order (heterodoxy) into a system or main order (normal): the new orthodoxy. We would suppose that the transition from contemporary global capitalism to world participatory democracy will follow this same evolutionary logical.

As in other aspects, Dieterich tries to pretend that his proposal is completely ‘innovative,’ while he recalls – at a glance – elements recognised by the revolutionary movement for many years. Since the appearance of the Communist Manifesto(1848) the struggle for socialism was formulated as a ‘systemic’ phenomenon – to use Dieterich’s words – and not as a local or much less circumstantial one. That understanding is summed up in the slogan: Workers of the World, Unite!, and in the immediate efforts to form an international organisation of the proletariat, which led to the International Workingmen’s Association, founded in 1864 and known as the First International. Its first documents recognised the principles of scientific communism, and proclaimed the need for the national and international unity of the working class and the need to seize political power to achieve their emancipation.

Marxism has always viewed the social revolution of the proletariat as international in content, because we are confronting a system and a class that has achieved world domination, whose final defeat depends on its total elimination. But this world revolution, is national in form, that is, it is expressed in the battles that the working class in each country will wage to defeat ‘its own’ bourgeoisie and seize power. In fact, the effects of the local victorious revolutions are not limited to their borders; they have international implications in that they affect the chain of imperialist domination, as well as ideological and political effects in the international revolutionary movement.

In Lenin’s analysis of imperialism, he notes the uneven development in the capitalist and imperialist countries, concluding that the system will be broken at its weakest link and not necessarily in the country with the highest development of the productive forces, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 confirmed that. From that analysis arose the theory of the possibility of the victory of socialism in a single country or in a limited number of countries. Stalin24 refers to a quotation from Lenin – from August of 1915 – in which he explains this phenomenon in the following way: ‘Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country taken separately. The victorious proletariat of that country, having expropriated the capitalists and organised its own socialist production, would stand up against the rest of the world, the capitalist world, attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, raising revolts in those countries against the capitalists, and in the event of necessity coming out even with armed force against the exploiting classes and their states.

In the former Soviet Union the victory of socialism was proclaimed at the beginning of the 1930s; that is, the period of transition from capitalism to socialism had come to an end, having overcome the ‘fundamental contradiction of the period of transition (that) existed between rising socialism and the capitalist forms of economy’25 However, years later, that new order was subverted by the Khrushchev revisionists.

It should be noted that the Bolshevik Party analysed the possibility that this victory would not be final. Stalin foresaw the danger of being surrounded by countries hostile to socialism that could intervene to restore capitalism, concluding that ‘we can say open and honestly that the victory of the socialism in our country is not final.26 And really international capital acted against the Soviet Union in the Second World War. Earlier, Lenin warned in the following terms: ‘We are living not merely in a state, but in a system of states, and the existence of the Soviet Republic side by side with imperialist states for a long time is unthinkable. One or the other must triumph in the end. And before that end comes, a series of frightful collisions between the Soviet Republic and the bourgeois states will be inevitable. That means that if the ruling class, the proletariat, wants to, and will hold sway, it must prove this by its military organization also.27

On another occasion, analysing other conditions, Stalin warned of the following: ‘Be careful; this victory will not be final as long as socialism is only victorious in a single country…’ However, it is a fact that all those warnings did not foresee that capitalist restoration would come from an internal process of degeneration; they always put emphasis on external elements as factors that could put at risk the socialism that was built in the former USSR.

Socialism was subverted from within, by opportunist and degenerate elements who, in order to deceive the working class and the international communist movement initially spoke using Marxist and pseudo-Marxist concepts and categories. The bourgeoisie was able to penetrate with its ideology inside the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to divert it from the revolutionary path and restore capitalism. This bitter lesson, in which the Soviet and international proletariat suffered a temporary defeat, emphasises the fact that the struggle between socialist ideology and capitalist ideology takes place not only in the confrontation between the revolutionary movement and the bourgeoisie, but it also develops within the former.

Since the beginning of Marxism it was always necessary to fight against anti-Marxist and pseudo-revolutionary currents within the workers movement, which worked to lead the revolutionary movement to positions favourable to capitalism. The theorisations of 21st century socialism are not different from these in their ideological-political objectives; they are a new version of bourgeois social-democratic thinking, which tries to create an apparently socialist and anti-capitalist movement, but in fact does nothing more than prop up the system.

September, 2007


1 See Dieterich, Heinz, 21st Century Socialism. Foreword to the Mexican edition.

2 Ibid. Throughout his book, Dieterich at times speaks of participatory democracy as synonymous with 21st century socialism and at other times he says that it is one of its institutional components, therefore not synonymous with it.

3 Dieterich Heinz, 21st Century Socialism, p. 32.

4 See The Civil War in France.

5 Lenin, V.I. The State and Revolution, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, English edition, p. 87.

6 Rafael Correa reiterated Dieterich’s view, when he stated that the elimination of private property is untenable at the International Forum: Socialisms of the 21st Century (Quito, August of 2007).

7 Marxist political economy maintains that one society is differentiated from another, not by what each produces, but by the form in which the process of production is organised.

8 Second Conference on Alternative Relations, Vienna, May 13, 2006 (www.gobiernoenlinea.gob.ve).

9 Meeting of 12 chiefs of State of South America, Venezuela, March 2007.

10 From the speech of Heinz Dieterich at the round table on 21st century socialism, held in Quito on August 30, 2007 in the House of Ecuadorian Culture.

11 Ibid.

12 The former Minister of the Economy of Ecuador, Ricardo Patiño, states these ideas. In the round table on 21st century socialism (Quito, August 30, 2007), while making a summary of the characteristics of that socialism, among others aspects, he also states that its basis is in the mixed economy, in which the State does not dominate the market, therefore one part should be led by society (that is by private producers – editor’s note), and that the State should not try to control all the production even in its most advanced phases.

13 Contribution to the assessment of socialism in the USSR, Communist Party of the Workers of France, March 1996, p. 9.

14 21st century socialism, pp. 58-59.

15 See point 6. Latin American programme of transition to the new socialism.

16 See Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1978, English edition, pp. 206-207.

17 Heinz Dieterich, 21st Century Socialism, p. 25.

18 See Lenin, The State and Revolution, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, English edition, p. 9.

19 Letter of Karl Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer, March 5, 1852. Marx-Engels Collected Works, English edition, vol. 39, p. 58.

20 Critique of the Gotha Programme, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1972, English edition pp. 28-29.

21 Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, Collected Works, English edition, vol. 24, p. 69.

22 Lenin, The State and Revolution, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, English edition, p. 67.

23 Op. cit., p. 58.

24 See J. Stalin, Concerning Questions of Leninism, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1976, English edition, pp. 216-217.

25 Contribution to the assessment of socialism in the USSR. Communist Party of the Workers of France, March 1996, p. 17.

26 Ibid, p. 18.

27 Quoted by J. Stalin in Concerning Questions of Leninism, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1976, English edition, p. 214.


Categories: Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: