Socialist democracy – Catherine Samary

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Outline of last years' lecture

Our socialist/communist project

A concrete radically democratic and egalitarian utopia

Introduction: objectives and limits of the lecture

1. I will not talk about what is planned later (our strategic, programmatic and political answers, at a global level and in different contexts).

2. The central objective is in the subtitle: we will concentrate on the fundamentally democratic and egalitarian essence of the “socialist/communist” project – as a “concrete utopia” (utopia not in the sense of non-realistic but in the sense of never having been realised; concrete because linked to the potentialities that are emerging in long term history and in the current history of the struggles themselves in and against the capitalist system).

3. But we will have to clarify the meaning we attribute to the words “socialism” (or “communism”); made unclear by experiences, by the diversity of contexts and of political cultures in which the term is used and by different meanings who sometimes are presented as Marxist definitions. As Antonio Gramsci said (the Italian communist who died in a fascist prison in 1937), the struggle for the meaning of words is part of the battle field to win “political hegemony”. The objective of the lecture is also to discuss a coherent approach at this level.

4. And finally, an updated Marxist approach of the emancipatory socialist project must integrate fully the issue of bureaucracy. We have a duty of making the inventory on the so called communist past as Daniel Bensaïd said; but also because more generally, the idea of calling into question the exploitative capitalist relationships , that would allow the constitution of a society without relations of domination has been, to say the least, insufficient or even false (more particularly relations between genders, the national question and racism). We have to give a renewed meaning to the communist utopia as a movement of struggle against all currently existing unequal social formations. To this central objective we can and must link the specific analysis of a reality – not foreseen by Marx (anarchists were more aware of it) – of the bureaucratisation of the organisations and of the experiences whose aim was/is the fight against capitalist exploitation. But how can we fight this? We have to take on again the discussion with anarchist currents by taking fully on board the democratic and anti-bureaucratic aspirations we see emerging in the Indignad@s movement and make a balance sheet of the experiences. The F.I., especially thanks to Ernest Mandel’s contribution ( see the reading materials), has put a specific and coherent emphasis on this essential challenge of the struggles against relations of domination at three levels: a) the functioning of the parties; b) the relation between party and mass movements; and c) the concept of a socialist society itself – taking into account the experience of the stalinisation of the Soviet-Union. I will try to reconstruct in a synthetic way this reflection whilst at the same time pointing at different debates related to this (without treating them in a systematic way) – hoping to transmit the opinion that this is about a big project for our thinking and re-foundation of the socialist project and integrating the experiences of all emancipatory struggles.

I. Socialism, communism : clarify the issues and restore a meaning to the emancipatory project A) Revisiting the classic “definitions” in the handbooks 1.The two phases – a critical discussion 2.Importance of Marx’ critique on “utopian socialism” and what we should keep from it. B) The essential differences 1.Communism as a concrete utopia – a profoundly egalitarian and democratic movement – the words linked to aspirations and experiences… 2.Self labelling of historical realities as “socialist, communist” or the “models” (and means) which are put forward. And hence the possibility a)to analyse the difference between 1 and 2 – its historical and contextual causes , voluntary or involuntary and the lessons to be drawn; b)to re-establish a non dogmatic articulation between the means and the ends (explicitly stated)

II. The bureaucratisation of the labour movement and the anticapitalist revolutions : an organic tendency PS: “bureaucratisation” what does it means exactly? Social and political dimension (inside the workers’ movement): apparatus, full-timers, elected members … at the service of … speaking on behalf of …, and who end up defending their own interests or are being corrupted by the system: make a difference between a process or deformations and changes in the social and political logic (not always easy without hindsight). A)Specific historical conditions and contradictions of the struggles inside/against capitalism and anticapitalist revolutions: 1.“How to become everything whilst being nothing?” – role of political and trade-union organisations: inequalities and the delegation of power … Difficulties of controlling, pressures of daily life. 2.How the “prepare” for socialism in/against the capitalist system? The dialectics of partial conquests; dangers of a stalemate and of powerless revolutionarism. B)Unavoidable difficulties in the building of socialism 1.Inequalities and inherited behaviour 2.Permanent self activity is impossible – diversity of aspirations 3.The pressures of a hostile environment… C)The historical experience 1. Stalinisation: what is it? International dimensions 2. Different degrees and scenarios of bureaucratisation 3. Organic tendencies … important to us.Complex,involuntary relations of domination. The impossible “purity” of the real movements but a conscious struggle 4.Or the refusal of integrating this reality in a self critical sense: only “bourgeois” domination? Or a new revolutionary and dominant class ( managers, intellectuals, parties)?

Conclusions III. Resistance against bureaucratisation and against all relations of domination – some historical and some current debates. 1.Against fatalism in history – the conscious awareness of the difficulties of the emancipatory project – Bureaucracy as an intermediary category ( oscillating between fundamental classes to be analysed in the specific historical context) and bureaucratisation as a relationship of domination to be fought against – the challenge of “real” democracy to be invented – Concrete measures - see E. Mandel: rotation of tasks, payment, revocability … The deepen this debate : see also relations of gender, inequalities

2.Wrong visions and wrong answers … a) workerism – and a naive idea about the proletariat(representing the … and homogenous, without conflicts) – autonomy and mix. Different facets of individuals. Freedom of thought and of organisation. b) The market against State bureaucracy? See debate Mandel/ Che/ Bettelheim on material stimuli against bureaucratic planning. Anarchists concepts on self management c) The suppression of institutions as a solution? No State? No party? No union? No organisation?

3. Necessary coherence a) against all forms of domination … b)From today on c) Linking three fields: the party, the relation with mass movements and with alternative projects …Return to the scientific Marxist truth detained by the party ( the leadership, a certain tendency?) without being capable of convincing others?


1. What difficulties do you have in your country when using the terms communists, socialists – and which pedagogical methods do you use to explain the essence of socialist ideas?

2. How do we fight bureaucracy, relationships of domination in political organisations, in unions, in movements in which we are active? Which measures? Which experiences?

3. Can we prepare ourselves for a project of self managed socialism in/against capitalism? Have you experiences at this level? Which difficulties and which lessons?

4. Was there a movement like the Indignad@s in your country – What concepts on democracy? What do you learn and what difficulties do you experience in this kind of movement?

Reading material

On bureaucracy

  • Ernest MANDEL, De la bureaucratie, [1]
  • Ernest MANDEL, Bureaucracy and Commodity production [2]
  • Ernest MANDEL, La Burocracia [3]

On ecosocialist self management and planning

  • Catherine Samary, 2013, Des dégâts du "productivisme" à la planification écosocialiste autogestionnaire. [4]