Hal Draper


The Two Souls of Socialism


9. Six Strains of Socialism-From-Above

We have seen that there are several different strains or currents running through Socialism-From-Above. They are usually intertwined, but let us separate out some of the more important aspects for a closer look.

1. Philanthropism. – Socialism (or “freedom,” or what-have-you) is to be handed down, in order to Do the People Good, by the rich and powerful out of the kindness of their hearts. As the Communist Manifesto put it, with the early utopians like Robert Owen in mind, “Only from the point of view of being the most suffering class does the proletariat exist for them.” In gratitude, the downtrodden poor must above all avoid getting rambunctious, and no nonsense about class struggle or self- emancipation. This aspect may be considered a special case of –

2. Elitism. – We have mentioned several cases of this conviction that socialism is the business of a new ruling minority, non-capitalist in nature and therefore guaranteed pure, imposing its own domination either temporarily (for a mere historical era) or even permanently. In either case, this new ruling class is likely to see its goal as an Educational Dictatorship over the masses – to Do Them Good, of course – the dictatorship being exercised by an elite party which suppresses all control from below, or by benevolent despots or Savior-Leaders of some kind, or by Shaw’s “Supermen,” by eugenic manipulators, by Proudhon’s “anarchist” managers or Saint-Simon’s technocrats or their more modern equivalents – with up-to-date terms and new verbal screens which can be hailed as fresh social theory as against “nineteenth-century Marxism.”

On the other hand, the revolutionary-democratic advocates of Socialism-from-Below have also always been a minority, but the chasm between the elitist approach and the vanguard approach is crucial, as we have seen in the case of Debs. For him as for Marx and Luxemburg, the function of the revolutionary vanguard is to impel the mass-majority to fit themselves to take power in their own name, through their own struggles. The point is not to deny the critical importance of minorities, but to establish a different relationship between the advanced minority and the more backward mass.

3. Plannism. – The key words are Efficiency, Order, Planning, System – and Regimentation. Socialism is reduced to social-engineering, by a Power above society. Here again, the point is not to deny that effective socialism requires over-all planning (and also that efficiency and order are good things); but the reduction of socialism to planned production is an entirely different matter; just as effective democracy requires the right to vote, but the reduction of democracy merely to the right to vote once in a while makes it a fraud.

As a matter of fact, it would be important to demonstrate that the separation of planning from democratic control-from-below makes a mockery of planning itself; for the immensely complicated industrial societies of today cannot be effectively planned by an all-powerful central committee’s ukases, which inhibit and terrorize the free play of initiative and correction from below. This is indeed the basic contradiction of the new type of exploiting social system represented by Soviet bureaucratic collectivism. But we cannot pursue this subject further here.

The substitution of Plannism for socialism has a long history, quite apart from its embodiment in the Soviet myth that Satification = Socialism, a tenet which we have already seen to have been first systematized by social-democratic reformism (Bernstein and the Fabians particularly). During the 1930’s, the mystique of the “Plan,” taken over in part from Soviet propaganda, became prominent in the right wing of the social-democracy, with Henri de Man hailed as its prophet and as successor to Marx. De Man faded from view and is now forgotten because he had the bad judgment to push his Revisionist theories first into corporatism and then into collaboration with the Nazis.

Aside from theoretical construction, Plannism appears in the socialist movement most frequently embodied in a certain psychological type of radical. To give credit due, one of the first sketches of this type came in Belloc’s The Servile State, with the Fabians in mind. This type, writes Belloc,

“loves the collectivist ideal in itself ... because it is an ordered and regular form of society. He loves to consider the ideal of a State in which land and capital shall be held by public officials who shall order other men about and so preserve them from the consequences of their vice, ignorance and folly. [Belloc writes further:] In him the exploitation of man excites no indignation. Indeed, he is not a type to which indignation or any other lively passion is familiar ... [Belloc’s eye is on Sidney Webb here.] ... the prospect of a vast bureaucracy wherein the whole of life shall be scheduled and appointed to certain simple schemes ... gives his small stomach a final satisfaction.”

As far as concerns contemporary examples with a pro-Stalinist coloration, examples-a-go-go can be found in the pages of Paul Sweezy’s magazine Monthly Review.

In a 1930 article on the “motive patterns of socialism,” written when he still thought he was a Leninist, Max Eastman distinguished this type as centered on “efficiency and intelligent organization ... a veritable passion for a plan ... businesslike organization.” For such, he commented, Stalin’s Russia has a fascination:

“It is a region at least to be apologized for in other lands – certainly not denounced from the standpoint of a mad dream like emancipation of the workers and therewith all mankind. In those who built the Marxian movement and those who organized its victory in Russia, that mad dream was the central motive. They were, as some are now prone to forget, extreme rebels against oppression. Lenin will perhaps stand out, when the commotion about his ideas subsides, as the greatest rebel in history. His major passion was to set men free ... if a single concept must be chosen to summarize the goal of the class struggle as defined in Marxian writings, and especially the writings of Lenin, human freedom is the name for it ...”

It might be added that more than once Lenin decried the push for total-planning as a “bureaucratic utopia.”

There is a subdivision under Plannism which deserves a name too: let us call it Productionism. Of course, everyone is “for” production just as everyone is for Virtue and the Good Life; but for this type, production is the decisive test and end of a society. Russian bureaucratic collectivism is “progressive” because of the statistics of pig-iron production (the same type usually ignores the impressive statistics of increased production under Nazi or Japanese capitalism). It is all right to smash or prevent free trade-unions under Nasser, Castro, Sukarno or Nkrumah because something known as “economic development” is paramount over human rights. This hardboiled viewpoint was, of course, not invented by these “radicals,” but by the callous exploiters of labor in the capitalist Industrial Revolution; and the socialist movement came into existence fighting tooth-and-nail against these theoreticians of “progressive” exploitation. On this score too, apologists for modern “leftist” authoritarian regimes tend to consider this hoary doctrine as the newest revelation of sociology.

4. “Communionism.” – In his 1930 article Max Eastman called this “the united-brotherhood pattern,” of “the gregarian or human-solidarity socialists” – “those yearning with a mixture of religious mysticism and animal gregariousness for human solidarity.” It should not be confused with the notion of solidarity in strikes, etc., and not necessarily identified with what is commonly called comradeship in the socialist movement or a “sense of community” elsewhere. Its specific content, as Eastman says, is a “seeking for submersion in a Totality, seeking to lose himself in the bosom of a substitute for God.”

Eastman is here pointing to the Communist Party writer Mike Gold; another excellent case is Harry F. Ward, the CP’s hardy clerical fellow-traveler, whose books theorize this kind of “oceanic” yearning for the shucking-off of one’s individuality. Bellamy’s notebooks reveal him as a classic case: he writes about the longing “for absorption into the grand omnipotency of the universe;” his “Religion of Solidarity” reflects his mistrust of the individualism of the personality, his craving to dissolve the Self into communion with Something Greater.

This strain is very prominent in some of the most authoritarian of the Socialisms-from-Above and is not seldom met in milder cases like the philanthropic elitists with Christian Socialist views. Naturally, this kind of “communionist” socialism is always hailed as an “ethical socialism” and praised for holding class struggle in horror; for there must be no conflict inside a beehive. It tends to flatly counterpose “collectivism” to “individualism” (a false opposition from a humanist standpoint), but what it really impugns is individuality.

5. Permeationism. – Socialism-from-Above appears in many varieties for the simple reason that there are always many alternatives to the self-mobilization of masses from below; but the cases discussed tend to divide into two families.

One has the perspective of overthrowing the present, capitalist hierarchical society in order to replace it with a new, non-capitalist type of hierarchical society based on a new kind of elite ruling class. (These varieties are usually ticketed “revolutionary” in histories of socialism.) The other has the perspective of permeating the centers of power in the existing society in order to metamorphose it – gradually, inevitably – into a statified collectivism, perhaps molecule by molecule the way wood petrifies into agate. This is the characteristic stigmatum of the reformist, social-democratic varieties of Socialism-from-Above.

The very term permeationism was invented for self-description by what we have already called the “purest” variety of reformism ever seen, Sidney Webb’s Fabianism. All social-democratic permeationism is based on a theory of mechanical inevitability: the inevitable self-collectivization of capitalism from above, which is equated with socialism. Pressure from below (where considered permissible) can hasten and straighten the process, provided it is kept under control to avoid frightening the self-collectivizers. Hence the social-democratic permeationists are not only willing but anxious to “join the Establishment” rather than to fight it, in whatever capacity they are allowed to join it, whether as cabin boys or cabinet ministers. Typically the function of their movement-from-below is primarily to blackmail the ruling powers into buying them off with such opportunities for permeation.

The tendency toward the collectivization of capitalism is indeed a reality: as we have seen, it means the bureaucratic collectivization of capitalism. As this process has advanced, the contemporary social-democracy has itself gone through a metamorphosis. Today, the leading theoretician of this neo-reformism, C.A.R. Crosland, denounces as “extremist” the mild statement favoring nationalization which was originally written for the British Labor program by none other than Sidney Webb (with Arthur Henderson)! The number of continental social democracies that have now purged their programs of all specifically anti-capitalist content – a brand new phenomenon in socialist history – reflects the degree to which the ongoing process of bureaucratic collectivization is accepted as an installment of petrified “socialism.”

This is permeationism as grand strategy. It leads, of course, to permeationism as political tactic, a subject we cannot here pursue beyond mentioning its presently most prominent U.S. form: the policy of supporting the Democratic Party and the lib-lab coalition around the “Johnson Consensus,” its predecessors and successors.

The distinction between these two “families” of Socialism-from-Above holds for home-grown socialism, from Babeuf to Harold Wilson; that is, cases where the social base of the given socialist current is inside the national system, be it the labor aristocracy or declassé elements or any other. The case is somewhat different for those “socialisms-from-outside” represented by the contemporary Communist Parties, whose strategy and tactics depend in the last analysis on a power base outside any of the domestic social strata; that is, on the bureaucratic collectivist ruling classes in the East.

The Communist Parties have shown themselves uniquely different from any kind of home-grown movement in their capacity to alternate or combine both the “revolutionary”-oppositionist and the permeationist tactics to suit their convenience. Thus the American Communist Party could swing from its ultra-left-adventurist “Third Period” of 1928-34 into the ultra-permeationist tactic of the Popular Front period, then back into fire-breathing “revolutionism” during the Hitler-Stalin Pact period, and again, during the ups-and-downs of the Cold War, into various degrees of combination of the two. With the current Communist split along Moscow-Peking line, the “Krushchevites” and the Maoists tend each to embody one of the two tactics which formerly alternated.

Frequently, therefore, in domestic policy the official Communist Party and the social-democrats tend to converge on the policy of permeationism, though from the angle of a different Socialism-from-Above.

6. Socialism-from-Outside. – The preceding varieties of Socialism-from-Above look to power at the tops of society: now we come to the expectation of succor from the outside.

The flying-saucer cult is a pathological form, messianism a more traditional form, when “outside” means out of this world; but for the present purposes, “outside” means outside the social struggle at home. For the Communists of East Europe after World War II, the New Order had to be imported on Russian bayonets; for the German Social-Democrats in exile, liberation of their own people could finally be imagined only by grace of foreign military victory.

The peacetime variety is socialism-by-model-example. This, of course, was the method of the old utopians, who built their model colonies in the American backwoods in order to demonstrate the superiority of their system and convert the unbelievers. Today, it is this substitute for social struggle at home which is increasingly the essential hope of the Communist movement in the West.

The model-example is provided by Russia (or China, for the Maoists); and while it is difficult to make the lot of the Russian proletarians half-attractive to Western workers even with a generous dose of lies, there is more success to be expected from two other approaches:

a. The relatively privileged position of managerial, bureaucratic and intellectual-flunky elements in the Russian collectivist system can be pointedly contrasted with the situation in the West, where these same elements are subordinated to the owners of capital and manipulators of wealth. At this point the appeal of the Soviet system of statified economy coincides with the historic appeal of middle-class socialisms, to disgruntled class-elements of intellectuals, technologists, scientists and scientific employees, administrative bureaucrats and organization men of various types, who can most easily identify themselves with a new ruling class based on state power rather than on money power and ownership, and therefore visualize themselves as the new men of power in a non-capitalist but elitist setup.

b. While the official Communist Parties are required to maintain the facade of orthodoxy in something called “Marxism-Leninism,” it is more common that serious theoreticians of neo-Stalinism who are not tied to the party do free themselves from the pretense. One development is the open abandonment of any perspective of victory through social struggle inside the capitalist countries. The “world revolution” is equated simply with the demonstration by the Communist states that their system is superior. This has now been put into thesis-form by the two leading theoreticians of neo-Stalinism, Paul Sweezy and Isaac Deutscher.

Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capitalism (1966) flatly rejects “the answer of traditional Marxist orthodoxy – that the industrial proletariat must eventually rise in revolution against its capitalist oppressors.” Same for all the other “outsider” groups of society – unemployed, farm workers, ghetto masses, etc.; they cannot constitute a coherent force in society.” This leaves no one; capitalism cannot be effectively challenged from within. What then? Some day, the authors explain on their last page, “perhaps not in the present century,” the people will be disillusioned with capitalism “as the world revolution spreads and as the socialist countries show by their example that it is possible” to build a rational society. That is all. Thus the Marxist phrases filling the other 366 pages of this essay become simply an incantation like the reading of the Sermon on the Mount at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The same perspective is presented less bluntly by a more circumlocuitous writer in Deutscher’s The Great Contest. Deutscher transmits the new Soviet theory “that Western capitalism will succumb not so much – or not directly – because of its own crises and contradictions as because of its inability to match the achievements of socialism [i.e. the Communist states]”; and later on: “It may be said that this has to some extent replaced the Marxist prospect of a permanent social revolution.” Here we have a theoretical rationale for what has long been the function of the Communist movement in the West: to act as border guard and shill for the competing, rival establishment in the East. Above all, the perspective of Socialism-from-Below becomes as alien to these professors of bureaucratic collectivism as to the apologists for capitalism in the American academies.

This type of neo-Stalinist ideologist is often critical of the actual Soviet regime – a good example is Deutscher, who remains as far as possible from being an uncritical apologist for Moscow like the official Communists. They must be understood as being permeationists with respect to bureaucratic-collectivism. What appears as a “socialism-from-outside” when seen from the capitalist world, becomes a sort of Fabianism when viewed from within the framework of the Communist system. Within this context, change-from-above-only is as firm a principle for these theoreticians as it was for Sidney Webb. This was demonstrated inter alia by Deutscher’s hostile reaction to the East German revolt of 1953 and to the Hungarian revolution of 1956, on the classical ground that such upheavals from below would scare the Soviet establishment away from its course of “liberalization” by the Inevitability of Gradualness.


Last updated on 26.9.2004