This year's question: "The global economic crisis has revealed capitalism's inability to meet the needs of the vast majority of the world's population. Given the experience of the last century, how can a case for socialism be made?"


What to Learn from Failed Past Experiences

Salvador Aguilar

This essay tries to establish a simplified balance sheet of the trajectory taken by the socialist movement during the last 150 years. It focuses specifically on attempts which arose from the very core of the movement aimed at getting rid of capitalism and building instead societies strongly infused with equality and democracy. My purpose here is to project the understanding acquired over those attempts, their successes and, especially, their defeats, in order to outline what the socialism of the new era should learn from the past. I am convinced that a true understanding of those defeats is the best way to avoid new failed experiences in the future.i A strange if symptomatic fact is that the Left culture has been as late in reviewing and analyzing both the record of the Soviet-type societies of the XXth century and its influence on the socialist tradition in light of the collapse of 1989, the events which followed, and the substantive progress made by social science research in the "post-soviet laboratory."ii Some of this I propose to do at an elementary level. In response to the question of what can be learned from socialist experiences which for one reason or another did not triumph and stabilize, my response revolves around five core lessons developed below.

Failed Socialist Experiences

We can obtain valuable cognitive as well as political lessons from the breadth of modern attempts to overthrow capitalism, themselves an expression of highlighting points of the social conflict during the XXth century. But this is so on condition that one recognizes their internal variation:

A. Triumphant social revolutions of the classic communist cycle (mainly the 1917, 1949, and 1959 cases), which degenerated into new class societies and unreformable dictatorships. These I call "mistaken openings."

B. Two grand historic transitions (1968 and 1989-91), understood as those historic epochs which, though producing great social changes, did not, however, give way to social revolutions in the usual sense of the term (that is, our type A).

C. A variety of emancipatory revolutions aborted at the start. These include a number of crucial--albeit heterogeneous--events, the four outstanding cases being in my opinion 1918-19 (Germany), 1936-39 (Catalonia), 1956 (Hungary) and 1970-73 (Chile).

D. Post-communist anti-systemic revolts. Since 1968, and more clearly after 1989, these revolts have absorbed the bulk of social conflict as well as raised an expectation of the advent of revolution and a new social order. They unmistakably aim at social transformation in the direction of a new equalitarian and democratic order, but separate themselves from the characteristic imagery of the type A experiences. Taken together, they suggest the coming of a new protest cycle of which the episodes of 1994 (Chiapas), 1995 (France), and the anti-globalization movement (begun in Seattle in 1999) stand out.

Looking backward, these episodes, in particular those of type A on which--given the space limitations--I focus, raise at minimum the following five observations or "lessons":

The Role of Revolutions in History: Avoid Detours, Assume Complexity

Lesson one: there does not exist something one can call "the Revolution." Instead what exists are revolutions, plural, which respond to logics of different kind and produce variegated social effects, only some of which can we associate to the socialist tradition. On the other hand, revolutions are not only events but also historical processes: triumphant political revolutions with faultless legitimacy, can degenerate into social revolutions which contradict the basic principles which propelled them at the beginning.

The idea of a definitive and unique, purifying, Revolution is one of the myths of modern history. And not by coincidence: it underscores the archetypal dimension of such events in secular societies divided by sharp class conflicts and with broad sectors of the population subject to the dictates of violence from above and a variety of forms of exploitation and oppression. In other words, the idea of a radical and sudden social change in the social hierarchy fans the justified desire for revenge of the lower classes which, in turn, fills the imagination of the ruling classes with terror faced with violence, actual or threatened, coming from "coalitions of alienated commoners."iii

This idea, however, is a myth. Although modern social conflict sparks a heap of protests and social struggles (our four types outlined above), actually existing social revolutions (type A) are just a few. In the modern era they are associated with the project of modernization, fitting the perceptive definition of Theda Skocpol:

Social revolutions are "rapid, basic transformations of a society's state and class structures; and they are accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below.... What is unique to social revolution is that basic changes in social structure and in political structure occur together in a mutually reinforcing fashion."iv

These are the principal conditions of modernizing social revolutions. Although few in number, they are neither identical nor made of the same material, much less lead inexorably to stable states of social brotherhood stemming from utopian visions of the socialist tradition. Despite this, the idea---the myth---is not useless; it frequently acts as an emotional engine for discontent and for upsurges of "coalitions of alienated commoners." The great Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes has captured this function of revolutions and the high emotional charge associated with them:

"having just raised the barricades on the first day of combat, many groups, without prior coordination, marched through the streets of Paris shouting against the watchtowers. To halt the day? Yes, in a certain way: to update the present, to locate it in itself. Revolutions are conscious of their immediate character, exultant, existential, if anything, fleeting, and surely unrepeatable.... They shot at clocks in order to stop time and for the unrepeatable instant to become eternity."v

Type A social revolutions of the contemporary epoch are those most similar to the ones described by the quoted authors and, because of this, they have been decisive in driving forward the modern world, not only in those societies directly affected (Russia, China and Cuba), but also, by a demonstration effect, in the entire world. However, although indispensable, from our analytical focus here they turned out to be of secondary importance in order to build socialism. Looking back to these events, they verify Paul Sweezy's judgement on "post-revolutionary societies": they have led the concerned populations to new class societies that are neither capitalist nor Additionally, this "detour" from the objectives of the original political revolution internally gave way to the physical annihilation of the democratic communist Left, contributed decisively to the demobilization of the surviving Left (in those countries where the revolution did not triumph) and stripped the bulk of the population of its ability to play a role in any significant collective decision-making and, therefore, in the project of social transformation.

Both factors combined to erect a formidable obstacle in the road towards post-capitalist social orders that were, at the same time, socialist orders. The Stalinist "detour" has made us more conscious than before that the gigantic processes of social engineering that try to make us transition to socialism must, as a high priority, manage the important "imperfections" which, of necessity, will accompany them. They demand self-correcting mechanisms regarding the body of ideas that make up the "conscience" of the social system--that is, the trial-and-error process centered on the most basic principles of socialism. It is of crucial importance for the construction of socialism that the emergence of "substantial imperfections" are overcome by the power of the people (or State power, or both), otherwise correcting them later can be delayed for generations, perhaps even leading to the total degeneration of the original project impelled by the founding political revolution.

My final point is that the manifest substantial acceleration of History during the XXth Century (see E. Hobsbawmvii) as well as the recent waves of the social conflict (cases B and D, above) together show the increasing complexity of the phenomenon of revolution and its expression through a variety of types that can occur at once within the same historical time. My conclusion is that the transition to a socialist society could follow an innovative and unprecedented road (anticipated perhaps by 1968).

The Socialist Project Ran Aground because its Anti-Systemic Strategy was Wrong

Lesson two. In retrospect, both the thrust of the classical socialist project as well as the disposition, enthusiastic at first, of important sectors of the popular classes towards a more equalitarian and just social order ended up negatively impacted by what can only be called setbacks of the international Left--the most emblematic episodes being perhaps the events of 1989-91. The setback in itself was not so much the events themselves (a final and inevitable closure) but the renunciation of the central socialist principles (in whatever form we can think of them) as well as the big errors which can be identified along the road which eventually led to their failure. I emphasize now one of these---the inappropriateness of the strategy followed by the movement.

Since it attempts to alter not only the social structure but human nature itself, the magnitude of social change demanded by the socialist project can become paralyzing. Human nature does not exist as something fixed; there are human natures defining a variety of beings, men and women, which to a certain extent adapt themselves to the main value system which the successive social systems maintain at their core.viii The socialist transformation amounts to working towards the appearance of a concerned and supportive human being, which is why this historic process will be very long, sluggish and full with obstacles and inevitable steps backward. All of this contradicts the mythical idea of a pure revolutionary event occurring within a short span of historic time (the political revolution). Like all historic changes which require social agency on a grand scale (the social revolution), the advent of socialist societies will materialize only after passing through a long period of difficulties, imposed from without by opposing class forces, not to mention from within by complex macro-processes of trial and error themselves not free of the clash of competing interests.

But from whatever starting point, it must begin. Faced by the above-described scenario, the action strategy followed by the "Old Left" consisted fundamentally, as Wallerstein well put it, of a two-phased schema: take control of the State, in order to then change the world.ix It was the first deliberate attempt on a grand scale to put an end to the market system and humanize society as we know it. It based itself on several structural characteristics of industrial capitalism, notably the creation of an industrial working class numerically very powerful and culturally homogeneous (because of its concentration in both the factories and working-class neighborhoods), which gave rise to a new institutional power: a socialist political movement (with three well defined branches: social democracy, anarchism, and communism); the workers movement, a social movement which embraced the labor force and its disposition to combine in order to make demands; and two newly created and powerful institutions, the workers' parties and the unions. This impressive institutional framework incorporated characteristic collective action repertoires (the strike, the general strike, demonstrations, industrial sabotage) and its most meaningful activities extended from approximately the middle of the Nineteenth Century through the beginning of the post-industrial era at the end of the 1960s.

Wallerstein's argument is unassailable: the second phase of the strategy produced a disaster. Anti-systemic forces within the socialist movement conquered power in many places (entering government in many countries of the First World and in other places, through insurrection, seizing the State in the revolutions of the classical communist cycle mentioned above). But the great transformation to a new type of society, a socialist one, was conspicuous by its absence.x It was this, at some point between 1945 and the 1960s, what pushed the socialist project into a profound crisis, of which 1989-91 was simply the culmination.The strategy followed by the "Old Left" (the institutional coalition described above) ended in bankrupcy in 1989 but had been already discredited much earlier and was already vehemently challenged in 1968. The 1917-1949-1959, true and formidable political revolutions pushed forward by the working classes, ended up as detoured social revolutions, frustrated openings whose main causes, despite still causing empassioned debates, are sufficiently clear and well established.

A new anti-systemic strategy forced its way into the open, in the East but also with unstoppable force in the West, beginning in the decade at the end of the 1950s and to the end of the 1960s. It started with the split of democratic communists from Stalinism and the creation of the New Left in the West in the 1960s (with Les Temps Modernes, Monthly Review and New Left Review in prominent place), as well as the emergence of new social movements (pacifists, ecologists, feminists, civil rights, sexual liberation and others). It continued with organized rebellions against the Stalinist nomenclature in the East (in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, although we already could see there the early drift from anti-Stalinism towards overall anti-socialist positions). In addition, for the moment, finished up in the protest cycle that opened on the First of January 1994 in Chiapas and broadly embraced a new internationalism without precedent which came together in the Social Forums and the anti-globalization movement initiated in Seattle in 1999. The strategy of this "Newest" Left is different than the previous one: more than taking over the State, it looks after conquering the social relations that lie below. Consequently, it emphasizes micro-politics as well a change in cultural models (beginning with a rejection of the developmentalism so much a part of capitalism as well as Stalinism). And it looks at, above all, to change the lives and minds of a broad majority, and only afterwards, to change the world.

Democracy is the Central and Final Goal of Socialism, but It Should Serve to Attain It As Well

Lesson three: the route followed by the type A experiences demonstrates clearly that societies which seek socialism cannot allow themselves to maintain the preexisting social hierarchy (or create a new one) without risking the emergence of non-free, culturally "expropriated" citizens. What is required to evade that course is the broadening of both civil society and the democratization of society.

As a crucial factor explaining the stranding of socialism, the argument above has targeted the erroneous strategy of the Old Left. We can now add to this key factor another one which is equally decisive, one which concerns the second phase of that strategy (and from which stems its defeat) and highlights the essence of "1989": the establishment within those societies which made type A revolutions of dictatorships which coexisted for decades with official doctrines and programs espousing emancipation. This schizophrenic double practice by the systems (and parties) of the Soviet type led to more or less the same results everywhere (and anticipated the crisis of 1989 and also, in part, the failure of Gorbachev's intended reforms): the absence of basic civil liberties, the alienation of the bulk of the population from the idea of socialism, the inexistence of a socialist civil society, the astonishing "inefficiency" of a dictatorial program of political socialization practiced by the Stalinist regimes and so forth. In my opinion, this duality crystallized in an image which fairly symbolized the era, when, at the beginning of the 1980s, the Polish United Workers Party, the party of the workers, under pressure from social protest, felt the need to negotiate with ... the workers in person (associated, as if that wasn't enough, in illegal organizations). This was the emblematic image of a profound social schism which pointed out that the great detour had been achieved. This was the authentic failure of socialism in its Stalinist guise.

Democratic processes were only as an exception incorporated into the new social order which emerged out of the tradition of 1917. The bloody absence of democratic methods, and as a result, of the people's participation in designing the new social order, was at the same time systemic and institutional. In effect, the configuration of the political system introduced was built on an omnipresent Party-State which only permitted differences in opinion which the conservative sociologist Juan Linz significantly (although in a manner hardly legitimate) applied to Spain under Franco: a "limited pluralism" which tolerated the organization of the regime's elites in internal interest groups but not a pluralist political expression enjoyed by the entire population.xi But the absence of democratic procedures and independent associative pluralism was internal to the new institutions (in the unions, for example) as a consequence of the new social orders being constituted as single party regimes (in turn lacking internal democracy, which is why a characteristic problem was a peaceful succession in leadership). Finally, this absence directly affected the nature of the organs of central planning (the Soviet Gosplan), with the broad populace kept away from any significant participation in strategic decision-making. The combined result was an inflexible dictatorship lacking in firm social support or an institutional structure for social participation, and this is what explains why, when any reformer tried to introduce democracy in the mechanisms of the system (Czechoslovakia in 1968 or the USSR under Gorbachev in 1985-89), it would collapse.

A critical view, in the Marxist tradition, to understanding Soviet-type regimes and their striking absence of democracy must apply analytical tools similar to those used to understand capitalism. To do this, a number of observers have with reason pointed out various weaknesses or anomalies in the tradition of classical socialism. First is the use of the notion of the "dictatorship of the proletariat," for one thing a hardly precise one,xii which did not help in the task of elaborating a democratic political theory which was conspicuous in its absence. Second, Marx himself and the subsequent Marxist tradition, with the notable exception of Gramsci and other thinkers that followed, used an elementary and shortsighted notion of "civil society." As a result, notably absent is a complex development of the idea of a socialist civil society. Third, the classical tradition employed an excessively rudimentary, instrumental, and class-centered vision of the capitalist State.xiii Taken together, this left the classical tradition's political theory manifestly unable, not only to understand the inner working of modern capitalism, but perhaps also unable to be applied itself to post-capitalist realities. We must draw from these weaknesses the first part of a lesson for an eventual socialist future: we have at our disposal today an arsenal of experiences and sophisticated theoretical developments which still await incorporation into an essential socialist theory of democracy.

Why is such a theory so important? Here we have the second part of the lesson. The experiences of actually existing socialism left a clear substantive trace precisely to project the future consequences (as well as those in the present) of undertaking a grand socialist transformation without arranging for such a theory. To begin, we take the recent experience of the Chinese revolution, examined with skill by Yiching Wu, whose substantive conclusion could be applied to a certain extent to all countries of the Soviet model:

"What are the important historical lessons to be learned from China's transition toward capitalism? Setting aside the theoretical question whether socialism without market mechanisms is viable or desirable, at least one lesson seems particularly compelling: socialism without meaningful democracy is unfeasible. The problem of socialism and democracy is not at all merely a philosophical task of defining utopia, but pertains more fundamentally to the ineluctable logic of history and politics. A genuine democracy is not just what defines the ethical telos of socialism, it also serves as its effective safeguard."xiv

The analysis is quite right. Two points are particularly central. First, a generic one which covers the entire process: no democracy, no socialism. The second is applicable to the combination of lessons which can be drawn from type A revolutions and the path they followed in order that a revolution not transform itself into its opposite. I put the emphasis on what most clearly affects the Chinese case (yet is consistent with what we know about all of the grand "detours" taken by type A experiences): (a) Political power must be distributed widely throughout society.xv (b) The central objective of a process of socialist construction must be to end alienated labor and, more generally, the expropriation of the working classes. (c) In the absence of effective democracy, the elite presiding over a socialist process does not undertake reform, much less drastic change, which can undermine its own power. (d) Democratization is essential also to allow the participation of a majority of the citizenry in the necessary structures for publicly planning production (at least in its most substantive part). (e) The process of democratization as a safeguard for systemic change must affect in particular its own political organizations, especially parties or coalitions of political organizations that control the State. It is just not possible to practice right-wing policies (as used in the Western polyarchies: hierarchical, manipulative, and elitist policies) and attain left-wing results. And in particular, a democracy under new conditions is only conceivable if it facilitates and reinforces the presence of a broad and independent socialist civil society.

The Role of Economic Planning and the Market in Post-Capitalism

Lesson four: Planning, and not the market, but under public scrutiny and a participative design, is necessarily an essential component of every rational and socialist society which human beings eventually manage to make up.

Economic planning is hardly popular among contemporary elites, and there are two main reasons for this. On one hand, the experience of the USSR is customarily associated, if on a doubtful basis, with the fact of the declining performance of Soviet-type economies since the Brezhnev era through stagnation and crisis. This is in spite of the impressive performance of these economies between approximately 1917 and the 1960s through primitive accumulation and the accelerated industrialization of a variety of countries that were very populous as well as severely economically under-developed. Nowadays, of course, it is unrealistic to deny the failure of Soviet planning. But neither should one think that this was the only possible form of planning, or much less to ignore the fact that the history of (indicative) planning in market economies includes all-around successes (the war economies which were able to stop fascism in World War II and the experience of the "mixed economy" in the postwar era which created the conditions for the "Golden Years" of capitalism). One cannot also deny that planning is something inherent in the internal functioning of all large capitalist enterprises since the end of the Nineteenth Century. On the other hand, the miraculous consensus within the elites of the last generation over the neo-liberal project, made complete by the categorical success of consumer capitalism (reinforced by known techniques of mass propaganda and publicity) from the 1970s until now, has converted the question of planning, in the current period, into a strictly ideological and doctrinal theme, if not taboo, something which at the moment has not even been modified by the Wall Street crisis of 2008 and the subsequent bankruptcy of neo-liberal ideology.

What is economic planning? In general terms, any rational planning (selecting procedures and means for accomplishing certain identified goals in the most efficient manner) that accordingly organizes the economic activity of the involved actors. This notion is common to planning within a private sector business in a market economy, a national economy, as well as a supra-national economy. However, planning changes its nature if, besides the above levels of aggregation differences, a systemic function is added, that being either the complementary task of rationalizing the market (as under Keynesian capitalism), or substituting for the market as the fundamental mechanism for economic exchange and social organization (as in the Soviet model of "actually existing" socialism, although nothing prevents a similar notion of planning from being used in the future by a democratic socialist regime).

The propaganda of neoclassical economic orthodoxy against planning in general (based on the defeat of the Soviet model of planning) is hardly serious. First, because within the system's economic units, the businesses of the private sector, capitalism is also a system of planning, albeit peculiar: decentralized but operating within a general framework which, contradictorily, is filled with powerful entities acting without a collective economic rationality, hence the system's massively irrational effects viewed from the population as a whole. Second, because the Soviet experience was only one and the first to come to view; what is needed is to fully understand its performance (including its initial stage as an engine for creating wealth) and, applying the logic to which we have alluded and using trial and error procedures, to produce more complex and well founded designs. But above all, designs whose end result is not the accumulation of capital but rather the welfare of the whole (present and future) population.

The experiences of our types A and C make one realize that the classical socialist tradition was correct: economic planning is an indispensable prerequisite of socialism (although it is also legitimate today to have doubts over a socialist economy founded solely on central planning). Obviously, however, that notion is simply a general, although very important, orientation. Putting this into practice necessarily requires certain political requirements, and at minimum two prerequisites: that planning have as its ultimate end the welfare of the citizenry; and that it is supported by social structures which encourage the democratic participation of the citizenry in the politics of planning. The application of this notion to a world as divided as ours makes one think, at minimum, of two cases. As applied to the Third World or the Global South, open and imperative public planning is the only conceivable way to rapidly modernize very large communities that are poor and exhibit a low potential for democracy as well as to bring them, within a generation, into a modern economy (although an unbalanced one, at first, in all probability). As far as the countries of the First World or the OECD is concerned, this is surely the only way to socialize the population---which forms the privileged sector of the global economy---in favor of the need to stop or decrease its economic growth as well as carry out the necessary transfer of resources to the Global South that make the new objective of sustainable global development materially viable.

Crisis of Capitalism, Crisis of Civilization: the Need for Socialism

Lesson five: socialism or barbarism. What we have learned from failed socialist experiences--the points outlined so far--has been gradually gaining force within the political culture of the Left since the 1960s, although it has not succeeded in completely outlining a new institutional form to frame socialist politics. This introduces a basic uncertainty, not only for the future of the Left, but also for the future of humanity. This is because the dystopia drawn by neo-liberal capitalism has led the world close to what we might call an Age of Limits, that is: the loading capacity of the planet has been exceeded; its resources are being exhausted; the ecological equilibrium has been broken; a growing criminal economy has become embedded in the new capitalism; the limited form of democratic politics under advanced capitalism has become completely degraded; population growth is out of control; hunger and poverty run rampant on the planet Earth; wars, collective violence, and barbarism of all kinds proliferate; and to top this, since 2008 there has been another great economic depression.

All these problems of the Age of Limits admit technical solutions, only on condition, however, that by applying the "lessons" introduced above a renewed socialism takes the reins and succedes in introducing its distinctive key pillars. First, the broadest democracy. Second, planning. Third, initiative in the hands of a self-organized citizenry within independent civil societies. And fourth, the coming of individuation: the primacy of self-reliant human beings who transform themselves and change the world in their places of social interaction (work, relations with others, social participation, personal growth). These fundamentals converge around the central objective of creating cooperative social structures. The most recent generation of anti-systemic episodes beginning in 1994 (our type D) point in that direction, which is that of a new Left: to change ourselves at the same time or as a condition of changing the world; something which was expressed very well by the Uruguayan poet and songwriter Daniel Viglietti: "If I don't change a little/my mistake, my fault/how then can I change/the lands, the seas?"xvi

History does not wait. This new socialism is the only hope of salvation for the planet (and for removing human beings from the pre-historic times). It is imperative that we free ourselves from capitalism. It is obvious, nevertheless, that there is much powerful resistance to it, and that confusion reigns and frightens. The foreseeable scenarios, alternative or perhaps succeeding each other, suggest two configurations in the historical short term. One, where popular pressure from below leads the planetary economy moving towards adapting the successful "mixed economy" of the Golden Years (but accentuating strategic control of key sectors by the public sector and putting them to use for the general welfare of the population). This amounts to the idea of a minimalist socialism understood in the manner of Karl Polanyi:

"Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilization to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to a democratic society. It is the solution natural to the industrial workers, who see no reason why production should not be regulated directly and why markets should be more than a useful but subordinate trait in a free society."xvii

The other and more ambitious scenario is perhaps now impracticable, yet is the only one which can guarantee a consensual global adjustment within a reasonable historical time that allows us to overcome the Age of Limits: a popular mobilization which for the first time permits the creation of a rational cooperative society. As Paul Sweezy argued in his day, this means not only suppressing the most objectionable characteristics of market society:

"It is capitalism itself, with its in-built attitude toward human beings and nature alike as means to an alien end that must be rooted out and replaced."xviii

We see a bit of this more ambitious scenario emerging today, a minority at present, in the form of cooperative associations of producers and anti-establishment contentious movements of citizens.

Barcelona, July of 2009


i. There are several reasons to look for retrospective full explanations of the defeats and retreats of the socialist project. From the perspective of social inquiry, the interest in such undertaking is taken for granted. To better understand macrosocial phenomena the observer cannot resort to experimentation, so that the only course left is to systematically analyze the emergence of such phenomena (in our case, the failed experiences alluded to) when, so to speak, History in its unfolding provides them. From a Left political perspective, this task is unavoidable as well. Social systems which emerge out of the socialist project are "conscious" systems. To shape a new social order, they operate by the method of trial and error built on basic socialist principles (the systemic "consciousness"). The emergence of dysfunctional social structures regarding these principles or of consequences unintended under these same principles (the Stalinist aberrations) are, logically, phenomena which, politically speaking, require clarification--in order not only to know, but also to try to restore socialist ethics (and path). Back to text

ii. See Salvador Aguilar, "El laboratorio postsoviético y la teoría de la revolución," in Revista de Estudios Políticos, 139, Madrid, January-February 2008, pp. 197-231. Back to text

iii. Marvin Harris, Culture, Man, and Nature. An Introduction to General Anthropology, Thomas Y. Crowell, New York, 1971, p. 406. Back to text

iv. Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions. A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980, p. 4. Back to text

v. Carlos Fuentes, "El tiempo de Octavio Paz," Foreword to O. Paz Los signos en rotación y otros ensayos, Alianza Ed., Madrid, p. 9. Back to text

vi. See for instance Paul M. Sweezy, Postrevolutionary Society, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1980; or Christopher Phelps, "An Interview with Paul M. Sweezy," in Fifty Years. Three Interviews, Monthly Review, vol 51, No. 1, May 1999, pp. 31-53. Back to text

vii. Eric Hobsbawm, "Farewell to the Classic Labour Movement?," in New Left Review 173, January-February 1989, p. 70. The formulation is this: "To put it in a single sentence, one might say that, taking the world as a whole, the Middle Ages ended between 1950 and 1970." Back to text

viii. See for instance, Harry and Fred Magdoff, "Approaching Socialism," Monthly Review, vol. 57, 3, July-August 2005, pp. 19-61. Back to text

ix. See for instance Immanuel Wallerstein, Utopistics, or Historical Choices for the Twenty-First Century, New Press, New York 1998; or "A Left Politics for the 21st Century? Or Theory and Praxis Once Again," in New Political Science XXII, June 2000, pp. 143-159; and also the exchange in Monthly Review, Vol. 53, 8, January 2002, pp. 17-31. Back to text

x. As we have mentioned in an earlier point on the revolutions which triumphed: what emerged was a post-capitalist social system of a new type; but the common or grass roots socialist militant with criterion of his or her own found, to their horror, that the post-revolutionary order crept slowly (relatively), but with the apparent obstinacy of an iron law, towards class societies presided over by powerful political dictatorships and countless aberrant acts, hardly related to the elemental principles of socialism. Back to text

xi. See Juan J. Linz, "Opposition In and Under an Authoritarian Regime: The Case of Spain," chapter 6 of Robert A. Dahl (ed.) Regimes and Oppositions, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1973. Back to text

xii. See Hal Draper, "Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat," in New Politics, New York, Vol. 1, 4, summer 1962. Back to text

xiii. Recall the words of the Communist Manifesto: "The executive of the modern state is no more than a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie." Back to text

xiv. Yiching Wu, "Rethinking 'Capitalist Restoration' in China," in Monthly Review, Vol. 57, 6, November 2005, p. 61. Back to text

xv. Otherwise, the "absence of effective counterforces" (Sweezy) converts public ownership of the means of production into a "legal fiction" (Wu). See Y. Wu, "Rethinking...," pp. 55,62. Back to text

xvi. This idea concides with the more technical notion of "self-exemplification," attributed to the New Left by Craig Calhoun as something which was scarcely compatible with the traditional Left: political groups and individuals must reflect on their behavior and organized schemas its proclaimed aims and demands. See C. Calhoun, "'New Social Movements'," in Mark Traugott (ed.), Repertoires and cycles of Collective Action, Duke, Durham and London 1995, pp. 191-192. His formulation is this: "One of the most striking features of the paradigmatic NSMs has been their insistence that the organizational forms and styles of movement practice must exemplify the values the movement seeks to promulgate.... The emphasis on self-exemplification and noninstrumentality is indeed a contrast to much of the history of the organized labor movement." Back to text

xvii. Karl Polanyi, The great transformation. The political and economic origins of our time, Beacon Press, Boston, 1971, p. 234. Back to text

xviii. Paul Sweezy, "Capitalism and the Environment," in Monthly Review, June of 1989; reprinted in Monthly Review, Vol. 56, No.5, October 2004, p. 93. Back to text


SALVADOR AGUILAR SOLE, a former student of Paul Sweezy, is a professor of sociology at the University of Barcelona.