Read the paper of the Czech Marxist philosopher František Neužil.
In the preface of the book "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy", which was first published in Berlin in 1859, Marx writes, inter alia:
"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.
In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.
Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation."
This passage of the text is the key methodological guide in finding the answer to the question we asked ourselves in the title of this article. An even more interesting question arises from Marx's assertion that "mankind always imposes only such tasks that it can solve" when viewed through the categories of Hegel's philosophical system: with the failure of the first historical attempt at socialism, perhaps the spirit (reason) of history – the evolution of human society or the (natural) historical process of changing socioeconomic formations on the historical stage – wanted to say that the only task mankind had and could impose at the end of the 20th and early 21st centuries was a model of capitalist, liberal, democratic civil society around the world.
This is because, as Francis Fukuyama would say, other social order projects seem to be utopian. After all, it appears difficult to understand that after the disintegration, disruption and collapse of the ownership and power structure of socialism of the pre-November type (whose concentrated expression represented the disintegration and demise of the Soviet Union), which became the main, crucial and dominant historical fact at the end of the 20th century and at the turn of the 21st century, a process of retroactive socioeconomic and sociopolitical development was launched.
This particular historical framework came after the destruction of the "system of totalitarian communist dictatorship" up until the systemic loosening, and weakening even, of "Swedish democratic socialism" or the bourgeois welfare state. In relatively quick succession, various versions of petty bourgeois "Arab (Islamic) and African (its special form was, for example, the "lyrical and poetic socialism" of the Senegalese president Senghor) socialism" then also disappeared, e.g. the destruction of Muammar Gaddafi's "People's Socialist Jamahiriya" political regime in Libya.
The whole process has continued and, so far, has resulted in criticism of a liberal democratic social order from right-wing ideological political positions. This also includes criticism of the European Union and of the European social model (European Social Charter). The socioeconomic breeding ground for this critique is (and will be) the ownership and power structures of class social chauvinism of the grand bourgeois financial oligarchy in industrialised, traditional capitalist states (or mafia lumpenproletariat oligarchy in post-communist countries).
This comes as a socioeconomic consequence of the internal class conflict between "patriots" and "cosmopolitanites". It will deepen during the fourth industrial revolution and hide behind, for example, the ideological façade of chauvinistic (conservative) nationalism (e.g. the authoritarian, right-wing nationalist regime in Hungary) or multicoloured religious and political fundamentalism (e.g. the political regime in Poland) – it would be a shame to waste words on the burial regime of the Bandera Fascist movement, which currently reigns in Ukraine.
It is symptomatic that liberal democratic civil society does not know what to do with criticism coming from the right, just as it was in the 1920s and 1930s, when fascism in Italy and national socialism in Germany reached political state power. Although the fall of real socialism was logically and historically unavoidable, as the system had fundamental, objective, internal and systemic weaknesses and deprivations, it was a major sociohistorical tragedy.
This is because, as we reiterate, it opened the way for fundamentally retroactive socioeconomic and sociopolitical developments leaning towards the period before the great French bourgeois democratic revolution. This may result in the formation of a global system of openly fascist or semi-fascist dictatorships, which may hide behind the ideological propaganda façade of chauvinist nationalism or religious and political fundamentalism. At the end of the 1930s, J. V. Stalin declared that the economic and political system created in the Soviet Union was socialism. Stalin's concept of dialectics, based on the absolutisation of the struggle and contradiction of opposites, thus formulated the logical principle of Stalinism: the direct and immediate identification of the existing and actual, which immediately achieves a stage of development with the objectification of the socialist ideal where socialism is understood as a non-developmental substance.
It can be proved that, in Stalinism, there is a development of socialism from scientific theory to myth. Therefore, it can be defined as a social mythological ideology of the class of a real socialist governing apparatus.
In his time, Vasil Bilak (the highest communist ideologist within the Communist Party in the 1970s and 1980s) gave a classic definition of real socialism: "socialism is what we have here", which equates what exists and is real in terms of materialistic dialectical logic. The real, however, is not the same as the existing and the being, which is an essential being, defined and mediated by nature or immediacy. It has taken away its mediation and carries its genesis (the history of its origin) within.
The real is the unity of the essential and the being, the essence and the phenomenon (reality). Reality is the product of the self-movement and self-development of the unity of the essential and existing, the transition from the possible to the real. Here, the possible grows, which is considered the only possible, and therefore real. As a result, only what exists with necessity, the necessity of existence, is real. There may also be coincidence, but its existence is not reality. The reality of the incident lies in a formal and abstract possibility, which there may or may not be.
This means that something may exist but may not or no longer be real. In the process of the evolution of existence and reality, they move into one another. For example, when the old and the surviving socioeconomic formation is replaced by a new social formation, the first formation does not cease immediately but merely loses the characteristic of necessity. It still exists, but it is no longer real. The real thing is the formation that replaced it on the historical stage.
In each specific historical case, the line of transition from real to existing (old formations) and from existing to real (new formations) is a social revolution or a social counter-revolution (at this point, we have to revise Marx and his dialectics of productive forces and relations of production). The dialectic of the existing and the real provides an ideal theoretical basis for understanding the logic of the process of the collapse of the ownership and power structure of real pre-November socialism.
We endorse an ideological theoretical concept that seeks out and finds the causes of disintegration, decomposition, collapse, extinction, and the subsequent change (transformation) of the proprietary class and political power structuring of real socialism. This is not meant in terms of the Stalinist/Neo-Stalinist nonsense of the "betrayal of leaders" (take Mikhail Gorbachev for example). Nor is it meant in terms of secret service operations, which were probably so secret that their active participants did not even know what the operation was, who and what their ultimate conspiracy was against, for how many spy organisations they were working, and how many multiple secret agents there actually were.
Instead, it is meant in terms of the dialectic of the development of productive forces and production relations. At some stage of development, the administrative and state bureaucratic socialisation ceased to be the driving force behind the production relationship as a form of socioeconomically unifying core development of social productive forces. On the contrary, it became a brake, which acted as an obstacle to further development. Real socialist social property, which was state bureaucratic property, was functional in the period of extensive development of productive forces.
However, this development function ceased to be fulfilled in the developmental stage of socialism, when it was objectively necessary to switch from an extensive to an intensive type of economic growth (or the development of social productive forces). Here, the application of scientific knowledge of laws would become the starting point for the growth of the productivity of living concrete work and the efficiency of the use of perpetuated work. This controls the elements, forces and energies in the logic of technological production processes and in the transformation of natural and other processes into industrial production processes. Scientific and technological progress has become the overall basis for the economic growth of the social surplus. It is well known that one of the principles of the structurally systematic ordering and functioning of any socioeconomic formation is that the organising and unifying socioeconomic core of the formation's production relationship is the ownership structure, within its specific historical framework. The ownership role must be a function of the specific living work of workers, their share of ownership or daily socioeconomic practical activity, a part and subordinate component, and part of the socially dominant, determining and integrating ownership of the social class to represent economic and political power.
Its ideas are (or, of course, should be) ruling ideas. Thanks to this ownership, the mechanism of simple and widespread reproduction of its proprietary class and political power organisation can work in this formation. Capitalism recognised this regularity at a time when capitalist exploitative private property had to use the manufactory class social division of labour to squeeze and vacuum surplus value from the living and specific labour of the working-class population. It did not have a production and power base available in mass industrial machine production or economic factory division of labour. In the real class social structure of a real pre-November socialism, the proprietary function of the occupational activity of employees of the management apparatus (property management practically carrying out their specific live organisational and managerial work) should be a sectional and subordinate part of the defining and integrating whole-class, society-wide ownership of the real socialist working class (or the classic industrial proletariat).
In the historical context of the pre-November model of socialism, however, the ownership structure that would practically implement that rule was never created. Thus, the real socialist working class never became a real dominant player in the development of socialist property relations. The dictatorship of the proletariat was modelled by the Paris Commune as "state-not-state", "state-half-state" and "state falling asleep and dying". Therefore, the production and relational (socioeconomic) dimension did not materialise, even though the ruling state Marxist-Leninist ideology was experienced on a daily basis by the working class.
It follows that the Stalinist model of socialism was, in the socioeconomic sense, an unstable system that could not give rise to a socially homogeneous and compact socioeconomic layer or group that could positively overcome it. This is because what was supposed to be primary and basic in its ownership structure (the working class's proprietary subjectivity) was in fact secondary and inferred. And what in this proprietary structure should have been secondary and inferred (daily socioeconomic practical activity, ownership management of the management apparatus staff) was actually primary and basic.
Unsurprisingly, the historical evolution of Soviet-type socialism strikingly resembles the history of the Hussite revolutionary movement. It too was unable to give a hint within itself, the only embryonic cell, of any post-feudal ownership structure. This is despite the fact that medieval society at the time – in the construction of towns, castles, churches, monasteries, St. Vitus Cathedral, etc. – was aware of structures and mechanisms for concentrating large numbers on community buildings and organising their work. Meanwhile, examples of a manufactory division of labour, in which post-feudal capitalist private property found a source of surplus value and profit, can be identified in Florence and other northern Italian cities in the 14th century.
It turns out that the revolutionary socialist attempt to overcome capitalism, which resulted in socialism of the pre-November type, represented a sideline of historical development. While competing with capitalism and influencing this development by its very existence, it eventually degenerated and disappeared, and development returned to history’s mainstream. The multiline concept of the natural and historical process of alternating socioeconomic formations on the historical stage shows, as Joseph Heller pointed out, that once the dry branch of the Stalinist model of socialism has fallen from the tree of history, it can once again emerge from it as a solution to the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production and as the manifestation of the dialectic of productive forces and relations of production: a new and powerful branch of another socialist revolution.
Only (potentially) all-class and only (potentially) all-society proprietary subjectivity of the working class implied that, as a working class, members of the real socialist working class were merely the objectivity of other groups and strata of workers, especially management teams (collectives). At the same time, they corresponded with the manoeuvring between society-wide and local ownership interests, produced by an old social division of labour for management staff. This could exaggerate their potentially non-social, local ownership roles and hypertrophy of ownership subjectivity with locally limited scope in certain socioeconomic locations. It was a fundamental, objective, internal, systemic defect of the pre-November type of socialism's production method.
As long as the potentially social aspect prevailed in the owner's practical activities in terms of the management staff, this systemic shortage was latent. It did not reflect on the empirical phenomenon of social life and development, which also prevented its cognition, understanding and practical solution. In the next period, in the absence of a solution, the unresolved, originally non-antagonistic contradiction in the structure of the socioeconomic base of real socialism began to acquire antagonistic features and form a class social conflict. This led to the socioeconomic, political and ideological disintegration of the management class, and the alienation of the working class from social property.
It took the form of state administrative ownership by the nomenclature elite, even from political power, when the ruling class of the governing apparatus transformed the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the apparatus over the proletariat. The class of the governing apparatus was by no means an exploitative social class. Nevertheless, it did cause real socialism to be merely the "werdende Form" (or emerging, shaping socioeconomic form) and not the "gewordene Form" (or constructed and consummated socioeconomic form) of socialism.
It also meant that it was a transitional system that could evolve into a more complete and improved type of socialism. However, at the same time, the individual cells of the socioeconomic organism of a real-functioning social policy before November 1989 could also weaken the working-class subjectivity, disintegration and decomposition of social property. The Stalinist model of socialism thus represented a step beyond the limits of capitalism but stood halfway. The management class was a non-classical class. It was not as homogeneous as that of the exploitative society as it was, on the one hand, linked by some possibility to manoeuvre around social interests or deviate significantly from them to exaggerate potentially non-social, local interest.
On the other hand, the interest did not exclude the formation of a society-wide harmony of local functions. In this sense, it was not only a currently non-socially acting class but also a potentially social class. In fact, it was a personified market substitute, a class of certain imperfect social property and wealth managers with a unique logic of ownership. This logic was constantly and hopelessly fluctuating between the partial, local and societal aspects of their ownership, doomed to perpetual manoeuvre between social and local ownership.
The imperfect social reconciliation of partial ownership roles of the governing apparatus also implied the essence of political undemocracy. The real cause of this (which was revealed in the years involving some loosening after criticism of the Stalin cult) was that the governing apparatus could not afford democracy in relation to the broad strata. Its economic and ownership sovereignty was so limited that it had to constantly combine it and strengthen it with political sovereignty. Of course, this required hierarchical monolithicity of some autocratic ideological justification. The interconnection of economic property, political power and ideological functions of the governing apparatus was a distinctive feature of the system and caused conditions where, for example, ideological shocks were immediately reflected in the disintegration of economically unifying mechanisms and threatened the essential foundations of the whole system.
The essence of real socialist property relations could be found in the need to realise social ownership through a very complex, hierarchical, vertically and horizontally organised system of partial and sectional ownership functions and roles. It could be identified in the developmental stage of extensive development of productive forces, possible only through economic management via the command-administrative state plan and through dictatorial methods of political power management by the Communist Party's supreme representative. This was coupled with the creation of the cult of personality of "the supreme leader – and other national leaders and under leaders – of the world proletariat".
However, this management class bolt could work. The staff of the various components of the horizontally and vertically, extremely rugged management apparatus could reveal the potentially social aspect of their property subjectivity only by exaggerating the local political and ideological, and therefore "owner and teacher", subjectivity at the expense of the socioeconomic and political role of other components of the real socialist governing class. This created a contradiction of the "leader" – the "apparatus" within the class of the executive apparatus – which then took the form of a triangle of contradictions relating to the working class and other groups and layers of workers: "leader", the "nomenclature management apparatus" and "the working people".
Their contradictions could have taken on an antagonistic nature. However, as we must remember once again, the administrative and state bureaucratic appropriation, which was based on the socioeconomic principles of the Soviet type of socialism, represented a form of real socialist socialisation; although incomplete and imperfect, it was socially owned.
Throughout Stalin's life, the social role of the class of the governing body of real socialism was progressive and revolutionary. This is because, under his leadership, it was able to build socioeconomic foundations and political forms of real socialism while defending the basic achievements of socialism during World War II. However, in the later years of Stalin's life, and especially shortly after his death, it became increasingly apparent that dictatorial forms and methods of political governance were losing their social functionality and effectiveness.
This is reflected in the mythological fetishism of social consciousness typical of the Stalinist model of socialism, which, in its classical era, gave rise to a cult of personality. "The restoration of Leninist norms in the activities of the Communist Party and the Socialist State", established as the basic strategic political line at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, only intensified and exponentiated the constant manoeuvring and hopeless fluctuations between the society-wide and local function ownership of the staff of the management apparatus, who were considered a class of staunch trustees of social wealth. In the 1980s, this resulted in a process of decay, disintegration and transformation.
The 20th Congress of the CPSU broke the integrating political power bolt of the Stalinist model of socialism. However, it could not replace it with anything. It therefore exaggerated and further intensified the locally limited scope of the socioeconomic activity of the executive apparatus class. As a result, the system of productive relationships in the first historical attempt at socialism was never proved to be of organic integrity. The functioning and development of the ownership structure of each socioeconomic formation lies in the fact that the ownership function and role of the staff of the governing apparatus is, and must inevitably be, in each social order, a sectional, subordinate, secondary and derived part of the ownership of that class. This creates the basic socioeconomic identity and quality of the social formation. However, it was leading to an exaggeration of the potentially non-social aspect of the ownership function and local ownership, especially in the "transformation" and "reform" components of the management class in its socioeconomic, political and ideological decomposition and decay.
It was heading in the direction of decomposition of the whole production method of the pre-November socialism model. It was looking for and finding socially integrating, socioeconomic practical activities, not in the form of working-class subjectivity by developing workers' participation in ownership and decision-making, starting in working groups and culminating in the formation of self-governing ownership and business complexes at transnational and supranational levels. Instead, it was weakening and disintegrating social (collective) property and completing socially dominant, determining and integrating ownership subjectivity in the shape of ownership forms and structures operating according to the logic of private capitalist ownership. It is no coincidence that, in all countries where we had the opportunity to observe the process of disintegration of the first historical form of socialism and the subsequent recapitalisation, the Communist Party stood in its first phase as a party controlled during the first form of socialism by the governing apparatus. It had to lose political power during a certain phase of the recapitalisation process, which was also reflected in national conflicts and the subsequent collapse of many former socialist states (see the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia). This manifested the dialectics of the mutual feedback of ownership (i.e. political, power) and organisationally technical (i.e. administrative and executive) aspects and functions of social management.
No wonder the recapitalisation process under the leadership of the Communist Party has been going on in China for many years. The emerging class of Chinese industrialists and financial moguls still needs the organisational technical role of the Communist Party to preserve the territorial integrity of the Chinese state in order to have a chance at being a global player in the era of globalised capitalism. This is why the Communist Party has retained political state power in China. What happens next? What will the next phase of the Chinese recapitalisation process be? In the second paragraph of our reflections, we already indicated that the fall of real socialism was a great sociohistorical tragedy. This is despite the fact that the system had fundamental, objective, internal systemic weaknesses and shortcomings, and its fall was logically and historically inevitable. As we tried to show, it opened the way for basically retroactive socioeconomic and sociopolitical developments from before the great French bourgeois democratic revolution. This may result in the formation of a global system of openly fascist or semi-fascist dictatorships, which may hide behind the ideological propaganda façade of chauvinist nationalism or religious and political fundamentalism.
However, Plato and Aristotle might tell us that the tragic drama should include "catharsis" – the purification of the lusty component of the soul, the enrichment of its voluntary component and the subsequent instruction of the intellectual component. The Russian Bolsheviks prevailed in their time by expressing the objective, all-class interest of the most qualified and educated professional/occupational groups and strata of the classical industrial proletariat as the fundamental and decisive social productive force, ideologically based on their Marxist theory of its revolutionary sociohistorical role. But the revolutionary, democratic, history-making potential of the October Revolution began to disappear after several decades as the traditional industrial working class, personifying and embodying socially average and simple work, began to disappear as a fundamental and main social productive force. Meanwhile, in the historical development of real socialism, its active and operative class social being was increasingly showing the socioeconomic consequences and impacts of the old power production or technical economic division of labour.
The Left can reclaim a revolutionary, democratic, history-making political initiative if its parties and movements can classically socialise and anchor themselves in the new basic social productive power of the cognitar, or the science, art, engineering or computer information proletariat.
By personifying and embodying universal work at the same time as working together, realising Marx's vision of "the production of fixed capital, which fixed capital is human alone", the Left can regain this initiative. The revolutionary social role of the cognitar proletariat is to produce a new kind of social wealth, which is the development of the human individuality of each member of society. In this way, a new attempt at socialism can practically meet the demands of the "proletarian appropriation" that Marx and Engels formulated at the time. In previous appropriations, the mass of individuals remained subordinate to a single instrument of production. Instead, when they are appropriated by proletarians, the mass of instrumental instruments must be subordinate to every individual and property to all individuals." Consequently, if a new, strong and viable branch of an attempt to achieve socialism emerges from the "Tree of History", every member of society in the socioeconomic, social property framework should have a real opportunity to participate in ownership and co-decision. This should start at the local and corporate level, and end with national or supranational self-governing ownership and business complexes. In the womb of the class social structure of capitalist civil society, the revolutionary democratic welfare state will then create the political and legal prerequisites for the cognitarial and classical proletariat. It will also divide into germ cells the other socially working, and classically and socially “begiven” groups and strata of the class of self-governing owners.
The basic and decisive features of left-wing political strategy and tactics, which we believe should meet the requirements of the 21st century, include: a) anti-capitalism as an initial, fundamental and decisive characteristic; b) anti-Stalinism – for radical, antisystemic or communist parties and movements; (c) anti anti-communism and anti-neo-Marxism – for parties and movements that represent the so-called "moderate", "democratic" and "salon-acceptable" left; d) anti-catastrophism – or a combination of revolutionary, democratic, political rationality with humanism.
In the post-November development, there are undoubtedly positive moments, such as the introduction and development of digital information, the production of technologies in the area of productive forces, and elements of formal bourgeois democracy in the sphere of the political superstructure. Nevertheless, we believe that the post-November system can be defined as bankruptcy from the point of view of its socioeconomic and class social nature, and the semi-colonial dependent (mafia) lump capitalism. This is because, as we have shown, pre-November real socialism could not give rise to any socioeconomic stratum or group that could positively overcome the situation.
The representatives of the lump bourgeois property and power oligarchy of post-November realist capitalism have this ability to an even lesser extent. Many developmental tendencies of post-November real capitalism are a continuation of the worst developmental tendencies of socialism in pre-November Stalinist modelling. Hence, the transition occurred from pre-November realism to the post-November realist capitalism for social counter-revolution. It proved to be legitimate and inevitable at a certain stage of pre-November socialism. During the 19th and 20th centuries, this pre-November socialism managed to win over not only the international workers' movement but also the results of the French bourgeois democratic revolution, or the system of human, civil and political rights and freedoms that it revolutionised. In this particular historical situation, the words of Rosa Luxemburg prove to be prophetic, that the perspective of the historical development of human society is either socialism or barbarism, which is called fascism.