Hal Draper on the Two Souls of Socialism
Insights from Hal Draper

Publisher:  Connexions Information Sharing Services, Toronto, Canada
Year Published:  1990
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX3928B

A comparison of socialism-from-below and socialism-from-above that considers Marx's struggle for socialism through liberal democracy.

Hal Draper, the socialist writer who died in February 1990, wrote The Two Souls of Socialism to differentiate between what he saw as two fundamentally opposed conceptions of radical social change. Some excerpts from his essay appear below:

The Communist states would not be recognizable to Karl Marx. The state owns the means of production - but who "owns" the state? Certainly not the mass of workers, who are exploited, unfree, and alienated from all levels of social and political control. A new class rules, the bureaucratic bosses; it rules over a collectivist system - a bureaucratic collectivism.

Throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-from-Above and Socialism-from-Below. What unites the many different forms of Socialism-from-Above is the conception that socialism (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite which is not subject to their control in fact. The heart of Socialism-from-Below is its view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized "from below" in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history. "The emancipation of the working class themselves"; this is the first sentence in the Rules written for the First International by Marx, and this is the first principle of his life-work.

Marx entered politics as the crusading editor of a newspaper which was the organ of the extreme left of the liberal democracy of the industrialized Rhineland, and soon became the foremost editorial voice of complete political democracy in Germany. The first article he published was a polemic in favour of the unqualified freedom of the press from all censorship by the state. By the time the imperial government forced his dismissal, he was turning to find out more about the new socialist ideas coming from France. When this leading spokesman of liberal democracy became a socialist, he still regarded the task as the championing of democracy - except that democracy now had a deeper meaning. Marx was the first socialist thinker and leader who came to socialism through the struggle for liberal democracy.

"It was Marx who finally fettered the two ideas of Socialism and Democracy together" because he developed a theory which made the synthesis possible for the first time. The heart of the theory is this proposition: that there is a social majority which has the interest and motivation to change the system, and that the aim of socialism can be [their] education and mobilization.

How does a people or a class become fit to rule in their own name? Only by fighting to do so. Only by waging their struggle against oppression - oppression by those who tell them they are unfit to govern. Only by fighting for democratic power do they educate themselves and raise themselves up the level of being able to wield that power.

Since the beginning of society, there has been no end of theories "proving" that tyranny is inevitable and that freedom-in-democracy is impossible; there is no more convenient ideology for a ruling class and its intellectual flunkies. These are self-fulfilling predictions, since they remain true only as long as they are taken to be true. In the last analysis, the only way of proving them false is in the struggle itself. That struggle from below has never been stopped by theories from above, and it has changed the world time and again. To choose any of the forms of Socialism-from-Above is to look back to the old world, to the "old crap". To choose the role of Socialism-from-Below is to affirm the beginning of a new world.

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