The problem of variety
Tony Wright calls his book Socialisms(1996) in order to emphasise the plurality
of approaches and doctrines that make up the socialist movement. The term is
certainly elastic and covers a wide range of contradictory movements.
Some socialists are religious, others doggedly atheistic in character. Some advocate
revolution, others reform. Nor are the alignments simple. Authoritarian socialisms
may be atheistic (as in the communist tradition) but they need not be (think of
Saddam Hussein’s regime that claimed adherence to some kind of Islamic tradition).
Some socialists like Tony Benn (1925–2014) may have been a radical and an admirer
of the role of parliament, other socialists may stress the importance of parliament
as a bulwark against radicalism. Others still invert this view and see parliamentary
democracy as an obstacle to socialist advance.
The distinction between Marxism and social democracy is the major fault line
among socialisms. Sometimes it is argued that the differences between Marxism and
social democracy are so substantial that communism should be distinguished from
socialism. Since Marxists referred to themselves as ‘scientific socialists’, we will reject
this argument while stressing the differences between revolutionary and evolutionary
varieties of socialism.
We will use the term social democracy interchangeably with democratic socialism.
The history of socialist thought is thick with accusations of betrayal. Lenin believed
that social democrats were traitors to socialism because they supported the First
World War and opposed the Russian Revolution; socialists influenced by libertarian
or anarchist ideas felt that Lenin and the Bolsheviks had betrayed the Soviet
experiment by crushing the rebellion of Bolshevik sailors that took place in
Kronstadt in 1921; Trotsky and his supporters felt that Stalin had reneged on the
revolutionary traditions of Lenin by seeking to build socialism in one country; Mao
and many Chinese communists believed that the Russians had surrendered to
capitalism and the market after 1956.
These differences have deeply divided socialists. The British Labour Party
repeatedly refused the request for affiliation from the Communist Party of Great
Britain (CPGB) on the grounds that the latter supported dictatorship and not
democracy, while communists have been deeply divided among themselves. This
could come to armed conflict – as between the Soviet Union and the Peoples’
Republic of China in the 1960s – or the intervention of Vietnam into Cambodia
or Kampuchea in 1978. The Warsaw Pact’s interventions into Hungary in 1956 or
Czechoslovakia in 1968 (see the case study at the beginning of the chapter) were
214 Part 2 Classical ideologies
Social Democracy/Democratic Socialism Marxism/Scientific Socialism
Moderate classes Eliminate classes
Utilise the state Go beyond the state
Parliament Workers’ Councils
Ethically desirable Historically inevitable
Nation as a whole Workers and their allies