In the first decade of the 21st century, humanity stands at the crossroads. On the one hand, the achievements of science, technique and industry point the way forward to a dazzling future of prosperity, social wellbeing and unlimited cultural advance. On the other, the existence of the human race is threatened by the ravishing of the planet in the name of profit. Millions of people live in poverty on the edge of starvation. In one country after another elements of barbarism are appearing. The very future of the planet is threatened by global ecological degradation.
|Order online! |
The fall of the Soviet Union was the signal for an unprecedented ideological offensive against the ideas of socialism. The collapse of the bureaucratically controlled planned economies of the East was held up as the definitive proof of the failure of "communism," and, of course, the ideas of Marx. The defenders of capitalism saw the fall of the Soviet Union as proof that their system was the only possible system. They dreamed of a New World Order based on peace and plenty. They imagined that the present temporary boom meant not just a return to the days of their youth but the abolition of all crises. This does not even deserve attention as serious thinking. These are only the pathetic self-delusions of a decrepitude that refuses to look in the mirror.
It did not take long to shatter these illusions. Today, not one stone upon another is left of the dreams of the bourgeoisie. Everywhere we see the awakening of the masses, who are looking for a way out. A new period is opening up. There is a growing questioning of capitalism and an ever-increasing interest in the ideas of socialism and Marxism. In the next period ideas that now are listened to by small groups will be eagerly sought by hundreds of thousands and millions. We see this already in Latin America, where the revolutionary trend has gone further than anywhere else. The Venezuelan Revolution is the final answer to all those cowards and apostates who argued that revolution and socialism were off the agenda.
Lenin was very fond of the Russian proverb "Life teaches". In a revolution people learn fast. That is true of the masses but also of the leaders. Hugo Chávez has undoubtedly learned a lot from his experience of the revolution and he has drawn some important conclusions. It is no accident that Hugo Chávez has opened a debate on the ideas of socialism. The Bolivarian revolution has advanced rapidly and is going beyond the bounds of capitalism and challenging private property. The old society is dying on its feet and the new society is struggling to be born. And what has happened in Venezuela today will happen tomorrow in Britain, in Russia, in China and the USA itself.
The declarations of Hugo Chávez in favour of socialism have sparked off a serious debate in Venezuela, where socialist and Marxist ideas are being enthusiastically discussed in every factory and village, in every market and bus stop. This is not the usual word spinning of intellectual circles in universities. The masses have a serious attitude to ideas because what is involved is not a doctoral thesis but a question of life and death. This means that socialism has come out of the scholar's study and entered the light of day.
From the point of view of Marxism this is a most important development. Marxism is a philosophy that leads to action, and is unthinkable without action. In the words of Marx: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways: the point, however, is to change it." But not everyone is happy about this. The very next day a veritable army of "left wing" scribes came running to "correct" the President. "Yes, of course, we are in favour of socialism", they say. "But be careful! We want only Socialism of the 21st Century"! The great advantage of this is that nobody knows what it means. It is an empty bottle that can be filled with any content one chooses. When we talk about Socialism of the 21st Century, we first have to establish what kind of socialism are we talking about?
What Heinz Dieterich offers us
Heinz Dieterich is a German professor who describes himself as a scientific economist and sociologist. He has been a professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico City (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana de México) since 1977. And he is one of those academics who are anxious to tell us what Chávez really means, as though the President were unable to speak for himself.
Many years ago Heinz wrote books defending Marxism. But now he has rejected all those foolish revolutionary ideas. He claims to have invented something entirely new and original, which he calls "Socialism of the 21st Century" (or the "New Historical Project"). On this and other subjects he has published many books. If the quality of this literary production were as good as the quantity, humanity would have cause to rejoice. So, after considerable hesitation, I was persuaded to examine these new and original theories that promise nothing less than the complete deliverance of humanity in a world of peace and plenty.
By a strange coincidence, if one is to believe what he writes in his books, what Chávez really means coincides exactly with what Dieterich understands by 21st Century Socialism. Since, according to Heinz, this is the only kind of socialism that is either possible or desirable, this is quite logical. And anybody who questions this is destined to be cast into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. In an interview published in the left wing German newspaper Junge Welt, (7/1/06) Dieterich informs us: "I also contributed the idea of a ‘socialism of the 21st century,' along with a few other things, in which my modest theoretical contributions can probably help to positively support the process".
This humility greatly impresses us. Heinz's "modest theoretical contributions" can "probably help" to "support the process". He has "contributed" the idea of a socialism of the 21st century, that is to say, he, and not Chávez, has invented it ("along with a few other things"). And therefore, he, and not Chávez or anyone else, has the god-given right to tell us what it is. We would be very pleased if somebody were able to explain to us in simple language what the future socialist society will look like. We would be even more pleased if they were able to explain how we can overthrow capitalism with the minimum cost and exertion. Heinz Dieterich promises us all this and more. We therefore consider it our duty to follow him through his great voyage of discovery, in the confident hope of finding not just a pot of gold, like the one said to be waiting for us at the end of the rainbow, but the secret of human happiness, justice and equality. This would be marvellous - if only it were true.
Dieterich and Dühring
Revolutionary socialists are accustomed to the furious onslaughts against socialism and communism - not only those of the open defenders of capitalism and imperialism, but also the reformists (both of the right and the left varieties), and also the so-called radical petty bourgeois intelligentsia, some of whom wish to fight against capitalism, but have not the slightest idea of how to do so. These anti-revolutionary reformist tendencies have always been present. They were answered by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, in the section on petty bourgeois socialism.
Later on, Marx and Engels waged a fierce ideological struggle against the Katheder Sozialisten in Germany - the "clever" university professors who sought to place themselves at the head of the workers' movement and water down its revolutionary Marxist ideas. Such tendencies have always played a most pernicious role in the workers' movement. Engels wrote an entire book, Anti-Dühring, to answer the ideas of Eugen Dühring, a typical example of the Katheder Sozialisten.
After such a thorough demolition job one would have thought that the last word had been spoken, but no. The ideas defended by Heinz Dieterich are the latest expression of the same phenomenon represented by Dühring and the Katheder Sozialisten, of whom Heinz Dieterich is the lineal descendent. Dühring boasted that he had discovered an entirely new and original brand of socialism that made Marx irrelevant. In the same way Dieterich argues that his "new and original" theory of "21st Century Socialism" supersedes Marxism and everything else that has gone before.
The present craze for new ideas that will allegedly supersede the "old discredited ideas" of Marxism is not at all an accident. The working class does not live in isolation from other classes and can come under the influence of alien classes and ideologies. This is particularly true in periods of reaction, after great historical defeats when the workers fall into temporary inactivity. Then the petty bourgeois elements (who, like the poor, are always with us) come to the fore, elbowing the workers to one side. The workers' voice is drowned out by the chorus of the "clever" people who have lost all will to fight themselves and are anxious to persuade the workers that revolution brings only tears and disappointment.
It is bad enough that we have to constantly answer the lies and distortions of the bourgeoisie. But now a large number of former "Communists" have openly abandoned Marxism and passed over to the side of the bourgeoisie. Some of these openly attack the ideas they fervently defended in the past. Others continue to pay lip service to Marxism but like Bernstein and Kautsky, wish to "revise" it, to introduce some "small modifications" to "bring it up to date. Like any other science Marxism admits modification and change. Marxism must take into account all the changes in the objective situation, or else it would not be a scientific method but a lifeless dogma. But dialectics shows how a sufficient number of small changes can turn a thing into its opposite.
The truth is that the revisionists do not want to bring Marxism up to date but water it down and liquidate its entire revolutionary content. Such people are moving heaven and earth to erect a barrier between the masses and Marxism, alleging that Marxism is out of date and that we need to create a new and entirely novel system of ideas that will, they assure us, be the authentic socialism of the 21st century. But on closer inspection we see that this brand of ideas is neither new nor socialist, but only a rehash of the utopian attempts of the reformists to create capitalism with a human face.
The sole purpose of this noisy chorus is to divert the attention of the youth, cause the maximum confusion and to act as a barrier to prevent the new generation from gaining access to Marxism. It is only the mirror reflection of the campaign of the bourgeoisie against socialism and communism. But it is far more dangerous and damaging than the latter because it is a campaign waged under a false banner. Its proponents are radically opposed to revolution and socialism but they dare not admit this - possibly even to themselves (to what extent they actually believe in the nonsense they write is something that only an expert psychologist can decide). They disguise their reactionary anti-revolutionary and anti-socialist message under a thick layer of left and radical phraseology that makes it all the more difficult for most people to identify.
Far from being new and original, this is the method of the utopians, each of whom invented a particular scheme for the salvation of humanity and was firmly convinced that the only reason why humanity continued to suffer was because it did not yet have access to these schemes. For the utopians, the class struggle did not exist. They addressed themselves to the enlightened bourgeois with appeals to carry out their utopian plans. The revolutionary role of the working class did not enter into their schemes, just as it does not enter into the reformist schemes of comrade Dieterich.
Despite their fantastic ideas, the old utopians were brilliantly original thinkers who made a great contribution to the development of the ideas of socialism. They were writing at the dawn of capitalism, when industry was virtually confined to one country - England - and the proletariat was still in its infancy. It was therefore natural that they should not base themselves on the working class. But Heinz Dieterich has no such excuse. In the first decade of the 21st century, the development of capitalism has created a powerful working class in every country. Today, not a light bulb shines, not a wheel turns, not a telephone rings, without the permission of the working class. To ignore this colossal power, and to try to put the clock back two centuries, discarding the scientific method of Marx in favour of the fantastic schemes and sentimental rhetoric of the utopians - that is an entirely retrograde and reactionary position.
The method of comrade Dieterich has more in common with the rationalism of the 18th century than Marxist dialectics. Rationalism on the eve of the French Revolution was a revolutionary force. But rationalism in the stage of the senile decay of capitalism, when it is directed against dialectical materialism, can only play a negative role. True, Dieterich still pays lip service to Marxism and dialectics. But this is "Marxism" stripped of its revolutionary essence, deprived of its class basis and the scientific dialectical materialist method. In other word, it is not Marxism at all.
Heinz Dieterich, consciously or unconsciously, is providing a theoretical justification for this. Under the false flag of 21st Century Socialism he is conducting a strident campaign against socialism and socialist revolution. He is introducing confusion into the minds of the cadres of the Bolivarian Movement who have not had enough time or opportunity to acquaint themselves at first hand with the ideas of Marxism. Is he conscious of his role? The question cannot be answered and in any case has not the slightest importance. The way to hell has always been paved with good intentions.
Dieterich's latest work on the subject is Hugo Chávez and Socialism of the 21st Century. This work makes some very ambitious claims. It offers us an entirely new theory of socialism, which will "go beyond the mere criticism of global capitalism and the historical ("hermeneutic") interpretations of what Marx and Lenin ‘really meant to say'". 
He begins with the laudable intention of explaining his objective - since "basic psychology teaches us that if we cannot define the objective, it is not likely that we shall understand if the tendencies of reality favour the results of our efforts, or are going the opposite way."  Yes, this is absolutely true. If we set ourselves the objective of travelling west, it may be useful to observe that our feet are not carrying us towards the east. This is one of the results of a profound study of basic psychology, which also teaches us that if we decide to go upwards, we must at all costs avoid the temptation of proceeding downwards. But let us continue with the definition of our objective.
Not so fast, cries comrade Dieterich, who is determined to show us how difficult it is to define our objectives, still less to achieve them. He continues: "Without the orientation of concrete and specific objectives all human praxis is diffuse and tends to become disappointed or lose its way because of the obstacles that appear along the way." 
If I do not set myself concrete and specific objectives when I get out of bed in the morning, such as removing my pyjamas and putting on my clothes, washing my face and brushing my teeth, and putting my shoes on both feet, making sure I have tied the laces, I may never succeed in getting out of the front door. Human praxis will be diffuse and I may tend to become disappointed and lose my way because of the obstacles that appear along the way of getting out of the house and commencing my daily activities.
If I wish to stay alive it is not a bad idea to remember to keep breathing. Yes, all this is perfectly true, and more or less evident to most men and women, who do not need a university Professor to explain it to them. But this Professor has a genius for stating the obvious and this he displays enthusiastically in all his writings. He shows his erudition by using the most complicated words and expressions like hermeneutics, plus a wealth of German and Latin words, that we feel we are learning something new and very profound.
"We learn to walk by walking", we are informed (we did not know this before). But we can walk effectively "only if we are oriented by a compass."  The compass that we require in order to walk in the right direction is none other than Heinz Dieterich's theories. So, compass in hand, we eagerly set out on a pleasant and instructive walking tour that will take us to many places before we arrive, safe and sound, in the Promised Land of Socialism of the 21st Century.
Comrade Dieterich now describes not only his objective but his method as well. The latter "combines the powerful method of scientific reasoning with the objective of solidarity and peaceful social coexistence."  To begin with, let us observe that this objective could be accepted in principle by any Social Democrat, reformist, parson or bourgeois philanthropist. In the second place, it is neither new nor original. It is typical of the sentimental daydreams and illusions of the utopian and bourgeois socialists whom Marx and Engels answered long ago in The Communist Manifesto.
That all men and women should live together in peace and harmony is the fervent wish of virtually everybody in the world; that human beings should live according to the principle of solidarity is at least as old as the New Testament (actually it is considerably older). We should all love one another, and there should be peace, not war. Amen to that! But already in the Old Testament (Jeremiah, 6:14) we have a fitting reply to all the philistine sentimentalists who say Peace, Peace, when there is no Peace.
We are invited to conclude that all the wars, terrorism, starvation, exploitation and oppression are all the result of a little misunderstanding. All that is required is to inform the human race that we must all live in peace, harmony and solidarity, and that this can be achieved by following a few simple suggestions that comrade Dieterich has invented, and now offers to the human race in the convenient form of a paperback book of just over 200 pages. In this slim volume, as we have said, Heinz Dieterich writes about everything under the sun and a few things besides. What is the purpose of all this? It is intended to fill the innocent reader with a sense of awe. It reminds us of the words of the 18th century English poet Oliver Goldsmith, who in The Deserted Village, describes the ignorant peasants listening astounded to the village schoolmaster:
"In arguing, too, the parson owned his skill,
For, even though vanquished, he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around;
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew."
It would be nice to know what Comrade Dieterich really means to say. This is not always easy, since he uses a vocabulary unknown to other mortals. Heinz Dieterich's books are so obscure because in them confusion is piled upon confusion. And in order to cover up his confusion he resorts to a mystifying and unintelligible language, which is supposed to create the impression of a depth of thought that passes all understanding.
The writings of Marx and Engels are so clear because they have a clear socialist message. Marx and Engels wrote in beautifully simple language because they were writing for the workers and any averagely intelligent worker can understand their writings. This is no accident. A good writer is someone who knows how to make complicated ideas simple, whereas a bad writer only knows how to make simple ideas complicated. Heinz Dieterich may be accused of many things, but nobody could ever accuse him of being a good writer. The reason these books are hard to read is not because they have a profound content but precisely the opposite. Here the complete lack of real content is generously compensated by a wealth of complicated language, obscure vocabulary and a veritable labyrinth of tangled syntax. On this kind of thing old Hegel once remarked: "Just as there is a breadth which is empty, so there is a depth which is empty also". These words say all that needs to be said on this subject.
How Heinz ‘interprets' Chávez
Having made a few complimentary references to Chávez, Dieterich has now established himself - and his theories - firmly in the centre of the stage. Heinz loses no time in presenting his first list, which he pulls out of his pocket with the dexterity of a housewife producing a shopping-list at the grocer's. We are informed that human evolution can be reduced to "three complex strategic dimensions". Why three and not thirty-three, we do not know. Why genetics, economics, religion, philosophy, politics, and other dimensions of human evolution should be excluded from comrade Dieterich's complex strategy is a complete mystery. It is an arbitrary assertion, like all the other arbitrary assertions with which this book is replete.
One notices immediately that Heinz is obsessed with initials. We begin with the NHP (New Historical Project), as opposed to the old HP. Later we shall be introduced to the CDS (Complex Dynamic Systems), and their cousins, the HCDS (Historical Complex Dynamic Systems), the HAS (Human Adaptive Systems), followed by the RPB (Regional Power Blocs), the GS (Global State), the NRPC (National-Regional Protectionist Capitalism), the TNCs (Transnational Companies), the IPCC (Investigation-Production-Commercialization Complexes) [I particularly like this one!], the LZ (Leadership Zones), and many, many more.
This method, like the obscure language he habitually uses, serves to confuse the reader to the point that he or she forgets what comrade Dieterich is writing about. At the same time, it attempts to give unintelligible ideas a false appearance of authority and scientific rigor. Suddenly the most hare-brained ideas seem as respectable as UNICEF, H2O or E=mc2. All that is lacking is the AAA (Abstract and Abstruse Aberrations) and the NAI (Nonsense of Academic Intellectuals). But let us allow comrade Dieterich to continue with his labour of interpretation:
"What Comandante Chávez and the marginalized people of humanity seek and what they need is not a new critique (negation) of a bad reality created by Capital, but the viable alternative of a new and more humane civilization, that is to say, an antisystemic and anticapitalist alternative." 
At this point comrade Dieterich takes up the position he has aspired to occupy from the beginning: that of the official interpreter of the innermost thoughts of President Chávez. Since, it appears, the President is not able to express his thoughts in a sufficiently clear manner, Heinz kindly offers his services to explain these thoughts to all humanity. It is not clear to us why President Chávez should require an interpreter. But this is of no importance to Heinz, who frequently "interprets" the President's ideas in a manner that directly contradicts them, as we shall see.
Before considering the muddled reformist and Social Democratic meanderings of comrade Dieterich, let us once more admire our friend's beautiful prose. What is meant by "an antisystemic and anti-capitalist alternative"? Insofar as it may be considered to have any meaning it is: against all systems in general. But since, at least on the planet earth, we can only replace one system by another (hopefully better) system, Heinz's characterization of his "viable alternative of a new and more humane civilization" leaves one quite mystified. Evidently, it is not Hugo Chávez but Heinz Dieterich who is in urgent need of an interpreter.
If he means by this that socialism (which, as far as we know, is the only viable alternative of a new and more humane civilization) can only be achieved through the revolutionary abolition of the capitalist system, then he should say so. But he prefers to spin an endless web of confusion with ambiguous phrases instead of saying clearly that the only alternative before the human race is socialism or barbarism. The reason for this ambiguity will become clearer as we advance steadily through this mass of words, cutting through the thick and impenetrable prose of comrade Dieterich, compared to which, cutting one's way through the thick and luxurious vegetation of a tropical rain forest, is child's play.
When a squid is attacked it squirts a cloud of ink. Our Heinz squirts enough ink to fill the entire Caribbean several times over. Once we are surrounded with a sufficient quantity of this black stuff, he hopes we will lose our way in the darkness and thus not be able to detect the real content of his argument, which is this: that in the 21st century it is impossible to carry out a socialist revolution and that therefore all sensible men, women and squid, must make their peace with capitalism and private property as best they can.
Exactly how Heinz Dieterich can make such a message compatible with Marxism and socialism we are curious to see. Therefore, we must arm ourselves with patience and make a determined attempt to grasp his meaning, despite all the obstacles he places in our way. After all, a book that promises so much is surely worth making a little effort to read. And in the end, we look forward in eager anticipation to enlightenment as to the nature of this wonderful and original theory of socialism, human society, history, culture, political economy, science and ethics that comrade Dieterich promises us.
Dieterich and the class struggle
"To publish this book with the title Socialism of the 21st Century, just over a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall is therefore not a utopian or nostalgic act. There is no frivolity or utopianism nor any lack of historical memory in its creation. It is the very period of social evolution which determines its appearance."  With these portentous words, the author announces the publication of his books. He assures us that in his work there is neither "frivolity" nor "utopianism", but an inevitable product of History. Several thousand years after Moses came down from Mount Sinai with his tablets of stone under his arm, comrade Dieterich presents us with his book, which, he assures us, is destined to play just such a role for the citizens of the 21st century. He promises us a great deal: the reorganization of the world on the lines of peace, justice and participative democracy. In short, he has discovered the magic formula which poor suffering humankind has been waiting for 10,000 years to hear. Let us see how much he delivers.
"Overwhelmed by the daily existential anguish of his precarious reproduction, without any spiritual transcendence beyond the triviality of consumerism, the alienated subject cannot solve his situation within bourgeois society but only in a kind of qualitative different cohabitation [!!], like participative democracy." 
As befits a Moses of the 21st Century Socialism, Heinz Dieterich strikes a prophetic pose making use of language that would make even Jean-Paul Sartre shudder. Here we leave the world of politics altogether and enter the pseudo psychoanalytical idealistic delirium of existentialism. In place of the proletarian class struggle, we have the "fear and trembling" of a Kierkegaard, in other words, the anxiety of the petty bourgeois who feels the ground quake under his feet and does not know what to hang onto to keep his balance.
Instead of the historical materialism of Karl Marx we have a senseless regression to the "alienated Subject" of Hegel. Just as in economics, Dieterich tries to drag us back to the antiquated pre-Marxian doctrines of the utopian socialists, so in philosophy he tries to drag us back to the mystified world of Hegelian idealism. The difference is that in the writings of Hegel the obscure idealistic terminology serves to conceal a great profundity and richness of content, whereas in Dieterich's writings, the obscure mode of expression serves to cover up a complete absence of any content whatsoever.
In all his writings, there is not an atom of revolutionary class content. It is no coincidence that comrade Dieterich avoids a clear statement of the socialist programme. Instead, he refers to the objectives of "peace, real democracy and social justice".  These worthy objectives can be agreed to by the Pope of Rome, the Quakers, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the UN Security Council, all vegetarians and little old ladies from respectable families. This will hardly cause the ruling class to lift an eyebrow.
Comrade Dieterich never approaches the class struggle from a Marxist point of view. In the document Socialism of the 21st Century - questions and answers, published in www.rebelion.org, he asks: "Why do the classes fight?" And he replies: "The answer is that social classes, for example, workers, toilers (trabajadores), farmers, professional people, small and big employers (empresarios), fight over the social wealth, that is to say, the surplus product or the economic surplus that society generates. Unfortunately, this fight is comparable to a pack of dogs fighting over a prey that is not sufficient for all. The strongest seize the prey and they marginalize or exclude the others."
To speak of the class struggle as a dogfight tells us a great deal about the standpoint of the author. It is not the standpoint of Marxism but of a sentimental petty bourgeois that laments the fact that rich and poor cannot live side by side in peace and harmony, instead of fighting each other "like animals". Instead of arriving at an amicable agreement to share the prey, "the strongest seize the prey and they marginalize or exclude the others." The answer is obvious: the strong must share with the weak in the name of social justice: the lion must lie down with the lamb. But we have heard this sermon already!
All this fiddling and fussing merely irritates the reader, who is obliged to wade through pages and pages of abstract waffle, in the vain hope of finding some coherent idea at the end. He informs us that the workers' parties in the past advocated "an historical project constructed around four constituent elements: the non-mercantile economy, based upon use value, real participative democracy, a democratic state and self-determined rational-ethical subject." 
Despite what he says, one will look in vain through all the programmes of all the workers' parties of the world to find such profundities, which are absolutely characteristic of Dieterich's version of 21st Century Socialism. Throughout his books and articles he constantly refers to "the majorities" a mysterious term that he never defines and so nobody knows what it actually means. Not only does this term lack any concrete class content. It also defies the laws of formal logic. While it is possible to speak of minorities in the plural, there can by definition be only one majority, not two. At best, one can speak of the (exploited) majority of society, as opposed to the minority of exploiters.
This example shows us that, in addition to his complete grasp of relativistic cosmology, our Heinz also shows a profound understanding of mathematics. Let us take the example of a circle divided into two segments. The smallest possible "majority" segment (in whole numbers) would be one of 181 degrees. This is segment A-B. Let us add another "majority" segment C-D, which is also 181 degrees. We now have a circle of 362 degrees, which is, at least on the planet earth, a mathematical impossibility. But in Socialism of the 21st Century, as we shall soon see, everything is possible.
Butterflies and caterpillars
With a flourish of the trumpets, comrade Dieterich now announces his aim, which is neither more nor less than: "the creation of a new scientific-ethical-aesthetic theory of postcapitalist social transformation in the 21st century."  This is really excellent. We are to get an entirely new and original theory, which will not only be the key that will open all doors in the realm of science, ethics and aesthetics (that is, just about everything), but will also lay the basis for a "postcapitalist society in the XXI Century." This remarkable new theory has been elaborated, "because the new civilization of participative democracy will be qualitatively different from present-day capitalism, in fact, as different as, for example, a butterfly and a caterpillar." 
In case anybody does not know the difference between a butterfly and a caterpillar, comrade Dieterich immediately begins to enlighten us on the subject: "Although the butterfly and a caterpillar share the same genome (they are born from the same ‘roots'), they evolve towards qualitatively different forms of life." Having revealed this important truth to us, our learned friend then proceeds to explain (in case we did not know) what these qualitatively different forms of life consist of: "While one of them crawls on the ground, the other flies in the air." 
The reader is lost in admiration at this new and original insight, which informs us that caterpillars crawl on the ground, while butterflies fly in the air. Such profundity of thought is quite typical of the kind of new and original ideas of the School of Socialism of the 21st Century. And in case you are wondering what this has got to do with the subject under discussion, our friend Heinz immediately puts our mind at rest: "That is to say, from the same origins, totally different forms of life can evolve. And the same is true of capitalism and participative democracy." 
As a matter of fact, not only do caterpillars share the same genome as butterflies, but so does Heinz Dieterich and all other living organisms to some extent. However, this does not mean that Heinz can become a butterfly, however hard he may try. Nor is it possible for socialism (or a "participative democracy") to evolve out of a formal bourgeois democracy. The analogy is completely incorrect and misleading. As usual in his writings everything is hopelessly mixed up. Like a brightly coloured butterfly flitting from one cabbage to another, without ever landing, our Heinz flits from one idea to another, without ever coming down firmly and clearly on the side of a clearly defined principled position. He takes one or two phrases from Marx, adds a little bit of Keynes, then throws in a random remark from Montesquieu, and then goes back to scraps of Socrates, Plato and Hobbes, before fluttering off in the direction of postmodernism.
In plain language this is called eclecticism. Engels, in his polemic with Dühring (the real spiritual ancestor of Dieterich) referred to his writings as a pauper's broth of eclecticism. But compared to Dieterich's books, the writings of Dühring were a goldmine of wisdom. Eclecticism has always been popular in universities, and never more than at the present time. The standards of intellectual life today are even more miserable than it was in the past - at least in the social sciences. Most modern bourgeois philosophy is simply not worth reading. The postmodernist nonsense (which has clearly left its mark on the thinking of Dieterich) reflects the despair of the bourgeois intellectuals in the period of the senile decay of capitalism.
With the greatest reluctance we are compelled to follow this butterfly through all its random fluttering, waiting patiently for a coherent idea to emerge. At last, our patience is rewarded. Finally our butterfly settles on what appears to be a concrete thought: "But if the animal makes a qualitative leap through its biological predetermination, what will generate the new social state in humanity? [sic] The answer is obvious [really?]: the conscious praxis of human beings. Just as the caterpillar develops in its life cycle the objective conditions for the flight of the butterfly, so capitalist society generates the conditions for the flight of human society towards the socialism of the new Era." 
It is not always easy to interpret the thoughts of Heinz Dieterich, if only because very often it seems he does not understand them himself. But let us make an attempt to translate this butterfly-talk into intelligible language. What he appears to be trying to say is only this: capitalism is plagued by internal contradictions and thus creates the objective conditions for its own overthrow. Put that way, it is immediately understandable and undoubtedly correct. But is it really new and original? We shall see.
What Dieterich stands for
In an interview by Cristina Marcano in Rebelión published on 2 January 2007, with the title In Venezuela, Conditions for Building Socialism of the 21st Century Have Been Created, Dieterich was asked if he had invented the concept of "Socialism of the 21st Century". With his customary modesty, he answered: "Yes. I developed it, beginning in 1996. It has been published with its corresponding theory in book form, from 2000 on, in Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, Central America, Brazil, and Venezuela, and, outside Latin America, in Spain, Germany, the People's Republic of China, Russia, and Turkey. Since 2001, it has been appropriated all over the world. Presidents like Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa use it constantly, and so do labour movements, farmers, intellectuals, and political parties."
Now, with all due respect to Heinz, there is more than one person in the world who defends socialism, not only as a concept but as a practical proposition and a necessity for the human race. And since, for the last few years, we have all been living in the 21st century, there are more than one or two people who are 21st century socialists. They did not require the help of Heinz Dieterich to invent it. But, with or without our permission, he has invented it anyway. What precisely has he invented? He continues: "Along with the theory of Socialism of the 21st Century, I advanced the theory of Latin American transition that is expressed in key concepts like the Regional Block of Power (Bloque Regional de Poder or BRP), also already in general use in Latin America. However, the concept Regional Block of Popular Power (Bloque Regional de Poder Popular or BRPP) was proposed by a Venezuelan friend, Douglas Pérez, in a business meeting three months ago." 
That this "concept" should be discussed at a business meeting is highly appropriate, since, as we shall show, all of Heinz Dieterich's concepts have an exclusively bourgeois character and does not challenge capitalism and big business in any sense, shape or form. When asked to say briefly what this new socialism consists of, he says: "In brief: a socialism in which the majorities have the greatest historically possible degree of decision-making power in the economic, political, cultural, and military institutions that govern their lives." 
This is a highly laudable intention. But let us ask what this "greatest historically possible degree of decision-making power" consists of. In a regime of formal bourgeois democracy, the citizen is allowed to participate in the decision-making process by placing a cross on a bit of paper every four or five years. But the real decisions are not made in a bourgeois parliament or cabinet, but in the boards of directors of the big banks and monopolies that exercise a stranglehold over the economic life of the nation. Unless this stranglehold is broken, all talk about decision-making power is just so much empty chatter.
Does the Dieterichian model of "Socialism of the 21st Century" propose measures to break the power of the landlords, bankers and capitalists? No, it does not. When asked what decisive step should President Chávez take, he first tells us emphatically what he should not do. He should not touch private property: "A. It is not generalized nationalization of private property, because it does not solve the cybernetic problem of the market. It did not do so in the past and it would not do so today. Socialism today is essentially a problem of informatic complexity." 
We will return later to the idea that the problem of socialism is "essentially a problem of informatic complexity" and the "cybernetic problem of the market". For the time being, let us simply register the fact that the inventor of Socialism of the 21st Century is opposed to the nationalization of the property of the oligarchy (the inclusion of the word generalised is only a transparent fig leaf to disguise this fact). Thus far we have learned what Chávez should not do. But what ought he be doing? Let us allow Heinz to speak for himself:
"Hence, the transcendental step consists in establishing socialist accounting (value) next to capitalist accounting (price), in the State, PDVSA-CVG, and cooperatives, in order to construct an economic circuit of production and circulation parallel to that of the capitalist market economy. The economy of state and social institutions can move step by step toward the economy of value and gain ground against the circuit of capitalist reproduction, until it displaces it in the future. Since the scales of valuation by prices, values, and also volumes are commensurable, there are no ruptures in economic exchanges that could cause a political problem to the government. In all this, the State and the majorities play an important role, but both are nowadays mainly with the project of the President." 
In the first place, is it really true that the state in Venezuela is "mainly" with the President? Chávez has stated on many occasions that he faces systematic opposition and sabotage from the bureaucracy that occupies key parts of the State. He has referred to it as a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, and this description is very accurate. Moreover, he has said that there is an old bureaucracy that has been left over from the Fourth Republic and also a new bureaucracy - people who wear red shirts and call themselves chavistas, but who are in fact a Fifth Column of the counter-revolution. Why does comrade Dieterich not mention this? Why does he ignore it, when this fact is well known, not only to President Chávez but to every worker and peasant in Venezuela? Can he not see what is evident? Either he does not see it, in which case he is completely blind, or he does see it but prefers not to mention it, to minimise it and to try to hide it. The first variant would indicate extreme stupidity and light-mindedness, and the second would be a crime against the revolution.
Every clear-thinking person knows that the problem of state power is the central problem of the revolution, and also that this problem has not been solved. The Bolivarian Revolution can never be victorious until it takes a big broom and sweeps out all the rubbish, corruption and careerism, all the nests of counter-revolution that have found refuge in the State and are gnawing at the bowels of the revolution and undermining it from within. This means a ferocious fight against the bureaucracy and the counter-revolution, which will resist by all means at their disposal. That can only be accomplished by the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. The state will never purge itself!
All history shows that the forces of the old society will resist change and that this resistance must be overcome by revolutionary means. What does comrade Dieterich say about this? The great revolution proposed by Heinz Dieterich, the transcendental step is all a matter of accountancy. This is a revolution that we can carry out without removing our carpet slippers. It is the kind of revolution that breaks no windows, offends nobody and that causes problems for nobody. It does not disturb the nervous system or cause peptic ulcers. It can be carried out quietly, at nigh time, so as not to disturb the sleep of respectable citizens. In short, this is the kind of revolution every sane person dreams of. One wonders why it has never been thought of before!
Why does such a revolution not bother anybody? For the simple reason that it involves no change at all, for it is merely a continuation of the status quo. What we are talking about is a mixed economy: the usual ideal of the reformists and Social Democrats. Here, for once, Heinz is unusually frank and unambiguous: "The economy of state and social institutions can move step by step toward the economy of value and gain ground against the circuit of capitalist reproduction, until it displaces it in the future."  This is hardly a new idea. It has been put forward by every reformist and revisionist since Bernstein. The idea is that the state sector coexists alongside the private sector and, slowly, gradually, peacefully, the former displaces the latter, until eventually, capitalism disappears without anybody even noticing it.
Every reformist has dreamed of moving step by step toward socialism, of a peaceful social transformation, without clashes, shocks or unpleasantness, just as every vegetarian dreams of a world in which tigers eat lettuce. But such examples in real history are even rarer than vegetarian tigers in real nature. Of course, there is nothing to stop one from developing such "concepts" - just as there is nothing to stop one daydreaming after a heavy lunch. Heinz Dieterich stresses that the transition from capitalism to socialism will be gradual. In one sense that is true. It is not possible to jump straight from capitalism to socialism. But before we can take a single step towards socialism it is first necessary to carry out a decisive break with capitalism. It is necessary to expropriate the landlords, bankers and capitalists. And that is what he refuses to accept.
Heinz expands upon his idea of a "parallel circuit of the economy of value", that is, in plain language, a mixed economy: "To create this parallel circuit of the economy of value would be relatively easy, because values exist in underlying form in the present capitalist accounting. Values exist in it in such a way that, with the development of corresponding software, it would be very easy to establish this socialist economic circuit next to the capitalist one. Without this passage to the economy of equivalency, it is not possible to have a socialist economy." 
We shall see later that, far from being easy to work out the exact amount of socially necessary labour present in a given commodity, this is a practically impossible task, and in any case something quite unnecessary for a socialist economy, which is the exact opposite of what our Heinz maintains. And in what way the presence of so-called socialist accounting would displace capitalist accounting (prices) only God and Heinz Dieterich know.
What would be the decisive step that President Chávez would have to take to arrive at Socialism of the 21st Century in Venezuela? To this very pertinent question, comrade Dieterich answers: "They are two: 1. to gradually replace the regulating principle of market economy, price, by the regulating principle of socialist economy, value, understood as time inputs (insumos de tiempo) necessary for the creation of a product; and 2. to advance the economic participation of citizens and workers at three levels: 1. at the macroeconomic level (e.g., national budget); 2. at the mesoeconomic level (municipality); and, 3. at the microeconomic level (enterprise)." 
We will deal with the economic theories of 21st Century Socialism in a later section. For the time being we merely point out:
1) Heinz Dieterich is opposed to nationalization and in favour of a mixed economy - that is, capitalism,
2) He is opposed to revolution and in favour of gradualism (that is, piecemeal reform)
3) This has nothing to with Marxism or revolutionary socialism but is merely the old reformism warmed up and served as the very latest menu of the day.
Reformism in Latin America
Reformism has a material base. It thrived in countries like Sweden and Britain during the long period of economic upswing that followed the Second World War. This enabled the bourgeoisie to give important concessions to the working class using Keynesian economic policies. The class struggle in Europe was blunted for a period of decades. But this period was cut across by the slump of 1973-74. For the last thirty years reformist governments in Europe have carried out a programme of counter-reforms, cuts and attacks on living standards. We will explain the reasons for this in a later chapter. Suffice it to say that even in the "rich" countries, like the USA and Western Europe, under present conditions, reformism and Keynesianism are in crisis.
Matters are even clearer in Latin America. Here the crisis is too deep, the conditions of the masses too desperate to allow half-measures. The existence of high deficits does not permit the application of the Keynesian recipes that comrade Dieterich regards as the infallible cure for all ailments. As a matter of fact, the attempt to follow such policies in the 1960s and 1970s was precisely the cause of massive deficits and hyperinflation that had catastrophic effects. We will deal with this question later. For now it is sufficient to point out the self-evident fact that the historical weakness of reformism and Social Democracy in Latin America is the result of the extreme weakness of Latin American capitalism and the impossibility of solving any of the pressing problems of the workers and peasants on a capitalist basis.
Recently there have been several attempts to breathe some life into reformism and "the Third Way" in Latin America. This is no accident. The strategists of capitalism have understood the danger of the revolutionary movement in Latin America. They understand the mortal danger posed by the Venezuelan Revolution and they fear (correctly) that it can spread throughout the continent. In the past they would have sent the Marines to intervene. But this is no longer so easy. So they must resort to other means of halting the revolution and divert it into safer channels. Here the reformists of different trends can play a very useful role as a second line of defence for capitalism.
One attempt to boost reformism in Latin America was the International Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which Heinz Dieterich takes as his starting point. This included such heterogeneous groups and movements as the Mexican Zapatistas, the Colombian FARC and ELN, ATTAC, Le Monde Diplomatique, the Brazilian PT, Venezuelan Bolivarians and other groups and individuals. Some of these organizations, like the Brazilian PT and the Bolivarian Movement, represent a significant force with a mass base of workers and peasants, while others represent only small circles of intellectuals, and there were a number of individuals representing only themselves.
The World Social Forum did not pose any challenge to capitalism. Its first meetings were financed, amongst others, by the Ford Foundation. Interviewed about the involvement of the Ford Foundation in the WSF, Lisa Jordan, one of the Foundation's officers had this to say (in open Democracy):
"Why did Ford get involved in the WSF in the first place?
"Lisa Jordan: We value global civic dialogue around global problems. We don't necessarily believe solutions lie with any one sector. Government, business and civil society cannot solve problems separately. There must be dialogue between and amongst these three groupings."
When some groups criticised the WSF for not being revolutionary she replied with commendable frankness: "In fairness, the WSF has never said it is a revolutionary grouping. Its stated principles are those of non-violence. Non-violence is fundamental to how it defines itself. There has always been a very strong peace agenda at the forum; last year's forum issued a very beautiful and profound statement in favour of peace."
The Forum was apparently connected by a phone line to another Forum taking place on the other side of the world, the conference of bankers and capitalists in Davos, Switzerland. This little detail tells us quite a lot about the mentality and political positions of the organizers of the Porto Alegre gathering. Unfortunately, the telephone connection with Davos did not yield any positive result, for the simple reason that the conflict between oppressors and oppressed cannot be resolved by a telephone conversation or any other kind of conversation. It is a question of mutually exclusive interests. The Porto Alegre Forum was made up of such a hotchpotch of different groups and individuals that it proved difficult to agree almost on anything. Dieterich informs us that no sooner had the question of socialism been raised than the trouble started:
"The next day, the Chilean intellectual Ariel Dorfman argued that in ‘such an open' Forum it was unacceptable to say that socialism was the only option. ‘I believe that we must not enter into grandiloquent rhetoric', said Dorfman who stressed that the Porto Alegre Forum was not a forum to ‘a return to the past'. ‘I cannot say what the viable option is and I believe neither here nor in Davos do we know it', the writer finished, stressing that it is too soon ‘to formulate a single programme of action'." 
On one thing we can certainly agree with Ariel Dorfman. He has not the slightest idea of the nature of the present world crisis and therefore has absolutely nothing to offer as an alternative. We also tend to agree with his opinion that the rest of the Forum of Porto Alegre was just as much in the dark as Dorfman himself. In the end, Porto Alegre represented a blind alley. It offered no serious programme for changing society. It was necessary to break through the limitations of reformism and place on the agenda the only real alternative: the socialist transformation of society.
Let us remind ourselves that Hugo Chávez, who was present at Porto Alegre, originally had illusions in the "third way" (a phrase invented by Tony Blair) and believed in the possibility of reforming capitalism. His ideal was not originally socialism but "capitalism with a human face". But after the experience of the first years of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez drew the conclusion that this was impossible, and that the "third way" was a fraud - in his own words a farce. President Chávez, to his great credit, raised the question of socialism, while Dieterich is doing everything in his power to drag the Bolivarian Revolution away from socialist revolution and towards the swamp of bourgeois reformist politics. What did Heinz Dieterich expect from the Porto Alegre Forum? Let us quote his words:
"The big question is therefore how to accumulate the necessary and sufficient power to turn the world upside down? How to transform the majorities into the masters of the global society? The answer is obvious [really?]: through the New Historical Project (NHP) constructed by them. Its content: participative democracy. This is the theme of this book." 
The aim is not a small one! It is: "to turn the world upside down and transform the majorities into the masters of the global society". And how is this aim to be realized? Obviously, through the New Historical Project (NHP). Now, it stands to reason that if something is obvious, only a fool is unable to see it. In the famous tale of Hans Christian Anderson, a swindler persuaded an emperor to wear an invisible suit, which everybody agreed was obviously very fine. Eventually a little boy who had not been informed of this pointed out that the emperor was going about stark naked. His observations probably did not please the emperor or his courtiers, but they had the merit of being true. Like the little boy in the story, we are not clever enough to accept things just because we are assured that they are obvious. We would like a little more information and, if possible, some proof that these remarkable assurances are, in fact, correct.
Heinz says: "There are two schools of thought that have advanced this option [which option?] of a new society in their works on Socialism of the 21st Century: the so-called Scottish School [?], in the brilliant works of the computer expert and economist Allin Cottrell, and the so-called Bremen School (West Germany), around the universal genius Alan Peters, the mathematician Carsten Stammer, the Cuban physicist Raimundo Franco and others who share their views." 
We have to rely upon Heinz's word for all this, since nowhere does he tell us what precisely the content of these so-called Schools consists of. This is surprising, for if they are really as important as our friend suggests, surely he could have spared a few lines to let us in on the secret? In the event, the secret is well kept. With all due respect to the Bremen and Scottish Schools and their universal geniuses, we prefer another school altogether: the school of revolutionary Marxism. And, Dieterich and friends notwithstanding, we shall continue to defend the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky against all the attacks: not only the attacks of the bourgeois enemies of socialism, but also of the reformists who represent a Fifth Column of the bourgeoisie inside the workers' movement.
The kind of reformism represented by European Social Democracy immediately repels radical elements in Latin America. But there are other kinds of reformism with a more radical and "left wing" coloration. Most of these also come from Europe (despite the constant appeals of Heinz Dieterich to the Patria Grande). They emanate from the universities of Germany, France and Italy where aging ex-revolutionaries, repenting the sins of their youth, are busy searching for the Holy Grail of post-capitalist society. Heinz quotes like-minded thinkers. But, although Dieterich finds their writings all very interesting, they are naturally not sufficient to satisfy his demanding mind: "Nevertheless, despite their cognitive richness, they do not provide a sufficient base to adequately respond to the call of Comandante Chávez. That is to say, reading them is a necessary condition for the construction of a new theory, but it is not enough." 
With so many "Schools" all vying for the honour of being the real founders of Socialism of the 21st Century the reader's head begins to spin. We are accustomed to a situation where there are not enough schools and too many pupils. But in the 21st century world of Heinz Dieterich there are far too many Schools and not many pupils. Nonetheless, we are informed that it is not enough. All these thinkers and Schools can only resemble John the Baptist and other prophets of old, condemned to play the role of a voice crying in the wilderness, making straight the way of Heinz Dieterich, who is coming, with compass in hand and book under his arm, to announce the Gospel of Socialism of the 21st Century.
We had never heard of the "School of Bremen" or the "School of Scotland" until we opened the books of Heinz Dieterich. It would appear that the former refers to the ideas of Arno Peters (a one-man school, therefore), to which we now turn our attention. University professors have a notorious tendency to form mutual admiration societies, and comrade Dieterich can be no exception to the rule. For our Heinz, Arno Peters is one of the greatest geniuses, if not the greatest genius, of our epoch. On page 38 of El Socialismo del Siglo XXI we read the following: "To the scientist Arno Peters belongs the merit of having discovered the principle of the future socialist economy, setting out from the structural deficiencies of the national market economy."
In our innocence, we always thought that it was Karl Marx who discovered the principles of socialism and explained how it arises from the contradictions of capitalism, that is, the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the barriers represented by private ownership and the nation state. But now we have been corrected by Heinz Dieterich who informs us that this discovery is the work of none other than his friend Arno Peters. And if Heinz Dieterich says it, it must be true. This brings to mind the old saying: for the mouse no animal is stronger than the cat. But let us see what his universal genius consists of.
Like Heinz, Arno Peters is a dilettante. That is to say, he likes to dabble in as many fields as possible. In this way he will never be bored. Arno started as a filmmaker and according to some, produced films that were not at all bad. But then he got tired of that and decided to do something new. In the time-honoured German tradition he got his doctorate at the University of Berlin, writing his dissertation on political propaganda. But even this was not enough for Arno's restless ambition. He moved on to the study of Synchronoptic World History. In case you do not know it, this is history that focuses on giving all people of the world an equal voice, by making a timeline with each year getting equal space on a page. This was Professor Peters' first great victory in the fight for equality.
The culminating achievement in Peters' life was the development of the Peters World Map. This was an entirely new kind of concept, which, at a stroke, established the principle of Cartographical Equality. Although critics made unkind comments about his map ("the land masses look like wet, ragged, long winter underwear hung out to dry on the Arctic Circle", one of them wrote), Peters was triumphant. Having established people's right to equal space on the printed page, he had now established their right to equal space on a map as well.
Peters' achievements as a cartographer have been exaggerated. He claimed to have discovered something new. He didn't. He claimed the new projection did not distort area. It does. Ever since Ptolemy in the second century mapmakers have struggled with the problem of how to draw a round Earth on a flat sheet of paper, knowing there is no perfect solution, since, if the shapes of continents are correct, the sizes will be distorted, and vice versa. For example, if the lower latitudes are accurately depicted, then the Polar Regions will be grossly distorted. As a matter of fact, only a globe can show all geographical relationships in accurate perspective. Therefore, in the best case, the Peters' map presents the map of the world with distortions that are different to the distortions we have become used to. That is the sum total of his epoch-making achievement in the sphere of cartography.
This epoch-making achievement was accomplished in 1974. Since then many atlases have been produced, only a minority of which, alas, pay any attention to the Peters' model. Moreover, despite the proclamation of equality on the map and written page, real equality is even further away than it was in 1974. The real gap between the developed industrial nations and the economies of Africa, Asia and Latin America has grown steadily wider. If the difference were to be expressed as a map, the continents would by now have drifted apart. Alas, the achievement of genuine equality requires measures a little more drastic than the redrawing of maps!
Having put Ptolemy and Copernicus completely in the shade, Arno Peters moved on from cartography to the realm of politics, history and political economy, where he immediately disposed of the likes of Adam Smith, Ricardo, Marx and Engels. For a chap who has no difficulty in changing the shape of the entire terrestrial globe and ushering in the age of cartographical equality, this was really no trouble at all. Arno Peters now revealed to the world the real way to get equality, the key that opens all doors, the Philosopher's Stone of the 21st Century - the Principle of Equivalence.
We shall be dealing with this, and other interesting matters, in a later chapter. But now we must fly, hanging onto the shirt-tails of comrade Dieterich, into the ethereal realms of science and philosophy, where we will no doubt experience new and surprising adventures.
|<< Author's preface||Contents||2. Philosophy and science >>|
 Dieterich, Hugo Chávez y el socialismo del siglo XXI, p. xvii.
 Ibid., p. xvii, my emphasis, AW.
 G. W. F. Hegel, Preface The Phenomenology of Mind, 1807.
 Heinz Dieterich, Hugo Chávez y el socialismo del siglo XXI, p. xix.
 Dieterich, El Socialismo del siglo XXI, p. 25.
 Ibid., page 24.
 Dieterich, Hugo Chavez y el Socialismo del Siglo XXI, p.19.
 Ibid., p. 32.
 Dieterich, En Venezuela se han creado condiciones para construir el Socialismo del Siglo XXI, in Rebelión, 2/1/07.
 Dieterich, Socialismo del Siglo XXI, p. 29. Emphasis in original.
 Ibid., p. 28
 Dieterich, Hugo Chávez y el Socialismo del Siglo XXI, p. 32