21st Century Socialism (2023)

11 2006

Heinz Dieterich

Video transcription by O. Ressler, recorded in the house where Heinz Dieterich was born, Rotenburg/Wümme, Germany, 26 min., 2007

My name is Heinz Dieterich and I am originally a German citizen. I went to Mexico about 30 years ago; then I studied economics and sociology in Frankfurt with Adorno, Horkheimer and Habermas. The idea of ​​doing something for a new civilization came up very early on. In fact, after the collapse of true socialist states, we tried to find a new theory, and the basic problem was that there were no courageous thinkers in economics willing to go beyond the market economy. And there was Arno Peters, a truly extraordinary genius at the University of Bremen. He was working on several theories and when we met we bonded. This is how the new theory and the so-called Bremen School gained strength.

We know from science that there is nothing in the universe that is not motion; it doesn't move. Movement means change and change means transformation. So the question really isn't whether anything changes; but its productive cycles: when does it appear? What are the stages of development? When will she perish? So that's the issue of civil society, like slavery. I came to the conclusion in my studies that the basic civic institutions, the props, are incapable of solving the main problems of humanity today; Unemployment, environmental degradation, etc. Therefore, if this is a sign that bourgeois civilization is reaching the end of its productive cycle, it will perish. So the question is: what's next?

The basic premise of my book is that for democracy to exist, certain objective conditions must exist; One cannot simply will democracy and impose it on some objective world stage or performance. First of all, you need a certain level of material well-being, you need a certain quality of life. This implies that you can have a very extensive educational system, open to all and free, and then of course you have to have the will of the people to have a democratic society rather than, say, a theocratic society. In the end, you need an economy that frees you from unnecessary work so that you have time to engage in public affairs. I believe that these conditions have been achieved today, that the authoritarian development of social democracy and historical socialism in Eastern Europe is a phenomenon closely linked to the circumstances of the world wars, the Second World War and after the Cold War, and that there is nothing to be um you have it once. a new. They can replace the government of the substitute power, the Communist Party in this case, and of course not a capitalist elite and certainly not a state bureaucracy with democratic participation. So I think we all learn from those things. The objective conditions are much more conducive to true participatory democracy. I don't think there has ever been a better opportunity for true direct democracy than today.

(Video) Socialism of the 21st Century and and its Differences with traditional socialism

Well, of course the new society, the new civilization in its transition phase must be different because the conditions in Africa are very different from those in Latin America and Asia. Those in Asia are very different from those in Europe. But I think the basic institutions of the transition are pretty clear: if you want a new civilization, you need a new and qualitatively different economy. The market economy we have today, which is in its capitalist phase, has existed for about 5,000 years and is now totalitarian, absolutely dominant. But if you want to get to a post-capitalist society, you need a post-capitalist economy. That means you have to do away with the market economy.

Now, what's the bottom line? It is not what was thought in the 1920s and 1930s, just with the abolition of the private manufacturing enterprise and the property automatically ended in socialism. Now we know that this is a simplification of the problem. Nor do we believe, for example, that the already so common housing cooperatives that are being built in Venezuela will lead to socialism. What is a socialist economy? I think that the principle of the chain of exploitation and command in a market economy, that is, the formation of property and prices, which leads to the appropriation of surplus by the owner of the means of production, must break this chain.

In my opinion, it is crucial that the concept of exploitation is redefined. Exploitation does not necessarily mean owning the means of production. If that were so, then, for example, a manager of a transnational corporation or a bank or anything else that does not own the bank would not be an exploiter, even if he earned, say, $10 million a year. Arno Peters presented a very sophisticated and intelligent definition. He said that exploitation is when a member of society takes more of the overall social wealth that has been built up and produced in a year, when he takes more than he puts in.

For example, if you produce a certain amount of goods or services in 40 hours of a workweek and get the equivalent of, say, 300 hours of work, investing only 40 hours, that would be exploitation. Thus, those who can work will only have an income that comes from productive work and is directly proportional to the number of hours they dedicate. And I think that's an extremely useful definition to use. Therefore, whoever wants to put an end to exploitation does not need to take private property away from the owners of the means of production. Just rule out using them as a means of exploitation, and this can be done by directly assigning the property income - well, in fact there would be no property income - you would find that the income would be directly proportional to your workload. And when you do that, a machine or a bank ceases to be a machine to exploit other people.

Now practically, what would be the first step to do this? The first step would actually be to establish a new cybernetic principle; You need something that coordinates billions of economic transactions every day. And the market so far is a system that works relatively well under two conditions: if the market is not monopolistic and has purchasing power for the goods it produces and for the services it provides, then the market is fairly well coordinated. You can go to a huge country like the United States and buy just about anything anywhere in this huge country at any time. So it works quite well if you meet these two conditions.

But if not, then it's a big failure. For example education, free secular education for all, social security, all these things are poorly served by the market. So a mixed picture. But, in any case, if you want to replace the market, you must, above all, have the guarantee that there will not be an uneven accumulation of wealth, as we have today. This means that you need to control the capital accumulation function. Second, you must secure your cyber skills. They must have a mechanism that is at least as functional as the market in terms of coordination, but even better if possible. Let's say faster in its time to respond to changes in consumer behavior and inventory levels and the like. And I think there's only one element that we can use and that would be value. Value in Marx's sense, for example. The value is the input time required to produce the good. So you would only speak of a socialist economy in the scientific sense if you allowed decisive areas of the macroeconomic system to be governed by this new regulating principle, value and not price.

(Video) Richard D. Wolff Lecture on Worker Coops: Theory and Practice of 21st Century Socialism

And secondly, if there was at least a democratic contribution from the people in three dimensions. On a macroeconomic level, say for example, every year a national budget has to be decided by the citizens; second, at the community level; and third at the micro level, well, the factory, the company, the administration where you work. Thus, if these two conditions are not met, the replacement of the market price mechanism by a value mechanism. Second, the determination of production structure according to people's needs on three levels; Macro, micro and meso level. Well, I don't think you can talk about a socialist economy. In this sense, there has not been a socialist economy since the French Revolution because all the so-called socialist economies in the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union were in fact semi-market economies because they were governed by prices and the national part of prices were administrative costs, not market prices. When they used market prices, they took them from the world market; therefore, there was no real socialist economy.

The third thing to determine is the value of the product. I mean, what's the sum of all the time it takes you to produce it? After having this value, which matches the market price - but in a more democratic and transparent way -, it is necessary to guarantee that the products are really being negotiated with real value. It is not enough to know what a fair exchange is, it is also necessary to have the power of the government to guarantee that nobody breaks the law and starts to exploit through profit margins or commercial margins. The equivalence principle therefore means that two products that are exchanged have the same amount of labor time required to produce them. Suppose you have a pen that takes ten minutes to make, and then you have a jar and the jar takes five minutes. If you want to trade fairly, you must have two cups for a pen. Why do you have these terms of trade, these terms of trade, what would you call them in business? Because twice five minutes of labor, the amount of labor for producing two cups corresponds to ten minutes of labor for producing the ballpoint pen. And there is justice, because the equal contribution to social wealth, measured in hours worked, is exchanged; then there will be no fraud, no exploitation, no unjust accumulation of wealth. And that's a big problem, substituting the market price for the value of labor, and then making sure that the commodities are exchanged for their real value. So this is system-wide justice.

You must understand that prices or market values ​​are not unique to commodities. Salary is a price. It is a price for your work, for your workforce. Well, when you need credit, the price of money is the interest you pay. In a market economy everything is determined by prices. Determine your quality of life. This principle must therefore be replaced by value, by the effective contribution of each individual economic agent to the gross national product. And then you have output-level economic justice. Now you only have at the redistribution level.

The state confiscates part of the surplus and then gives it to children, people who cannot work, who are sick, etc. So the first level of social justice would be in the factory, through this principle of equivalence.

It would have a completely different distribution of wealth around the world. You probably know from statistical records that today about 82 percent of world income goes to the First World. One billion people have 82% of the world's income and the rest, which is about 80% of the population, have only 20% of the world's income. That would completely change because the current system is designed to achieve that effect; It is an asymmetrical system that tends to deliver the surplus of each part of the world to the dominant centers, the First World. But it will be different. It will also be different that within an economic area, let's take the European Union, the exploitation rate in Germany is around 65 percent and in Greece around 200 percent. If workers were paid according to hours worked that contribute to economic prosperity, rather than prices and wages, most workers in Germany would earn 65% more than they do today.

Of course, at the highest levels, the top would lose; but it would be a much fairer distribution of wealth. Now workers in Greece would earn much more because the rate of exploitation is much higher there. Thus, the new system would end the differences between the first and third world. There are several mechanisms that the First World uses to accumulate the wealth that the Third World produces. One of them, for example, is the foreign debt; But the other mechanism, even more important, is the terms of trade, that is, the relationship between the prices of manufactured products and raw materials, which always tends to favor manufactured goods. So, when the terms of trade end, when the price mechanisms end and they change the timings that are produced by one country and another country, this will end. The exploitation of women and lower wages would end. Because it doesn't matter if you work 40 hours, your contribution to society is worth 40 hours. It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. It doesn't matter if you live in Africa or Germany, for example, a Volkswagen worker in Germany earns $3000 a month and the worker doing the same job in Mexico earns $800. Mexican for the same job? Then all these differences (gender, geographic, educational) would disappear. It would have a much more even distribution of wealth. Of course, this would have an impact on the entire production structure. You wouldn't have that focus on luxury goods that you have today; but you have a much greater production of the means necessary to lead a decent life. As with houses, there is a huge shortage of houses; They would have more houses because the people who need them would have more money to buy them and things like that. It would be a qualitative change in the entire economic system.

(Video) Jeremy Corbyn offers '21st Century socialism'

We must move towards a planned democratic socialist economy. And I think we have to be realistic and gradually replace the market with all planning capabilities. Well this has several components. One is technology. Computer hardware and Internet hardware are evolving very quickly. Software also advances very quickly, so the basic technological framework needed for a human-planned economy takes care of itself. But then you have a power problem, because information is a lot of power. Today we have hierarchical societies.

Even socialist societies were vertical. For example, let's remember that in the 1960s in the German Democratic Republic under the government of Walter Ulbricht he introduced a system called the New Economic System, reminiscent of Lenin's New Economic System. There was democratization because it gave the individual factory more decision-making power. And that stopped after a few years. Why? The basic obstacle to implementation was the middle hierarchy of the Communist Party itself, the unions, they were the obstacles, and the mother party itself, because when you give a factory a margin of maneuver to decide on its investments, you create energy. They create a decentralized power system that competes with one party's monopoly power. No one who has a monopoly on power is willing to share it. So unless you have the power to forcibly decentralize this, it won't work and hasn't worked in the GDR. In the end, the party decides, not the factory, and you pay the factory price because it won't work well. And that's the third element, it's a problem of real democracy and a planning and decision-making process that is also difficult to solve.

And finally, in my opinion, the illusion that there is a new human subject in a revolution needs to be dispelled. "The New Man"like Che said for example. The new people, the new revolution and people are changing, stop being selfish, stop plotting against other people, narcissists, etc. And that to me is an idealistic way of thinking. For me this is an import. This is an import of Catholic theology; that once the sinner meets the virgin, the sinner becomes a saint and changes his way of doing things. And I think this was introduced into socialist theory in a non-materialistic and non-scientific way. We have to get rid of it. We must know that jealousy, claims to power, material wealth, etc.; they will all be very powerful obstacles to a new society.

So if you put all these things together, we live in an information technology system, the objective conditions for socialism are a thousand times better than before. But it will be a complex task and will take a long time to complete.

I think it's a mistake to think that participatory democracy consists of everyone deciding on trivial matters. This was tried in the French Revolution and, of course, leads to the immediate collapse of the state's capacity for action. First, it is impossible for everyone to decide everything. And secondly, it is not necessary. Curiosities in a small town; They have to decide whether to light the streets or not, that doesn't mean a referendum I guess. So you will have a mix of direct democracy with electronic plebiscites and referendums and representative democracy. And the most important thing is that you extend democracy directly to the economic, political, cultural and military spheres. You cannot exclude any of these four basic social relationships that shape our lives. And this, of course, presupposes another objective condition. People should have free time to learn what economists know, what political scientists know, etc. They need time to discuss alternatives. So today direct democracy is possible because you have the technological base, the internet. They require real-time decision making and information transmission across vast geographies. And we can today. So for the first time since the Greeks it is actually possible to have a direct democracy where the will of the people decides important questions.

Make the decision to go to war, for example. are you going to war? Won't you go to war? Today some parliamentarians and businessmen decide on this. This has to be decided in a referendum. Today, with electronic instruments, we have computers and the internet, which is very easy and very quick to do. Today we can have a very direct democracy; Previously, there was only the possibility of a bourgeois representative democracy. Today we have the alternative of replacing formal democracy and the bourgeoisie with the people.

(Video) There Is a Fully Socialist Economic Model That Can Work in the 21st Century (Stay At Home #21)

The text was edited by Harald Otto as part of the project.to transform(http://transform.eipcp.net).


What should socialism mean in the 21st century? ›

Over and above that desideratum, it must also transform the economy's relation to its background conditions, especially non-human nature, the unwaged work of social reproduction, and political power. In a nutshell, a socialism for the 21st century must be ecological, feminist, anti-racist, and democratic.

How is socialism in 21st century? ›

The model of socialism of the 21st century encourages economic and political integration among nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is often accompanied with opposition to North American influence.

What was the basic idea of socialism very short answer? ›

Socialism is, broadly speaking, a political and economic system in which property and the means of production are owned in common, typically controlled by the state or government. Socialism is based on the idea that common or public ownership of resources and means of production leads to a more equal society.

What are the 3 main goals of socialism? ›

Socialist Theory

Below are some of the key tenets of socialism: Public or collective ownership of the means of production. Central planning of the economy. Emphasis on equality and economic security.

What is the main problem with socialism? ›

“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.” This famous line by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher reminds us that while government handouts may sound good, someone still has to foot the bill.

Do Millennials believe in socialism? ›

Background. American millennials and Generation Z are much more supportive of socialist politics and economic redistribution than prior generations. Some American millennials support policies that would widen social safety nets and provide relief for student debt and health care costs.

What country has socialism today? ›

Marxist–Leninist states
People's Republic of China1 October 1949Communist Party of China
Republic of Cuba24 February 1976Communist Party of Cuba
Lao People's Democratic Republic2 December 1975Lao People's Revolutionary Party
Socialist Republic of Vietnam2 September 1945Communist Party of Vietnam

What is socialism in modern time? ›

Socialism is a political philosophy and movement encompassing a range of economic and social systems, which are characterised by social ownership of the means of production, with an emphasis on democratic control, such as workers' self-management, as opposed to private ownership.

Are there any benefits to socialism? ›

Advantages of Socialism

The government treats the citizens as equals, and the wealth generated by employees is distributed equally to everyone. The government manages the means of production, which ensures that there is fairness in resource utilization and distribution.

How does socialism influence society today? ›

Since the government controls almost all of society's functions, it can make better use of resources, labors and lands; Socialism reduces disparity in wealth, not only in different areas, but also in all societal ranks and classes.

What is the best way to explain socialism? ›

Socialism is a social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources. According to the socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another.

Why is socialism good for society? ›

Advantages of Socialism

According to the socialistic system, each person is guaranteed access to basic goods, even those who are not able to contribute. As a result, the system helps to minimize poverty levels in the society.


1. Samir Amin and Socialism in the 21st Century
2. 21st Century Socialism
(Haymarket Books)
3. Why You Should Be A Socialist In 2023
(Second Thought)
4. Socialism...Seriously: A Brief Guide to Surviving the 21st Century
(Haymarket Books)
5. Socialism of the 21st Century: Challenges for Latin America
6. Socialism in the 21st Century


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