From the Democracy Movement to Socialist Democracy: Introductory Note

This journal was born at a moment when developments in the Soviet Union put a spotlight on the relationship of democracy to socialism. For that brief period in the 1980s, the experience of Glasnost (openness) raised hopes that a formally socialist framework might indeed, despite decades of bureaucratic and often severely repressive rule, be able to accommodate a regime of uninhibited public debate.

That period proved to be fleeting, however, as the forces of capitalist restoration trumped the limited popular loyalty that still adhered to the communist vision. Glasnost turned out instead to foreshadow socialism’s collapse. This gave a momentary boost to Western ideologues, who touted the Soviet trajectory as confirming their identification of democracy with capitalism.

The latter identification had long been a staple of official US rhetoric. But it would soon lose much more credibility than it had momentarily gained. This was the age of untrammeled neoliberalism. The already intense assault on progressive social policies throughout the capitalist world became increasingly uninhibited with the disappearance of the Soviet ideological challenge.

In response to the neoliberal turn, a new phase of popular anti-capitalism arose, especially in Latin America. Traditional constitutions and party-configurations could no longer hold it in check. Within the United States, the financial stranglehold on politics grew along with repressive legislation and, beginning in 2000, rampant voter-suppression. It was natural that the political opposition to these trends should present itself as a “democracy movement” – ironically flipping the script of the government’s long-standing self-designation as defender of democracy globally. Hence the focus of Ben Manski’s present article.

As the political space for socialism revives, it becomes vital to return to long-standing questions of how a socialist society will actually govern itself. Richard Schmitt addresses this question systematically, and we follow with three short comments that we hope will, together with his article, stimulate a continuing discussion.

Victor Wallis

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