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Neosocialism can refer to two very distinct political movements - an authoritarian one in France and a democratic one in the US and UK - sharing little in common but their name. In the 1930's, Neosocialism was an authoritarian political faction that existed in France and later collaborated with the fascist Vichy Government. Between the 1990's and the 2020's, Neo-Socialism came to refer to a democratic populist socialism tendency around Allin Cottrell and Paul Cockshott's work Towards a New Socialism, which called for (among other things) Athenian-style direct democracy.

Neosocialism, 1930's Movement[edit]

French Neosocialism during the 1930s and which included several revisionist tendencies in the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO). During the 1930s, the faction gradually distanced itself from revolutionary Marxism and reformist socialism while stopping short of merging into traditional class-collaborative socialism of radical-socialist progressivism. Instead, they advocated a revolution from above which they termed as a constructive revolution. In France, this brought them into conflict with the Socialist Party's traditional policy of anti-governmentalism and the neosocialists were expelled from SFIO.

From the start, this linked them to fascist politics in France and neosocialists expressed admiration for Italian Fascism. This tendency later emerged as an ideological orientation in its own right with the Neosocialist Party which advocated authoritarianism and antisemitic policies as well as intimate cooperation with the Nazis.

In the wake of the Great Depression, a group of deputies led by Henri de Man in Belgium (the leader of the Belgian Labour Party's right-wing, and founder of the ideology of planisme, i.e. planism, meaning economic planning) and in France by Marcel Déat and Pierre Renaudel (leader of the SFIO's right wing), René Belin of the General Confederation of Labour, the Young Turk current of the Radical-Socialist Party (Pierre Mendès-France) argued that the unprecedented scale of the global economic crisis, and the sudden success of national-populist parties across Europe, meant that time had run out for socialists to slowly pursue either of the traditional stances of the parliamentary left: gradual, progressive reformism or Marxist-inspired popular revolution. Instead, influenced by Henri de Man's planism, they promoted a "constructive revolution" headed by the state, where a democratic mandate would be sought to develop technocracy and a planned economy.[1]

This approach saw great success in the Belgian Labour Party in 1933-1934, where it was adopted as official policy with the support of the party's right (De Man) and left (Paul-Henri Spaak) wings, though by 1935 enthusiasm had waned.[2][3] Such ideas also influenced the non-conformist movement on the French right.

Marcel Déat published in 1930 Perspectives socialistes (Socialist Perspectives), a revisionist work closely influenced by Henri de Man's planism. Along with over a hundred articles written in La vie socialiste (The Socialist Life), the review of the SFIO's right-wing, Perspective socialistes marked the shift of Déat from classical socialism to neosocialism. Déat replaced class struggle with class collaboration and national solidarity, advocated corporatism as a model of social organisation, replaced the notion of socialism with anti-capitalism and supported a technocratic state which would plan the economy and in which parliamentarism would be replaced by political technocracy.[4]

The neosocialist faction inside of the SFIO which included the senior party figures Marcel Déat and Pierre Renaudel was expelled at the November 1933 party congress, partly for its admiration for Italian fascism, and largely for its revisionist stances: the neosocialists advocated alliances with the middle classes and favoured making compromises with the bourgeois Radical-Socialist Party to enact the SFIO's program one issue at a time. After having been expelled from the SFIO, Marcel Déat and his followers created the Socialist Party of France – Jean Jaurès Union (1933–1935); by the close of 1935 the emergence of the Popular Front had stolen the thunder for much of the neo-socialists' tactical and policy proposals, and the Jean Jaurès Union merged with the more traditional class-collaborative Independent Socialists and Socialist Republicans to form the small Socialist Republican Union. Within the General Confederation of Labour trade union, neosocialism was represented by René Belin's Syndicats (then Redressements)'s faction.[citation needed] On the other hand, Henri de Man's planism influenced the left-wing of the progressive-centrist Radical-Socialist Party, known as Young Turks (among them Pierre Mendès-France).

At first the neosocialists remained part of the broader left. Déat led his splinter party into the Socialist Republican Union, a merger of various revisionist socialist parties, and participated in the Popular Front coalition of 1936. But disillusionment in democracy eventually caused many neosocialists to distance themselves from the traditional left and call for more authoritarian government. After 1936 many evolved toward a form of participatory and national socialism which led them to join with the reactionary right and support the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War II. For instance, René Belin and Marcel Déat became members of the Vichy government. As a result, Déat's neosocialism was discredited in France after the war.[citation needed]

Neo-Socialism, 1990's-2020's Movement[edit]

In 1993, Wake Forest University economist Allin Cottrell and University of Glasgow computer scientist Paul Cockshott published Towards a New Socialism, detailing how a democratic cybernetic socialism could operate in the modern world.[5] The main features distinguishing Cottrell and Cockshott's Neo-Socialism from other socialist tendencies at the time were:

  1. A rigorous theoretical defense of economic planning
  2. The use of non-circulating labor money to replace circulating currency
  3. Athenian-style participatory democracy, specifically the use of sortition rather than election to fill as many political offices as possible

Each of these represented major divergences from what was then the main currents of socialist opinion. The fall of the Soviet Union had convinced many socialists that economic planning was to be abandoned. Cottrell and Cockshott in contrast argued that new computer technology plus participatory democracy was actually making economic planning possible to greater extent than ever, a fact that would be noted in other books on economic planning in Japan and private industry. [6][7] Marx considered non-circulated labor credits as crucial for socialism in his work Critique of the Gotha Program (while critiquing incompetent attempts to implement them), and an earlier generation of socialists (notably Edward Bellamy in his popular 19th century book Looking Backwards, had advocated for them. But after Frederick Engel's death, Karl Kautsky moved the socialist movement away the idea in the early 1900's, leading (among other things) to labor money never being implemented in the USSR (given Kautsky's substantial influence on Lenin's socialist organizing).[8][9] Under Cottrell and Cockshott's labor credits idea, someone working 8 hours a day would receive 8 hours credit, goods and services would be priced in terms of the labor required to make them, prices would be adjusted upward/downward in accordance with supply and demand, and labor money would cancel out rather than circulate when used for a purchase. The idea incorporated the work from the growing field of econophysics, specifically the work of Israeli mathematicians Emmanuel Farjoun and Moshe Machover, whose book Laws of Chaos[10] empirically demonstrated that labor content was responsible for around 95% of a good's price. Years later, University of Maryland econophysicist Victor Yakovenko would demonstrate that circulating money inherently creates an unequal Gibbs-Boltzman distribution within an economy, even when beginning from conditions of perfect equality.[11][12]

The emphasis on Athenian democracy stemmed from a desire to avoid the Iron Law of Oligarchy, a tendency noted by Robert Michels for the leadership of an organization to turn even democratic organizations into a dictatorship if given the chance. According to Cottrell and Cockshott, Lenin's failure to account for this tendency in State and Revolution (published in 1917) meant the Soviet Union was never able to find a stable democratic form of government, thus degenerating by Stalin's time into a stable but authoritarian one-party state. This dictatorship further distorted the Soviet economy, as major economic decisions were made by a political elite with little input or consideration of the larger population's needs, resulting in the classic hallmarks of the Soviet economy: Rapid advancement in areas like space exploration and weaponry favored by the political establishment, widespread shortages of consumer goods, and (as Francis Spufford would note) the failure of the Soviet government to develop an early Internet after the main proponents of the project fell out of favor with Communist Party leadership in the Brezhnev era.[13]

Athenian Democracy avoids this outcome by choosing political leaders on the basis of lot rather than election. Quoting Aristotle, Cottrell and Cockshott note that elections have an aristocratic tendency that has been recognized since Ancient Athens: voting for whoever one thinks is the best usually means voting for whoever has the most money, status, or education to convince voters that they're "the best." For this reason, Democratic Athens selected their legislature, judiciary, and executive branch officials entirely by lot, reserving elections only for military generals where specific skills in the military arts were required. Cottrell and Cockshott call for a restoration of this democratic practice, arguing that it is the only way to eliminate the barrier between ruler and ruled, and prevent the rulers from forming a caste increasingly separate from the rest of the population.

In addition to Neo-Socialism referring to the "new" socialism advocated by Cottrell and Cockshott, more recently political organizers inspired by Cottrell and Cockshott's work have adopted Neo-Socialism to mean a democratic populist socialism, as distinct from the democratic socialism of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the Democratic Socialists of America. The former movement emphasizes expanding Athenian direct democracy and using economic planning to create full employment, sustain networks of small businesses, and win over the rural working class. The latter, arising largely from urban socialists aiming to win Democratic Party primaries in cities, has emphasized positions such as open borders anathema to rural America, and has typically not encouraged Athenian Democracy or economic planning. The difference in emphasis highlights the importance of populism to modern Neo-Socialist theory and practice.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parti ouvrier belge (1934). Le plan du travail. Brussels: Institut d'économie européenne.
  2. ^ Van Haegendoren, M. Le parti socialiste belge de 1914 à 1940. Vie ouvrière, Brussels, 1995.
  3. ^ Horn, G. R. "From 'Radical' to 'Realistic': Hendrik De Man and the International Plan Conferences at Pontigny and Geneva, 1934-1937" Contemporary European History. Vol Vol. 10, No. 2 (Jul., 2001), pp. 239-265
  4. ^ Zeev Sternhell (1987). "Les convergences fascistes". In Pascal Ory (ed.). Nouvelle histoire des idées politiques (in French). Pluriel Hachette. pp. 533–564. ISBN 2-01-010906-6.
  5. ^ Cottrell, Allin; Cockshott, Paul (1993). Towards a New Socialism (PDF). Nottingham: Spokesman Books. ISBN 978-0851245454.
  6. ^ Phillips, Leigh; Rozworski, Michal (2019). The People's Republic of Walmart: How the World's Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for Socialism. Verso Books. ISBN 978-1786635167.
  7. ^ Johnson, Chalmers (1982). MITI and the Japanese Miracle. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804712064.
  8. ^ Cockshott, Paul; Zachariah, David (2012). Arguments For Socialism. pp. 197–199. ISBN 978-1471658945.
  9. ^ Lih, Lars (2008). Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? In Context. Haymarket Books. ISBN 978-1931859585.
  10. ^ Farjoun, Emmanuel; Machover, Moshe (1983). Laws of Chaos: A Probabilistic Approach to Political Economy.
  11. ^ Yakovenko, Victor; Dragulescu, A.A. (2000). "Statistical mechanics of money". The European Physical Journal B. 17: 723-729.
  12. ^ Cockshott, Paul; Cottrell, Allin; Michaelson, Gregory; Wright, Ian; Yakovenko, Victor (2009). Classic Econophysics. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415696463.
  13. ^ Spufford, Francis (2012). Red Plenty. Graywolf Press. ISBN 978-1555976040.
  14. ^ Cockshott, Paul. "Neo-Socialism". Paul Cockshott's Blog.

Further reading[edit]