From Unity & Struggle No. 25, Spring/Summer 2013
1. Between August 1944 and May 1945 the Red Army, in its unbeatable advance toward Berlin, freed Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Czechoslovakia and eastern Germany from Nazi rule, also aiding the liberation of Yugoslavia and Albania.
In those countries anti-fascist fronts were set up against the Nazi occupiers (for example, the Patriotic Front in Bulgaria, the Independence Front in Hungary, the National Democratic Front in Romania, the National Anti-Fascist Front in Czechoslovakia, the Anti-Fascist Front of National Liberation in Albania, and so on).
With the exception of Albania, where the Communist Party (later the Party of Labour) undertook by itself the leadership of the new people’s democratic State that arose from the war of liberation, in other countries coalition governments were formed with the participation of various political parties, the expression of different social classes.
In the beginning, the communists who took part in those coalition governments had the task of assuring the democratic development of those countries against the reactionary and fascist remnants, building inside the Front a bloc of left-wing forces, and preventing the right-wing forces from strengthening their traditional ties with the middle strata of the city and countryside. Profound agrarian reforms were carried out and some nationalisations were introduced; new organs of people’s power were established, such as the People’s Councils in Albania, the Committees of the Patriotic Front in Bulgaria, the Committees of the National Front in Czechoslovakia, and so on.
But from the theoretical and political point of view, for the communists this presented the problem of perspective. What was the class nature of these new systems of people’s democracy? And what “road” would they have to follow in their development towards socialism?
In this article we intend to examine – through the declarations of some leaders of the communist parties of those countries – the positions assumed by their parties in the first years of existence of the people’s democratic States, and how those positions were later modified through a process of profound Bolshevik criticism and self-criticism. (From here on the bold face is ours.)
2. “The struggle for socialism is different today from the struggle of 1917 and 1918 in tsarist Russia, at the time of the October Revolution. At that time it was essential to overthrow Russian tsarism, the dictatorship of the proletariat was essential in order to pass over to socialism. Since then, more than thirty years have elapsed, and the Soviet Union, as a socialist State, has become a great world power. […] There is no doubt that all counties, big and small, are destined to pass over to socialism, because that is historically inevitable for both big and small peoples. The crucial point of the question, and we Marxist-Leninists should know this well, is this: every nation will carry out the passage to socialism not through a road already drawn, not exactly as occurred in the Soviet Union, but proceeding along its own road, in accordance with its historic, national, social and cultural peculiarities” (G. Dimitrov, Report to the Congress of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party, February 1946).
“Our people are for a parliamentary republic, which should not be a plutocratic republic. They are for a people’s republican system and not for a bourgeois republican system. What does this means? It means: 1) that Bulgaria will not be a Soviet republic, but a people’s republic in which the leading function will be performed by the great majority of the people – by the workers, peasants, artisans and intellectuals linked to the people. In this Republic there will not be any dictatorship, but the fundamental and decisive factor will be the labouring majority of the population” (G. Dimitrov, Speech of September 16, 1946).
“Experience and the Marxist-Leninist teachings show that the dictatorship of the proletariat and the building of a Soviet system are not the only road leading to socialism. Under certain conditions, socialism can be achieved by other roads. The defeat of fascism and the suffering of the peoples in many countries have revealed the true face of the ruling class and have also increased the confidence of the people in themselves. In similar historical moments new roads and new possibilities appear. […] We are marching on our own road toward socialism” (K. Gottwald,Speech to the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, October 1946).
“We must show what the relation is between the building of Hungarian people’s democracy and the road leading to socialism. The communist parties have learned, in this last quarter century, that there is no single road to socialism, but that the only road effectively leading to socialism is the road that takes into account the situation of each country. […] Only people’s democracy allows our country to march toward socialism through social evolution, without civil war” (M. Rakosi, Speech to the 2nd Congress of the Hungarian Communist Party).
3. In this analysis and in these theoretical and political positions, the existence of indefiniteness, confusion and errors are evident, whether owing to an initial and not very mature experience of the “new roads”, or to a not clear relation between the immediate task (the consolidation of the new democratic systems emerging from the anti-Nazi and anti-fascist victory) and the long-term tasks of building socialism. There is also an excessive and one-sided emphasis on the national element, which is “isolated” and unlinked from its connections with proletarian internationalism.
These declarations correctly acknowledge and affirm that each nation will carry out the passage to socialism not “through a path already drawn”, but “according its own road, in conformity with its own historical, national, social and cultural peculiarities.”
There were some important particularities in that historical situation: for example, the exclusion from power of the old ruling classes not as the result of a civil war, but on account of the armed presence of the Red Army on the territory; the survival of the parliamentary institution (an inheritance from the pre-war period) that coexisted with the new organs of people’s power. But these particularities were confused with the fundamental question of the class nature of the new power. The question of political leadership was not made clear. The leading role of the working class and its party – the communist party – in the power system of people’s democracy (a role that is decisive and irreplaceable in the dictatorship of the proletariat) is not asserted, or it is overshadowed.
In the following years those errors of analysis and perspective could be corrected self-critically, as we mentioned above. But we must not forget that, inside some of the communist parties, there were also right-opportunist tendencies, which led to the open theoretical revision of the foundations of Marxism-Leninism.
The most crude revisionist position was the one expressed in the Polish United Workers’ Party [PUWP] by the right-wing tendency represented in those years by its general secretary Wladislaw Gomulka. In his speech on November 30, 1946, to the assembly of Warsaw activists of the Polish Workers’ Party and the Polish Socialist Party [which later merged into the PUWP], Gomulka expressed his views in this way:
“The Polish Workers’ Party has based its conception of a Polish road to socialism that does not imply the necessity of violent revolutionary shocks in the evolution of Poland and eliminates the need of a dictatorship of the proletariat as the form of power in the most difficult moment of transition. On the basis of real elements, we have realized the possibility of an evolution toward socialism through a people’s democratic system, in which power is exercised by the bloc of democratic parties.”
He then explained “the three principal differences between the road of the evolution of the Soviet Union and our road”:
“The first difference is this: the social and political changes were accomplished through bloody revolutions, whereas in our country they are accomplished in a peaceful manner. The second difference consists in the fact that, whereas the Soviet Union had to pass through a period of dictatorship of the proletariat, in our country this period has not existed and can be avoided. The third difference that characterizes the roads of evolution between the two countries is that, whereas in the Soviet Union power is in the hands of the Council of Deputies, or Soviet, that unites in itself both legislative and executive functions, and that represents the form of socialist government, in our country the legislative functions and the executive ones are separate, and a parliamentary democracy is at the base of the national power.”
[…] “In Russia the dictatorship of the proletariat continues to be the form of government necessary after bringing down the counter-revolution. […] Today the dictatorship of the proletariat has changed its form and it can be said that it has died out with the disappearance of the class of exploiters and their ideology; its place has been occupied by Soviet democracy as the form of government of the country. The enemies of the Soviet Union, those who do not understand what the dictatorship of the proletariat means, continue to assert that this dictatorship still exists in Russia. This naturally does not make political sense.”
[…] “Thus we have chosen a Polish road of evolution, which we have called the line of people’s democracy. On this road and in these conditions, a dictatorship of the working class, let alone the dictatorship of one of the parties, is not necessary and is not our aim. We think that power should be exercised by the coalition of all the democratic parties. […] Polish democracy exercises power through a parliamentary system of different parties, whereas Soviet democracy realises the power of the people through the Councils. […] The Polish road to socialism is not the road that leads to the dictatorship of the working class, and the form of exercise of power by the working masses does not necessarily have to be represented by a system of Councils.”
Gomulka – who went so far as to even deny the existence of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union – synthesized the essentials characteristics of Polish people’s democracy in this way:
“The elimination of reaction from power in a peaceful manner, and the accomplishment of great social reforms by democracy without bloodshed, without revolution and without civil war.”
These anti-Leninist positions (that, one should remember, never had any legitimacy in the Party of Labour of Albania under the firm political and ideological leadership of Enver Hoxha) were later defeated in Poland in consequence of the sharp class struggle developed inside the party. But they re-emerged with Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, giving rise to the principal trend of modern revisionism.
Just as full of errors, and particularly significant, is this definition of the countries of people’s democracy adopted in Hungary by Eugene Varga in the first years after the Second World War:
“It is neither the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, nor the dictatorship of the proletariat. The old state apparatus was not destroyed, as in the Soviet Union, but it has been renewed through the continuous assimilation of the supporters of the new system. They are not capitalist States in the usual sense of the word, but they are also not socialist States. Their evolution toward socialism is based on the nationalisation of the principal means of production and on the actual character of these States. Even while the state power is maintained as it now exists, they can pass progressively to socialism by pushing forward the development of the socialist sector that already exists together with the simple-commodity sector (peasants and artisans), and the capitalist sector that is losing its dominant position.”
4. In the second half of 1947 the international situation went through profound changes, due to the passage of U.S. imperialism to an aggressive and expansionist policy (creation of military bases in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, military loans and aid to the reactionary regimes in Greece and Turkey, rearmament and support to all reactionary international forces), a policy that had its maximum expression in the “Truman Doctrine,” the “Marshall Plan” and the violent anti-communist ideological campaign unleashed by Yankee imperialism all over the world.
In his Report to the Information Conference of the representatives of nine communist parties (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, France and Italy), held in Poland in September 1947, Andrei Zhdanov denounced the tendency of the United States of America to world domination, emphasised the formation at the international level of two camps – the imperialist anti-democratic camp and the anti-imperialist democratic camp – and criticized the tendency, present in some communist parties, to interpret the dissolution of the Communist International as if it “meant the liquidation of any ties, of any contact between the fraternal communist parties.”
As the conclusion of that Conference, the “Information Bureau of Communist and Workers’ Parties” (Cominform) was set up, and inside the parties some important questions of a theoretical and political nature were re-examined, including those relating to the class content of the States of people’s democracy.
5. On December 19 1948, in his Report to the 5th Congress of the Bulgarian Workers’ Party (at that time again the Communist Party of Bulgaria), G. Dimitrov stated:
“In order to proceed with determination and firmness on the road toward socialism, it is necessary to completely clarify the ideas about the character, function and perspectives of people’s democracy and the people’s democratic State. In this respect, we must define more precisely some of the positions we have held until now, and rectify other positions, starting from the experience accumulated up to now, and from the more recent data on this new complex question. Briefly, in what does the question consist?
“First. The people’s democratic State is the State of a period of transition and has the task of assuring the development of the country toward socialism. This means that, although the power of the capitalists and large landowners has been demolished and the property of these classes has become property of the people, the economic roots of capitalism have not yet been extirpated, the capitalist elements aiming to restore capitalist slavery remain and are still developing. Therefore the march toward socialism is possible only by leading an implacable class struggle against the capitalist elements in order to completely liquidate them.
Second. In the conditions created by the military defeat of the fascist aggressor States, in the conditions of the rapid worsening of the general crisis of capitalism and of the huge increase in strength of the Soviet Union, our country, like the other countries of people’s democracy, once assured of the close collaboration with the USSR and the other people’s democracies, is seeing the possibility of accomplishing the passage to socialism without creating a Soviet system, through the system of people’s democracy, provided that this system is strengthened and developed with the aid of the Soviet Union and the countries of people’s democracy.
Third. The system of people’s democracy, representing in these particular historical conditions the power of the labouring people under the guidance of the working class, can and must – as experience has already shown – successfully exercise the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat through the liquidation of the overthrown capitalist elements and landowners, in order to crush and liquidate their attempts to restore the power of capital.”
No less important and rich in lessons is the analysis in the Report to the First Congress of the Polish United Workers’ Party (December 1948), by the new secretary of the Party, Boleslaw Bierut, who denounced the positions of Gomulka as the result of a “nationalist limitation” and a “petty-bourgeois mentality”, as “a return to social-democratic opportunist conceptions that have not been completely defeated and are continually reborn; against them our party has conducted and must ceaselessly conduct a fight to the finish.”
In that Report, Bierut pointed out the role and character of the State of people’s democracy in this manner:
“The Polish road to socialism, despite of its particular characters, is not something essentially different, but only a variant of the general road of development toward socialism, a variant which can exist only thanks to the earlier victory of socialism in the USSR, a variant based on the experiences of socialist construction in the USSR, with regard to the specific nature of the new historical period which determines the conditions of the historical development of Poland.
“What is a State of people’s democracy according to Marxist-Leninist theory? How can one define the essence, the class content and character of people’s democracy? Some people began to think that people’s democracy was a system qualitatively and fundamentally different from a system based on the dictatorship of the proletariat. Defining the system of people’s democracy in Poland as a specific Polish road toward the new system, its particularity was often understood in the sense that it was considered a special process of development whose point of arrival was impossible to establish previously, as was said.
“Some people imagined the result as a synthesis of its own kind of capitalism and socialism, as a particular socio-political system in which the socialist and capitalist elements coexisted on two parallel tracks and on the basis of a reciprocal recognition,. Other people, believing that the system of people’s democracy was a temporary effect of the specific situation determined by the post-war conditions, strived to temporarily stabilize this situation, in the hope that would be possible to return again to the situation existing before September [alluding to the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 – Editor’s note].
[…] “People’s democracy is not a type of synthesis or stable coexistence of two social systems of different natures, but the form through which the capitalist elements are undermined and progressively liquidated, and at the same time the form that allows the development and strengthening of the bases of the future socialist economy.
“People’s democracy is the particular form of revolutionary power that emerged in the new historical conditions of our epoch, it is the expression of the new array of class forces on the international level.
[…] “The development of our march toward socialism takes place through carrying out the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism in new conditions and in a new international situation.
“The principles are as follows:
- “The need for the working class, at the head of the popular masses, to seize political power;
- “The pre-eminent position of the working class in the worker-peasant alliance and in the national democratic front;
- “The leadership entrusted to the revolutionary party;
- “The merciless class struggle, the liquidation of big capital and the large landowners, the offensive against the capitalist elements.”
6. The historical experience of the international workers and communist movement is an extraordinary heritage of victories, elaborations and events, thanks to which fundamental pages on the road leading to communism have been written. The ability to verify the political theories and positions in practice, to admit and correct errors, to arrive at new formulations and conclusions, is a distinctive feature of Marxism-Leninism.
In the last century, the revolutionary creativity of the working class and peoples has produced different forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, from the Soviets to the systems of people’s democracy, under specific historical conditions, which we communists must transform into the treasury for the development of our revolutionary theory and practice, as powerful tools for the transformation of the world.
The emergence of the people’s democracies as new State forms of the proletarian dictatorship, socialist states in the first phase of their development, that have run through various stages and applied different measures in order to destroy the bourgeois relations of production, has a great historical and present importance.
The study of the forms in which are embodied the historical necessity and inevitability of the political rule of proletariat, in alliance with and at the head of the labouring masses for the transition to classless society is essential for today’s communists. Our task is to win over the vanguard of the proletariat and to lead the masses to the seizure of power, applying the principles of Marxism-Leninism and finding the specific forms of approach to the proletarian revolution and socialism, in accordance with the historical conditions and characteristics of each country.
The idea of people’s democracy is still alive in the consciousness of the working class and the labouring masses, and it maintains its great force.
Will the Italy of the future be a people’s democracy? What is certain is that in the new century that has begun, in which we communists are continuing our battle, new proletarian revolutions will shake the world and new States will emerge from them: but each State will be a particular form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
“That all nations will arrive at socialism is absolutely certain, but all will arrive with some particularities, each nation will bring something particular to this or that form of democracy, to this or that variant of the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Lenin).