A talk given to the Stalin Society on 24th July 2005
By Wilf Dixon
This title embraces far more than I realised when I first thought to suggest making it the subject of a talk here at the Stalin Society. As communists we have a responsibility to explain to workers, class conscious youth and all those who instinctively and consciously reject the trappings of life in western bourgeois society and its political life, which they say is democratic and therefore the will of the majority, that even the most democratically elected Parliament cannot change the nature of the bourgeois state. I can only scratch the surface here but the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung all carry articles on the nature of the state and class society which are the corner-stone of any revolutionary understanding of democracy. To help give some form to this talk, I have listed the following headings:-
1) Democracy as a form of State rule.
2) Universal Suffrage.
3) Parliament and Elections.
4) Opportunism and Parliamentarism.
5) Successful participation in Parliament for revolutionary objectives.
6) Proletarian democracy with reference to the Soviet Union and China.
7) Bourgeois democracy and modern imperialism.
8) Some points on elections and the current political climate.
Democracy as a form of state rule
The bourgeoisie have surrounded the word democracy with a halo as if it is the holiest of holy words. The social-democratic ‘tradition’ prevailing in Britain hardly ever subjects the meaning of the word to the scrutiny it needs. Although this may be changing since we hear it every day fall off the lips of George Bush and Tony Blair. But I don’t think this questioning is going very deep because the social-democrats satisfy themselves with merely describing Bush and Blair as hypocrites or inconsistent on this question. Which, of course, they are. However, what U.S. imperialism seems to have discovered is that it has enough wealth and power that it can in many situations at the present time promote individuals, buy a bandwagon of raz-ma-taz and build a movement for optimistic change which can persuade enough people to vote for whoever. This has worked particularly in Poland, Eastern Europe generally and parts of the old Soviet Union.
‘Democracy’ needs to be stripped of the humbug that surrounds the word. Before the emergence of classes and the consequent emergence of the state which comes into being as a product of the irreconcilable nature of class contradictions in class society, that is in order that the ruling class can hold down the subject class, there would undoubtedly have been contradictions among the people of the gens and tribes. Contradictions that may have lead to violence. Almost certainly between contending tribes. There would also have been discussion and consultation to handle disputes within the tribes and families of whatever form with the elders holding particular authority. Engels’ brilliant work on the ‘Origin of the family Private Property and the State’, needs to be read and re-read to get an adequate grasp of this subject. ‘Democracy’, is not “allowing people to have their say” as it is commonly understood to mean. Democracy is a form of state. The word emerged to describe a form of slave state in Greece and Rome. The franchise did not extend to the slaves. Nor would any thinking person reasonably expect slaves, who are merely the property of their owners, to have a vote. I make this point to paint a more vivid picture of ‘democracy’ being a class question. A class question which is obscured under the rule of the bourgeoisie which came to power waving the banner of general freedom and democracy. However, my knowledge of Greece and Rome is scanty and not a subject of detailed discussion here. But I have no doubt that there are people here who can speak in depth on this subject. Democracy is a class question and always has been. It can be nothing else.
It seems that there were democratic forms of the state in Rome and Greece based on the number of slaves owned. Serfdom and feudalism under which land ownership is the basis of wealth of the ruling class of feudal lords, replaced slavery and the land tillers were no longer owned directly by their masters. However, by virtue of his landlessness the serf and later the peasant was inextricably tied to his master having to work increasingly longer on his lord’s land as payment for living and tilling for himself on the Lords land. There was no vote or representative body for the peasants except in as much as they could petition their lord or even the King or his ministers against grievances. Certainly, they had no representatives in Parliaments that may be called by the King in order to raise money or taxes. Here I am not attempting a detailed study of life in the shires, which in some respects may have allowed more freedom to influence the decisions of local dignitaries. I don’t know. It is worth thinking about. However, it occurs to me that in the era of the rule of finance capital the mass of the population are more powerless today under conditions of fully consummated and decaying bourgeois rule than they have ever been. Powerlessness manifests in many forms. I recently read an article drawing attention to the fact that it is common for people in modern bourgeois Britain to be attacked and relieved of their possessions while people stand-by and say or do nothing. Two aspects of powerlessness are suggested here. The attacked individual may on the one hand meekly give up his possessions having no trust that others would help him if he or she resisted. People nearby, on the other hand, reveal their own sense of powerlessness and fear in failing to intervene. I have the feeling that this kind of thing is a product of individualist atomised western bourgeois society which, of course, could not be tolerated in socialist society but it is also unlikely to have existed in medieval society except where the attacker was the local lord or one of his flunkies. It is common for individuals to be attacked in full view of others without anybody intervening. The proletariat is certainly alienated from the final product of its labour more so under capitalism than ever before or in former stages of development of human economic activity. But this alienation alone does not explain the very real sense of powerlessness that prevails in modern imperialist Britain.
However, I must not digress too much from the subject before us today. The distinguishing feature of the present day parliamentary democracies of the developed capitalist west is that suffrage has been extended to the whole adult population. Universal Suffrage is comparatively recent. In Britain even the Levellers and also the Diggers although I am not completely sure on the latter; who were the most revolutionary wing of Cromwell’s army, called for universal male suffrage. In Britain, women were ‘granted’ the vote in 1929. Before that, only women of certain property and independent means were ‘given’ the vote. The idea was that in order to have the right to vote, one had to have a stake in the system. The propertyless have always been despised and mistrusted. I would be interested to have a class breakdown of the near 40% of the population who didn’t vote at the last election.
So what do we say about universal suffrage? Does it change the character of elections in a bourgeois republic? In the sense that universal suffrage cannot change the nature of the state in a bourgeois republic, no. Parliaments elected by universal suffrage are acceptable to the ruling bourgeoisie. But in the sense that at certain times it is possible for the working class to utilise and gather strength through participation in parliamentary elections, it does. In State and Revolution, Lenin said that Engels regarded universal suffrage as a measure of the maturity of the proletariat. In an introduction to Marx’s Class Struggle in France, Engels speaks at length regarding the successes of participation in Parliament in Germany as against street fighting at a time when the proletariat couldn’t hope to match the weapons technology of the army and or when the loyalty of the troops to their commanders could be guaranteed. I’ll quote from pages 659 to 667 of my volume of selected works:-
“Thanks to the intelligent use which the German workers made of the universal suffrage introduced in 1866, the astonishing growth of the party is made plain to all the world by incontestable figures….Then came recognition of this advance by high authority in the shape of the Anti-Socialist Law…..
“…the German workers rendered a second great service to their cause in addition to the first, a service performed by their mere existence as the strongest, best disciplined and most rapidly growing Socialist Party, They supplied their comrades in all countries with a new weapon, and one of the sharpest, when they showed them how to make use of universal suffrage.
“With this successful utilisation of universal suffrage, however, an entirely new method of proletarian struggle came into operation, and this method quickly developed further. It was found that the state institutions, in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is organised, offer the working class still further opportunities to fight these very state institutions. The workers took part in elections to particular Diets, to municipal councils and to trades courts; they contested with the bourgeoisie every post in the occupation of which a sufficient part of the proletariat had a say. And so it happened that the bourgeoisie and the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than of the illegal action of the worker’ party, of the results of elections than of those of rebellion.
“For here, too, the conditions of the struggle had essentially changed. rebellion in the old style, street fighting with barricades which decided the issue everywhere up to 1848, was to a considerable extent obsolete.
It is important to remember that this introduction was written in 1894 and published in 1895. But there is also an interesting remark referring to France and Spain on page 659 which I will read now:-
‘There had long been universal suffrage in France, but it had fallen into disrepute through the misuse to which the Bonapartist government had put it. After the Commune there was no workers’ party to make use of it. It had also existed in Spain since the republic, but in Spain boycott of elections was ever the rule of all serious opposition parties. The experience of the Swiss with universal suffrage was also anything but encouraging for workers’ party. The revolutionary workers of the Latin countries had been wont to regard the suffrage as a snare, as an instrument of Government trickery.
Engels is not saying that boycott is incorrect in the case of Spain, although in the context of his points regarding participation in parliament giving the opportunity for the working class to accumulate strength as in the case of Germany, he may be advising the Spanish or indeed the revolutionary workers of the Latin countries in general to learn from the German example. Be that as it may, the quote indicates to me that Engels regards intelligent boycott of elections as well as intelligent participation as both valid. Let us also note from here, though, that this period in which the German social-democrats utilised the Bundestag and came to be regarded as the leading Party of the 2nd International continued until the outbreak of the First World War. It was the period of peaceful development of the working class movement in the imperialist countries which had blunted its revolutionary will and fostered opportunism such that the majority of the Parties of the 2nd International supported their own imperialist bourgeoisie in a predatory imperialist war.
Parliament and Elections
As I pointed out earlier, Engels in an introduction to Marx’s Class Struggle in France speaks at length on the importance of utilising Parliament in order to assist the working class in gaining strength. He even says that at a time when confronting the bourgeoisie at the barricades brings defeat, it is preferable or that participation in Parliament has brought more success than erecting the barricades. So what is the point at issue here? The point at issue is the question what is to be gained from participation in parliamentary elections. By participation we are, of course, talking about putting up candidates. I am going to come back to this question because it is an important practical one about which we cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with the general view alone. A general view which seems to have reduced the question of participation in bourgeoise elections and Parliaments to one of ‘it is a good thing’, therefore, we must do it. I blame opportunism and social-democratic prejudices for such shallowness. It is absolutely essential for communists, in imperialist Britain especially, where opportunism prevails in the workers’ and revolutionary workers’ organisations and legality and legalism prevails, to expose Parliament as an instrument of bourgeois class rule.
In ‘State and Revolution’, page 53 of the Chinese edition, under the heading ‘Abolition of Parliamentarism’, Lenin first quotes Marx writing of the Paris Commune:-
‘The Commune,’ Marx wrote, ‘was to be a working not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time….’
‘….instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent and repress (ver- und zertreten) the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people,constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for the workers, foremen and bookkeepers for his business’.
Revisionism in Britain gave us the British Road to Socialism and the main argument against the so-called peaceful road to socialism centres around the nature of the state. And so it should. But what about the kind of democracy the proletariat itself needs in order to exercise its power. The commune, and of course later the soviet, must be executive and legislative at the same time. It must be a practical body and to be a practical body it must be close to the masses in the factories and workplaces. This is a new form of political power. In fact it is not political power in the sense we have come to know it. That is the bourgeois sense of being in or out of ‘office’
It is worth noting here that the adoption of the British Road to Socialism also meant the CPGB switching from factory to constituency organisation. The two forms of organisation quite starkly outline the difference between bourgeois and proletarian democracy.
The bourgeois Parliament is part of the state apparatus of a bourgeois democratic republic or monarchy. I will try and make some points on why the proletariat does not need a Parliament. I am of course talking about a proletariat that holds power. The main aspect of this is connected with some important questions of Marxism on the nature of the state.
The state came into being with the emergence of classes and class contradictions. As such it is not a neutral body but an organ of repression. What distinguishes the bourgeois democratic republic from the feudal or slave states is the existence of a parliament elected by universal adult suffrage with the power to legislate Government policy and create laws and statutes. As the argument goes, because the Parliament is elected, it therefore expresses the will of the majority or the popular will. Hence, Parliament is said to be not an expression of class rule but a prize which parties expressing the interests of the classes they represent should seek to win. Unfortunately, there are two things which prevent the bourgeois parliament from becoming the expression of the will of the oppressed masses. One is that the Parliament once elected, with the ruling party having the majority of seats, it is immovable until the next election and its members can be bought by the high salary that goes with being an M.P and the thousands of threads that tie the most freely elected Parliament to the economic power of the bourgeoisie. The other is that real power resides in the executive authority of the bureaucracy, civil service, police and standing army. Parliaments come and go, but this powerful body, handpicked for its loyalty to the existing social order, cannot be removed by the legislative assembly. Should a Party of the working class and oppressed masses gain power and begin to meddle with the sacred property rights of the ruling class never mind begin to dispossess them of their wealth and privileges, there is always the standing army to disperse the Parliament and murder the peoples’ leaders.
In the absence of such a standing army, Marx and Engels were prepared to consider the theoretical possibility of the proletariat winning a majority of Parliamentary seats and using this power to buy out, rest by degrees from the bourgeoisie their power and thus gain power for the proletariat. England apparently, was such a country in the mid nineteenth century. Be that as it may, there is no example in history where a class holding power has given up that power without a fierce and violent struggle. Marx and Engels admitted of this theoretical possibility but only a charlatan and a bourgeois trickster would attempt to make such a consideration the main plank of a Marxist understanding on the proletariat’s struggle for socialism.
Based on the experience of the Paris Commune Marx and Engels introduced one amendment to the Communist Manifesto:-
‘‘One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’’ (quoted by Lenin page 43 of State and Revolution Chinese edition).
The point is not to lay hold of the ready made state machine of the bourgeoise,
But to smash it and replace it with the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat organised in communes or soviets. The bureaucratic state must be smashed. That is the power of the bourgeoisie in the military bureaucratic state apparatus of repression and coercion, replaced by the armed proletariat or a peoples’ militia. The right of the proletariat to bear arms in order to exercise its power as a class is the most important expression of peoples’ democracy. Lenin quoting, Marx at length, explains in detail, contrasting anarchism with Marxism on the question of the state, that the bureaucracy will not disappear immediately. However, the communes and later the soviets will be working bodies expressing the needs in production and life of the working masses and therefore not requiring the bureaucratic apparatus of repression of the bourgeois state machine. These communes will have their authority centralised through a national body made up of representatives of the communes with the commune having right of recall of its representatives and criticism of their activities. This is democracy and centralism in a new kind of proletarian state, which is not a state in the strictest sense. It is a state in transition expressing the power and will of the formerly oppressed masses. With the securing of that power, and the creation of a new society and new morality and relations between people in that nation and internationally, the state begins to whither away and the day will come as stated in the Communist Manifesto when the state is a thing of the past consigned to the museum of history along with other antiquities like the spinning wheel and the bronze axe
Opportunism and Parliamentarism
The Oxford dictionary definition of opportunism is the ‘adaptation of policy to circumstances regardless of principle’. I have always understand it to mean and preferred the more precise definition from a Marxist-Leninist perspective of it meaning the sacrifice of long term aims for short term gains. Opportunism can be expressed in terms of any ideology but with regard to the subject we are dealing with today, Marxist Leninists or even those who call themselves Marxists and are reluctant to also call themselves Leninists, pride themselves that their participation is revolutionary, while that of the reformist parties is not. It is not good enough to make such assumptions because opportunism is a slippery animal and all practical experience of participation in parliamentary election campaigns must be carefully assessed and summed up as to its successes and failings in furthering the long term interests of educating and organising the revolutionary proletariat.
Of course, we are not here to lecture the Labour Party on how to utilise Parliament. The New Labour Party signalled to the bourgeoisie that it is a fully consummated bourgeois party of the American ‘democrat’ type when it abandoned clause four. Its only fig leaf making it possible for some ‘left’ representatives of the working class to justify their membership of the Labour Party. Tony Blair has done the working class movement a favour by removing this fig leaf. By becoming the preferred ruling Party for the British ruling class, New Labour can be perceived as stronger. But it is in fact weaker and the fact that it is becoming increasingly exposed as a Party of imperialism makes it of less use to the British ruling class. The more intelligent representatives of British imperialism understand only too well the roll that reformism and illusions among the working class in its reformist representatives plays in bolstering the rule of the bourgeoisie.
Hence the emergence of new reformist parties and coalitions. The formation of the SLP was an important development which I welcomed along with Arthur Scargill leaving the Labour Party and becoming a potential focus for rallying class conscious workers with a base in the working class of this country. Unfortunately, Arthur Scargill is only one man. A man of tremendous courage and ability to lead the working class in struggle and stand up to the class enemy. But one man none-the-less who, it has to be said, must have illusions in social democracy and Parliament. Or, he sacrifices the long term aim of expropriation of the bourgeoisie in favour of winning reforms through Parliament. None of this can I speak confidently about because when dealing with a man of Arthur Scargill’s stature in the history of working class struggle in Britain, I think it is essential to be concrete. The work needs to be done in summing up the practice of the SLP and there are people in this room better able to do it than me. However, the SLP did not develop as I hoped. The Party was from the outset torn to pieces by the Trotskyites who worked in their usual way in its various committees. Something that Arthur Scargill showed his political maturity in fighting. But for all this the SLP remained trapped within the social-democratic perspectives that are peculiar to the British working class movement. That is why it is fair to say that the SLP was trying to recapture or restore the Old Labour Party. I believe that Scargill wanted to build a Party which was internationalist and rooted in the everyday struggle of working people in this country. But he remains a prisoner of his own social-democratic illusions and prejudices. Naming the SLP committees Constituency SLP’s shows clearly the Parliamentary perspective that the SLP had and has.
I believe that the failure of the SLP is bound up with the fact that the masses of this country are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Parliament and instinctively mistrust those who say vote for my Party and we will do whatever. Scargill losing to Mandelson in County Durham upset me at the time and I believe that of all election campaigns it should be subject to searching analysis. That a crook and spinner like Mandelson can win without the working class movement having gained anything such as a stronger local organisation cannot be just passed over as ‘we did it so it must have had some positive effects’.
Successful Participation in Parliament for Revolutionary Objectives
It is necessary to grasp that participation or non-participation in Parliamentary elections and Parliament must not be made, or seen to be made an objective in itself, that it is a question that needs to be studied anew at every juncture and judged from the standpoint of the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat. We have examples of stands taken by revolutionary parties towards elections and Parliament. The Bolsheviks had a policy of boycott of elections to a Duma hastily convened by the Tsar when the 1905-7 revolution was still on the ascendancy. Lenin commended those deputies who were prepared to go to prison rather than vote for war credits at the beginning of the lst World War. Such a picture would do a great deal to raise the consciousness of the proletariat and rally its vanguard behind the leadership of the communists.
I have spoken of the period after the Paris Commune when the German social-democrats utilised participation in Parliament in a comparatively peaceful period to help the German working class gather strength at a time of anti-socialist laws. As I have suggested this whole period between 1871 and the outbreak of World War 1 is a time when the working class of Europe with the exception of Russia was able to wring concessions and reforms. It was a period which nurtured opportunism, a more powerful weapon, used to tame the working class movement, than banning orders and repression. The super-profits looted from the colonies allowed the monopoly capitalist class to set aside funds for the purpose of buying off key sections of the working class whose reformist illusions came to dominate the legal and ‘respectable’ social democratic organisations of the working class.
I am hoping the discussion will throw up examples where revolutionary parties have utilised Parliament to promote and strengthen a mass movement. In Britain, I think the best examples lie not with the communists, although I am aware of the speeches made by Willie Gallagher and Saklatvala before him. In Britain, Revolutionary politics are seldom far from the issue of Ireland and I am thinking of the use made by Sinn Fein of Parliament while refusing to take the oath and therefore their seats. But the best example is the slogan of the ballot box and the gun and Bobby Sands’ brilliant victory while on hunger strike in prison. Sinn Fein and the IRA were able to arrive at these tactics from the point of view of non-participation in terms of not taking your seat in a Parliament of the colonial master that required all MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Surely communist representatives of a Party firmly rooted and based on the struggle of the workers and oppressed peoples can devise tactics to expose the fraud of bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois parliament based on non-participation as well as participation.
For Marxist-Leninists, the crux of the issue is the utilising of Parliament to promote and strengthen the struggle of the working class and oppressed people. For the reformists and opportunists, obtaining seats in Parliament is the prize itself. I can’t speak for anybody else here, but when George Galloway was elected in Bethnal Green and Bow on a strong platform of opposition to the war in Iraq I was pleased. This punctured the arrogance of the Blairites and it was a measure of the political maturity of the people of that area. It was also heart-warming to see him show courage and challenge the lies of the British and American imperialists which are spewed out from the bourgeois media, at that so-called American senatorial enquiry. A modern day house of un-American activities. A lot of people were delighted to see and hear Galloway turn the tables. The Americans will be a bit more careful before they try and do Blair another favour that helps him deal with his domestic politics. We are yet to see if Galloway has the intelligence courage and will to use his seat in Parliament to strengthen the movement against British and American expansionism. This is a double-edged thing. If he does then it must be judged concretely. Is he working to strengthen the popular movement or just to make a name for himself and become just another tail demanding that he wag the dog? In other words promoting new illusions that returning more Respect MP’s is the answer. He is not a communist and I doubt that he will submit himself to criticism and censure by his ‘party’, if indeed we can call his rag-bag of followers a Party at all. ‘Respect’ has no definite program and it is making a virtue of being all things to all men. The real test of whether Galloway is a true representative of the masses is whether he considers his position more important than the popular movement and is he prepared to submit himself to the interests of the peoples’ struggle against imperialism and imperialist war.
Proletarian democracy with particular reference to the Soviet Union and China
Before dealing with this question it is important to re-cap on the main distinctions between bourgeois and proletarian democracy. All bourgeois parliaments, if indeed they are not merely a talking shop, are separated from the executive authority, the bureaucracy, the army of civil servants charged with the responsibility of carrying out the legislation passed by Parliament. This bureaucracy is part of the bourgeois state machine and is a bulwark of bourgeois power. The cornerstone of proletarian power, the commune or the soviet, is both legislative and executive at the same time. Before the October revolution decided the issue of the ascendancy of the workers and peasants, there existed what Lenin described as a form of duel power. Kerensky’s provisional government was issuing orders and laws. But as is described in John Read’s ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’, if you wanted to know something or have something done you had to go to the Soviets or workers and soldiers committees. Exactly so, the power of the workers and peasants in the Soviets was executive and legislative at the same time.
This had to be legally formalised in Soviet law. However, there was the issue of the Constituent Assembly. The demand for a Constituent Assembly in conditions of the Tsarist autocracy was a progressive and democratic demand. However, the Provisional Government of Kerensky and supported by the Socialist Revolutionaries had repeatedly postponed elections for a Constituent Assembly because they wished to continue participation in the predatory imperialist war. It is not surprising, however, that the classes and Parties that had been overthrown by the November 7th revolution should become as zealous in their demands for elections to a constituent assembly as they were in post-poning it previously.
I am going to quote extensively on this question of the Constituent Assembly from Andrew Rothstein’s excellent book ‘A History of the U.S.S.R’, pages 56-57.
‘The intention of the Bolsheviks – with which the Left Socialist revolutionaries agreed – was to induce the Constituent Assembly peacefully to accept the basic decrees of the November revolution, and to regard its own principal function as ‘the general elaboration of the fundamental principles of the socialist transformation of society’. For this purpose a ‘Declaration of Rights of the Working and exploited People’, embodying the decrees in question, was drawn up and adopted by the C.E.C. on January 16th. In order to give the bourgeois parties an opportunity to bring the composition of the assembly into greater conformity with the feeling of the masses, the C.E.C. had earlier (December, 4th) unanimously adopted a decree providing for the right to recall deputies and to hold new elections, where the local Soviets judged this expedient. But this procedure was not put into effect, in view of the turn of events when the time for opening the Constituent Assembly arrived.
‘This was on January 18th. By a large majority (roughly 60% to 40%) the Assembly rejected the Bolshevik proposal to elect the Left Socialist – Revolutionary leader, Maria Spiridinova, as President, and chose one of the principal anti-Soviet Politicians, Victor Chernov (leader of the Right S.R.s) instead. It refused even to discuss the Declaration of rights. First the Bolsheviks and then the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries retired from the Assembly in the course of the night (January 19th), after making it clear that the Assembly by its actions was taking the path of counter-revolution. At 4 am on January 19th the commander of the sailors guarding the Assembly told Chernov ‘it was time to go home, as the sailors were tired’: and twenty-four hours later the C.E.C. decreed the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, as having ‘ruptured every link between itself and the Soviet Republic of Russia’ ‘It must be added that the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly attracted much more attention abroad than it did in Russia.‘On January 23rd the third All-Russian Congress of Soviets met in Petrograd and itself adopted the Declaration of Rights of the labouring and Exploited Masses. This document was embodied in all the subsequent Soviet Constitutions up to July 1936. With a second resolution, ‘On the Federal Institutions of the Russian Republic’, it represented the germ of the future Soviet constitutional structure.
Forgive me for extending this quote, but I think what follows reveals the essence of proletarian democracy which is important to grasp if we are not to fall victim to bourgeois democratic prejudices and cretinism.
‘The Declaration proclaimed Russia to be a ‘Republic of Soviets of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants’ Deputies’, in which all authority was vested; and a ‘free union of free nations’. With the aim of suppressing all exploitation of man by man, the Declaration nationalised all land, forests, and mineral wealth without compensation, transferred all banks to the State, enacted that ‘work useful to the community shall be obligatory upon all’, and ratified the Soviet Government’s decrees establishing workmen’s control of industry and a Supreme Economic council, as a ‘first step’ towards nationalisation of industry and transport. It repudiated Tsarist debts, Tsarist secret treaties and the colonial policy of capitalism. It decreed the arming of the workers, the disarming of the propertied classes and their exclusion from the machinery of government. It proclaimed that Russia’s aim was a democratic peace, based on free self-determination of the nations. ‘……..Relations with Soviet Republics as they were formed, or with regions distinguished by national priorities, were to be regulated by the C.E.C. and the appropriate bodies in the territories concerned. The central authority was responsible only for measures applying to State as a whole. ‘All local affairs are decided solely by the local Soviets.’
I hope this has helped me draw out the essence of proletarian democracy. That is the real power to decide and act at grass roots or local level. The right of recall and criticism of representatives to the higher bodes. These rights were enshrined in the Soviet constitution. They were the essence of workers’ and peasants’ power, and what made the dictatorship of the proletariat strong and the soviet people able to defeat the class enemy within in order to consolidate the Soviet State. The movements to purge the party and state could not have been carried out just by orders from above. I must add that I mean movements to purge the Party and state of backward and counter-revolutionary elements. These movements required the active participation of the people and low-ranking Party members. Purges directed only from above must at least be ratified by the lower bodies and full explanations given. It is a matter of historical fact that the Kruschevite revisionists were able to seize power and transform the state and Party from being socialist and proletarian in character to one which gave free reign to a bourgeoisified strata of technocrats and state-functionaries. We have discussed in other talks, particularly on the question of Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR that it is probable that Stalin was preparing the ground for launching a new campaign of criticism and self-criticism which would have immediately had its echo at the lower levels and maybe would have transformed the fortunes of the revisionists from success into failure. It is certain that many Party leaders and state functionaries breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that they did not have to face investigation of their activities or justify their decisions and actions.
The fact that the combined military might of the 14 intervening powers nor the massive military machine assembled by Nazi Germany could overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR; yet a comparative handful of revisionist conspirators can succeed, is a matter for deep reflection. It was this that troubled Mao Tse-tung and led the Chinese Communists Party to launch its campaign to criticise modern revisionism and launch the Cultural Revolution. To my mind this movement failed in its objectives but there are some successes, if not just the operas and films that came out at this time. I believe this failure is rooted in the weak socialist economic base i.e. industrial base and consequently a weaker proletariat in relation to the peasantry. This may not have been so critical had Kruschev not stopped the aid so important to kick-start Chinese socialist construction.
Bourgeois democracy and modern imperialism
Even the most democratically elected Parliament is tied by a thousand threads to the interests of the bourgeoisie. Modern capitalism is not the economic system of the bourgeoisie on the rise i.e. when it was deemed historically to be a progressive class destroying the economic power of the feudal lords and liberating the productive forces from the shackles of feudalism. Modern capitalism is monopoly capitalism, which if one is to define imperialism, is the essence of imperialism. Monopoly capitalism is moribund capitalism, i.e. decaying capitalism. This is not to say that monopoly capitalism cannot make innovations or expand its economic power. This is clearly not the case.
The point is that monopoly capitalism strives for control and domination and not economic freedom. To this end particular monopolies may at one time advocate free trade in order to use market forces to oust their competitors and invade the markets of weaker economies with cheap goods in order to destroy indigenous industry, whilst at another or at the same time, erect trade barriers to exclude competitors.
Monopoly capitalism is in the business of destroying productive forces and propping up feudalism in order to keep oppressed nations dependent. Monopoly capitalism is in the business of destroying economic independence and the ability of nations and peoples to feed themselves in order to extract raw materials and enforce cash crops. The banks exact huge burdens of debt on the peoples and nations, which stifle any ability to rise above pauper and dependency status. Clearly this is a system of economic backwardness not progress. The striving for monopoly and the interests of imperialism cannot but characterise, i.e. be the main aspect of how we regard the Parliaments of the major capitalist countries. More than ever, do the politicians of all the bourgeois parties become the mouthpieces and tools of the interests of particular monopoly capitalist concerns not just the general interests of the monopoly capitalist class. Corruption is rife. In the thirties it was possible for there to be strong communist parties in the parliaments of France and Germany. Of course, in the case of the latter before the Nazis burnt down the Reichstag and unleashed the reign of terror. Also, it was possible in France for the popular front to gain huge success. But what of today? Money and wealth decide the competition between two overtly bourgeois parties in both Britain and America. In America, it seems impossible to even stand as a candidate without being or having the backing of multi-millionaires. It is this firmly entrenched system of tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee, which effectively disenfranchises the masses of the lowest strata of workers and oppressed peoples. It is also the economic power and wealth of imperialism which leads it to confidently advocate bourgeois democracy in areas where it seeks to expand. Eastern Europe, Africa and certain other selected areas for example.
All this being the case, it is essential that communists must base themselves on the struggle for the class and political interests of the workers and oppressed peoples and not use precious resources in election campaigns we cannot win or advance the interests of the working class. This has to be judged concretely but putting up candidates when the deposit is certain to be lost is a waist of time. That money can be used in exposing the fraud of bourgeois elections and trying to reach those who instinctively reject the whole rotten system.
Some points on and the current political climate
The title of this talk may seem somewhat academic and divorced from the conditions currently facing us in Britain today. But I think not. While the state is becoming more repressive and bourgeois democratic rights are being removed and undermined, ostensibly to give the police powers to deal with acts of terrorism, it is being made more difficult for communists who stay loyal to the principles of Marxism Leninism to agitate and propagandise among workers and oppressed peoples. This is the bigger prize for modern imperialist Britain allied to the most aggressive and bellicose imperialist power of today, U.S. imperialism. In this situation, it is essential for communists and all progressive people to strike deep roots among the masses. This is one point, perhaps the main point if we are to survive.
The second point, is that if it is made illegal to make communist propaganda on the grounds that it is indirectly aiding ‘terrorism’, communists are going to be compelled to combine or find legal and illegal ways of agitating and organising among the masses. While deep roots among the masses would be primary in this situation, election campaigns would take on a new significance allowing communists a legal platform for challenging the ruling monopoly capitalist class and its lackeys. Parliamentary privilege allows MP’s to speak without censure to a certain extent. So it would be essential to demand that any successful candidate claiming to represent the workers or oppressed peoples use that privilege to speak out against British imperialism and support the just struggles against imperialism and imperialist war throughout the world. I will stop here and I hope this introduction will stimulate discussion and help deepen our understanding on the questions raised. But to Sum up I would like to draw attention to the following:-
- The imperialists have made it essential that we deal with the question of the class nature of democracy and expose the fraud of bourgeois democracy.
- Proletarian democracy empowers the masses
- Participation or non-participation in parliamentary elections must be judged concretely. I favour non-participation and campaigns to boycott or spoil ballot papers at the present time in order to give full reign to revolutionary agitation and propaganda and aid reaching the most revolutionary and class conscious. Except where there is a possibility of success or the masses demand that we stand.
- Successful candidates should be under the strict control of the organisation they represent and give up a proportion of their income as an MP to the party they represent, retaining what is needed for a modest life style. Their income should be comparable to the income gained by unionised workers in the basic industries of the country.
- Failure to live up to the people’s hopes must be openly criticised. This will educate the people that communist representatives strive to be tribunes of the people or they lose the right to speak in their name.
- Above everything, communists must be like fish in water with the masses and strike deep roots among the masses, because that is where our power and strength lies.