The Worker 11: Revolutionary Communists, Germany
Role and Historical Place of Democracy
Democracy is both an expression of the existence of antagonistic classes and is something that we must consciously struggle to overcome along with class society itself and at the same time it is a tool we need in order to reach that goal.
In regards to the questions that have been raised about democracy and its role in socialist society we have written:
“Is it true to say that “political competition” in the form of multi-party democracy is the key to preventing the rise of revisionism? Is it possible to introduce a safeguard against revisionists coming to power in a socialist country by institutionalising some kind of “democratic political competition” in which the masses can replace the communist vanguard with some other leadership? Given that discovering objective truth requires the conscious application of the basic principles of dialectical and historical materialism in the context of a dialectical process linking theory to practice how can an institutionalised democratic competition be the key link enabling the revolutionaries and the masses more broadly to grasp and act upon “truth”? At the same time, since it is also a fact that MLM and the vanguard party do not — as Mao stated — have a monopoly on truth, what is the correct method for dealing with dissent in socialist society (for example: does this mean that dissent should be encouraged as well)?”
In our view: “Strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat in a particular country means in essence drawing the masses increasingly into the process of directly administering all areas of social activity in the context of the all-around process of restricting — and eventually eliminating — “bourgeois right”. This is a multi-faceted process in which the forces of production are further developed on the basis of the revolutionary transformation of the relations of production and distribution along with revolutionizing the thinking of the masses themselves and includes the step-by-step elimination of all inequalities and the division of labour characteristic of class society. All of this takes place in dialectical relationship with the advance of the revolutionary process internationally.”
What kind of formalized or institutionalised mechanism could ever actually guarantee in practice that the masses have the right to replace the party should it go revisionist? This question itself actually begs the bigger question: how will the masses even know if the party has gone revisionist — how will they be able to correctly distinguish between Marxism and Revisionism? If there are different parties in society that are in competition, they will all claim to be acting in the interests of the masses. How could any institutionalised mechanism insure that the masses will be able to tell them apart? What should the genuine communists do if the masses decided to vote in the revisionists — to go along with counter-revolution? Leaving aside those who would openly promote counter-revolution, the revisionists always claim to be genuine communists acting in the interests of the masses. The right to vote them out of office will not mean that people will understand they are revisionists in the first place.
Secondly, no reactionary ruling class has ever allowed itself to be voted out of power. If the communist party changes colour and a revisionist line gains overall leadership such an election will never be allowed to take place (or its results will be ignored, unless the revisionists themselves win). Once they have seized the leading positions in the party and state they will have full control over the media, the educational system, culture, etc. After achieving this and depending on the actual conditions in a particular country they might be able to get a majority to actually vote for them. Again, what should we do in the face of that, accept the masses “democratic” decision.
Just because a party has been able to lead the masses in seizing country wide power that does not mean that it will always have a majority of the people in support of its line and program. This support must be repeatedly struggled for and won. Especially at times of great danger to the revolution and key turning points in national and international affairs, truth is often at first in the hands of a small minority. Mao said when he decided they needed to launch the Cultural Revolution in China that at first he was the only one on the Central Committee who agreed with this. What should he have done, given up on the idea? Of course not. If he had put the idea up for a referendum by the masses would it have gotten a majority approval?
Underlying all this is the question of truth and the leadership/led contradiction. If there is objective reality and objective truth, how do people come to recognize and transform it? This is a process that must be led. If the leadership has a principally correct line and method, the revolutionary process will go forward. A key aspect of this the leadership is being able to increasingly raise the level of understanding of the masses and their ability themselves to wield MLM and distinguish Marxism from Revisionism, right from wrong, etc. If the party changes colour, the genuine revolutionaries and the masses will need to rebel and as part of this rebellion form a new party to lead things forward. Socialist society is of necessity stamped by the “birthmarks” of exploiting society from which it emerges. It is part of the concrete reality of class society that at first, and for a relatively long period of time, only a minority will consciously grasp and apply the principles of MLM. Eliminating the need for institutionalised leadership means in the final analysis eliminating classes, all class distinctions and both the material and ideological basis for classes to exist at all. This can only be achieved by reaching communism in the whole world. At the same time, this process must be consciously advanced, step-by-step, as far as is possible at any particular time in a specific country — and worldwide. How to do this, how far this can go, what the next steps should be, all of this has been and will be a very concentrated arena of class struggle. Especially the experience in China showed this to be the case. This is a reflection of Mao’s analysis that in socialist society class struggle is the key link in staying on the socialist road. This class struggle takes its most concentrated form in the struggle in the party and society as a whole over which line should lead.
What role should elections play in socialism? They are obviously a part of democracy, both within the party and in society as a whole. Within the party the leadership is periodically elected by the members at a party congress which itself consists of delegates elected at various levels beginning in the basic units. So the leadership is in that sense supervised and indeed chosen by the membership. Of course this takes place in the context of a process in which the existing leadership continues to play a leading role, so in actual fact it is rather difficult — if not impossible — to actually remove an entrenched revisionist leadership in a party through means of inner-party elections (although this can happen). Thus when revisionists take control of a party it is more likely that the genuine communists must split from that party in order to establish a new revolutionary vanguard. Can such a thing be described as the “highest form of elections” — voting with your feet? Here again we can see that “ideological and political line decides everything”. The most important way of supervising the leadership of a party is not elections — but is through the formulation and implementation of ideological and political line: what line a party has and if it is being adhered to, including by the leadership of the party itself. Elections play a role in this, but ultimately line, the actual content of the line that is leading, is the decisive thing.
The same is true for society more broadly. In socialism there will be, and must be, elections: for the parliament (in whatever form it exists), at various other levels of government and in other spheres of society such as for the revolutionary committees (or whatever other forms are developed) that lead in the factories, schools, communes, etc. Elections are a way for the masses to choose and supervise the leaders. So they play a role in actually implementing democracy among the masses and in society more broadly. And we believe that there is a need to also explore the possible role of competitive elections as well and how these could contribute to exercising democracy among the masses and advancing the overall process eliminating classes and all class distinctions as well. But can elections themselves ensure that the objective interests of the masses will be expressed, and indeed, are they even the most important elements of democracy in socialist society? The answer would seem to be “no” on both counts.
As stated, elections themselves do not, and cannot, ensure that the objective interests of the masses will be expressed. In addition, every election process can and must be led. Who controls the mass media, who selects the candidates, how are the candidates selected, how is the election campaign organised and conducted, etc. — all of these things determine the outcome of an election. So again even when talking about elections and the election process you cannot escape the question of how this will be led, by whom and with what line.
In fact, elections are not the most important form of democracy in socialist society. Fundamentally democracy means the increasing participation of the masses themselves in directly leading all areas of social activity including the state. It means that their ideas, opinions, criticisms and suggestions actually are heard and come into play in formulating the ideological and political line and program for carrying forward the revolutionary transformation of a particular society and the world as whole. In Critique of Soviet Economics Mao made his famous observation concerning the rights of the masses in socialist society:
“…we find a discussion of the rights labour enjoys [in socialist society], but no discussion of labour’s right to run the state, the various enterprises, education, and culture. Actually, this is labour’s greatest right under socialism, the most fundamental right, without which there is no right to work, to an education, to vacation, etc.”
“The paramount issue for socialist democracy is: Does labour have the right to subdue the various antagonistic forces and their influences? For example, who controls things like the newspapers, journals, broadcast stations, the cinema? Who criticizes? These are a part of the question of rights. If these things are in the hands of right opportunists [who are a minority] then the vast nationwide majority that urgently needs a great leap forward will find itself deprived of these rights… Who is in control of the organs and enterprises bears tremendously on the issue of guaranteeing the people’s rights. If Marxist-Leninists are in control, the rights of the vast majority will be guaranteed. If rightists or right opportunists are in control, these organs and enterprises may change qualitatively, and the people’s rights with respect to them cannot be guaranteed. In sum, the people must have the right to manage the superstructure. We must not take the rights of the people to mean that the state is to be managed by only a section of the people, that the people can enjoy labour rights, education rights, social insurance, etc., only under the management of certain
Thus the most important right of the masses in socialist society is not the right to vote, it is the right to run society. And “paramount” in this, “the right to subdue the various antagonistic forces and their influences”: the right to rebel against reaction — the “right” to overthrow the new bourgeoisie, seize back those portions of power that it has usurped and make revolution. But for this entire process to move forward, and for it to result in the actual class interests of the proletariat and the masses more broadly being expressed in and through this process, there must be leadership — communist MLM leadership. Both scientific research and social practice have shown there is no other way.
Comrades, we need to deepen and even renew our vision of a communist world. As Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto over 150 years ago, communist revolution is a revolution whose “ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”. “The communist revolutions”, they wrote, “is the most radical rupture with traditional property relationships; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.” Without this deepening and renewal we will not be successful in forming new Maoist parties or where they do exist, in building and strengthening them so that they can initiate PW at the earliest possible time in connection with the conditions in a specific country. We need to find the ways to spread and promote this radical vision among the oppressed masses around the world and on that basis, by fueling and inspiring people with this vision win them to joining this struggle — with all the hardship and difficulty it can bring — and by doing this make the revolutionary breakthroughs and leaps that are so urgently called for. Marx and Engels said it long ago, but it is still just as true today as it was then: The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains, they have a world to win!