Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Mon Jun 12 11:36:32 MDT 1995


To be quite accurate, slavery existed only in the Southern states of the
US in the period after the founding of the Republic. As to whether the
American system in the late 18th-early 19th century was in a sense
democratic, I'd say first, that it was not if we hold it to the standards
of 20th century liberal democracies. It didn't have universal sufferage,
most notably, and it did permit slavery in the south. Initially there were
propertyu requirements for the vote. Second, I';d remark that the systemn
set up by the Founders was not intended to be a democracy, a form of
government Madisin, Hamilton, etc. regarded with horror--this is something
right wingers will sometimes reminbd you of. The Founders did want a
semi-popular form of "aristocratic" rule in the sense of rule by "the
best" which also maintained poroperty relations. Third, thge system
evolvced in the direction of lkiberal democracy to the point where an
observer like Tocqueville in the 1830s regarded the US as the
then-existing epitome of democracy. (He though, rightly, that slavery was
anlomaous and temporary in the system.) This was in large part in response
to popular struggles which have continued to the present day. Is the
system democratic now? Obviously not in some ways, obviously so in others.
It has universal suffrage, extensive civil liberties, and formally
competitive elections. These are real democratic achievements. On the
other hand money rules, private property is sacrosanct, and racism
abounds. It's far less clear today than it was in Jefferson's tiome that
the system is tending towards enhanced democracy.

As to Soviet Russia in Lenin's time: what Tim meant by dictatorship wasn't
"class dictatorship" or rule in the Marxist sense, but arbitrary exercise
of power unlimited by law. This was something which, not his credit, Lenin
advocated and introduced, and which rapidly grew beyond anything which, it
is safe to say, he conceived or desired under Stalin. If we take the term
"dictorship" in the Marxist sense, though, it's far from clear that even
Lenin's far milder (than Stalin's) dictatorship was a dictatorship of the
proletariat. Even Lenin admitted by 1919 that it was the dictatorship of
one party, and the party-state took sever action to repress spontaneous
expressioins of proletarian self rule, eviscerating the soviets and
squelching worker control of industry. Sam Farber covers this depressing
ground in his book Before Stalinism.

Ifit makes sense to make compoarisons, I think one has to say that the
American system was, for the first hundred years of existence, evolving
more in a democratic directiuon politically than the Societ system in the
70 years of its existence. Thye brief democratic experiment under
Goirbachev coincided with, and many have materilaly contributed to, the
end of the system. The period of perestroika was the only time, possibly
apart from the period from Feb-Oct. 1917, that Russia has known any
semblance of political democracy. The post-Soviet period seemds to have
resulted in the consolidation of antidemocratic authoritarian rule with a
vaguely pseudo-democratic facade. It';s very sad. Some of the Esat
European countries have done better in this regard.

--Justin Schwartz

On Mon, 12 Jun 1995, Paul_Cockshott wrote:

> TimW
> ----
> When you compare the American Revolution to the Russian Revolution and
> conclude that the latter was more democratic than the former, I find that
> stretching things IF one looks at both revolutions, say even five years after
> they began, not to mention ten.  Bourgeois as it was, the American revolution
> did evolve reasonably quickly into a limited but real democracy.  The Russian
> revolution, though proletarian, did evolve relatively quickly into a
> dictatorship.
> Paul
> ----
> What conservative platitudes!
> When did the US abolish slavery, when did it give
> blacks the vote?
> The 'limited democracy' you talk of was a
> slaveholding aristocracy.
> Lenin's government was an avowed dictatorship, but
> a workers one that dispossesed the propertied
> classes.
> It did not 'rapidly develop into a
> dictatorship`, it never pretended to be anything
> else.
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