class and democracy
Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Wed Jun 14 11:20:02 MDT 1995
As this generation of 60's radicals flees from all that was mad during
that period (dogmatism, sectarianism, etc.), there is a danger that some
of us might abandon some positive aspects of the Marxist education we
received back then. In the recent discussion about democracy, I believe
there has been a tendency to not view it in class terms. We should not
abandon the category of class when talking about democracy.
This tendency is not just limited to list members. Alan Hunt, a British
CP'er, said in 1978 that "Forms of democratic action and organization
do not carry an automatic class label. There is nothing specifically
'bourgeois' about parliamentary elections...The realization of democracy
involves not the smashing of bourgeois democracy but its
completion...The limitations of democracy within capitalist society stem
from its primarily formal characteristics".
Political struggle by this standard becomes detached from class conflict.
But socialist democracy is not an extension of bourgeois democracy. A
gap exists between the two, and the dividing line falls at the exact point
where class interests diverge.
The danger in omitting the class question is that we cede too much
ground to the capitalist class. Democracy becomes synonymous with the
forms of bourgeois democracy typical of the imperialist nations.
Bourgeois democracy conceals class oppression, however. While we are
all for extensions of bourgeois democracy (electoral reform, media
access, etc.), we must not deceive ourselves into thinking that true
democracy can exist as long as capitalism exists. While the means of
production are owned by a tiny minority of the population, politics will
ultimately be determined by financial wealth.
The transition between capitalism and socialism can not be effected by
institutional reform. Society itself, with its oppressive class relations,
must be transformed. This was the insight not only of Lenin in "State
and Revolution", but of Marx himself in the "Communist Manifesto"
Just because Lenin and Marx were for something, there is no reason for
us to be for it also. This is the type of dogmatism the left has been
fortunate enough to overcome. But it becomes clearer with every
passing day that bourgeois democracy is not true democracy. The only
way people in the United States have been able to make an impact on
public policy in recent decades has been through extra-parliamentary
means (peace demonstrations, civil rights activity, antinuclear
The question of whether or not "revolution" is a realistic possibility in
our lifetimes is not really the issue. True democracy can only be
achieved when each member of society is on an equal footing, when the
means of production are owned collectively. All we can bequeath to the
next generation is the understanding of some of these basic truths. We
read Marx today not because he was the head of state somewhere but
because he spoke the truth. Let this be our example.
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