Democracy and Socialism

 April 20, 2017

By Albano Nunes, Member of Central Control Commission
 
Portuguese CP
The question of the correlation between the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism runs across the whole history of the international workers' and communist movement. In our days it has become particularly important, it has become an unavoidable subject of debate among left-wing forces or those who claim to be 'left-wing' forces, and even grounds for serious disagreement in the international communist and revolutionary movement.
Among the underlying reasons why this question has acquired a renewed topicality is the contradiction between, on the one hand, the deepening of the structural crisis of capitalism and the demand for profound revolutionary changes guided towards socialism, and, on the other hand, shortcomings at the level of the revolutionary forces and the delay in the organisation and in the political awareness and disposition of the masses. This is in a context in which capitalism responds to the crisis of the system by intensifying its policy of exploitation, oppression and war and threatens the world with a catastrophe of immeasurable proportions.
This is where the breeding ground of two extreme and opposing tendencies lies, but which converges in the same result:
- yielding to the hardship of the struggle and adapting to the state of affairs, abandoning a revolutionary perspective and the option for a reformist position of class collaboration (often justified by the thesis that after all "socialism is the progress of democracy”) in which the social democratisation of communist parties occurs, while social democracy, surrendered to neoliberalism, assumes itself as a pillar of imperialism;
- the leftist impatience and radicalism that denies the existence of intermediate stages and phases in the revolutionary struggle and places socialism as an immediate and universal task, regardless of the concrete conditions of each country, to the point of considering the struggle for alternatives of social progress and of sovereignty as a mere “management of the system” and even a deterrent to the development of the process of social transformation.
We live the period of the passage from capitalism to socialism pioneered by the October Revolution and defined as such by Lenin. But this does not mean that the conditions for a socialist revolution are met everywhere. Lenin's defeat of Bernsteinian revisionism - which proclaiming that "the movement is everything and the ultimate goal is nothing" emptied Marx and Marxism of its revolutionary essence (the power of the workers) - was never synonymous with "socialism now" or denial or underestimation of the existence of intermediate stages and phases on the road to the conquest of power by the working class. Let alone a misunderstanding of the importance of the struggle for democracy in the revolutionary strategy of the party of the proletariat and of the correlation of the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism.
It is hence particularly befitting and instructive to revisit Lenin and to learn how he fought simultaneously on both fronts against the right-wing, revisionist and reformist opportunism, which indefinitely postponed revolution and sabotaged revolutionary action, and against the opportunism of the impatient and voluntarist "left" which, isolating the class vanguard and the class from the masses, burned in sectarian and dogmatic phraseology any real possibility of revolutionary and transforming advance: "The socialist revolution is not a single act, is not one battle on one front, but a whole epoch of acute class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, that is, in all matters of economy and politics, battles that can only end with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It would be a capital mistake to believe that the struggle for democracy is likely to divert the proletariat from the socialist revolution, or to eclipse it, to blur it, and so on. On the contrary, just as it is impossible to conceive of victorious socialism that does not bring about integral democracy, so the proletariat cannot be prepared for victory over the bourgeoisie unless a general, systematic and revolutionary struggle for democracy is waged"2.
The question of democracy
The PCP has clearly defined in its Programme adopted at the XIX Congress «An advanced democracy - the values ​​of April in the future of Portugal», its concept of democracy, a concept that lies in its Marxist-Leninist view of the world and in its own revolutionary experience. A concept that is not abstraction removed from social reality, but which, of course, has class content. A concept that does not disdain - and how could a party that has established itself and rooted itself in the masses under a fascist dictatorship and whose struggle for fundamental democratic liberties has been the central and immediate goal of its revolutionary action? - formal democracy and valorises ​​the very value of political democracy. But which considers that democracy to be truly the same as the etymological root of the concept - "power of the people" - must be not only political but also economic, social and cultural, within a framework in which national independence and sovereignty are assured.
In its common meaning, the concept of democracy is a very narrow concept that covers very different situations of organisation of State power as regards the exercise of fundamental freedoms and rights generally reduced to their civic and political dimension. It is a concept that misleads reality because it only takes into account the political form of government and not only sidesteps its concrete class content but assimilates "democracy" and bourgeois democracy, a super-structural expression that conceals the domination by the bourgeoisie in the framework of capitalist relations of production based on the private appropriation of the means of production.
The State always has a class nature. It is absurd to speak of a "neutral" State, at the service of the "common good", above social classes and class contradictions as the bourgeoisie claims. When speaking of democracy it is necessary to ask: democracy for whom, for which classes? in whose interests, of which classes? An integral democracy can only be a socialist democracy, based on the power of the workers and the social ownership of the means of production, guided by the interests of the overwhelming majority of society.
But with all its limitations and ambiguities the concept of democracy applied to a capitalist society, where the exercise of the power of the ruling class is limited by the correlation of forces on the social and political level, represents a liberating advance and a conquest of heroic struggles of the working classes that no revolutionary has the right to underestimate.
It is a historical reality that the power of the bourgeoisie can be exercised in diverse forms, dictatorial or democratic. Fascism, the terrorist dictatorship of large monopoly capital, is the most violent form of exercise of capitalist power. And the democratic exercise can vary greatly, due to the development of the class struggle and its political, electoral and institutional translation.
Moreover, it is also true that the power revolutionarily won by the workers has known different forms in different countries and over time within the same country. The reality is that the October Revolution, albeit with general and universal traits, is not the same as other socialistrevolutions. The realities of Vietnam, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea and People's Republic of China differ substantially as regards the party, the political power, the economic organisation and other aspects. It is an evidence, to give just one example, that between the China of the victorious revolution in 1949, that of the Maoist Cultural Revolution or that of the present day the differences are wide.
This means (what dogmatic and sectarian blindness does not allow to understand) that with the same class nature and in the same economic and social formation, the forms of power can be varied, which obviously is not irrelevant to the workers, for their aspirations for a happy life and - particularly important regarding the subject at hand - for their struggle for the revolutionary transformation of society, for their strategic objectives of socialism and communism.
Lenin stressed the need to distinguish between the political form of government and the essence of an economic and social regime, and the Portuguese communists know from experience that it is not indifferent to develop the struggle under the conditions of a fascist dictatorship (48 years) , in a democracy on the way to socialism (in the years following the April Revolution in the context of democratic transformations that had constitutional enshrinement), during the counter-revolutionary offensive conducted from within the organs of power or under the framework of the current political solution.
As Alvaro Cunhal stated, "Marxism-Leninism has nothing to do with the anarchist view that it is irrelevant to the working class that the power of the bourgeoisie be exercised in a parliamentary regime or in a fascist dictatorship, since in both cases it is capitalism (...) As long as capitalism subsists, the proletariat is interested in fighting for the bourgeois dictatorship to be exercised in the most democratic manner possible, since these bring least suffering to it, are able to best defend their rights, forge their unity, strengthen their organisations, limit and weaken the power of monopolies, win the masses to the cause of the socialist revolution. In this sense it is stated that the struggle for democracy is an integral part of the struggle for socialism” (Álvaro Cunhal, "The question of the State, the central question of every revolution”)3.
The question of stages
The revolutionary struggle for socialism involves different stages and phases in each country and country by country. Stages that even though they are situated within a framework dominated by capitalist relations of production, in which the revolutionary rupture that changes power into the hands of the working class and its allies has not yet occurred, it has its own characteristics with a system of power, certainly transient, but which reflects the interests of certain social classes and fractions of the bourgeoisie and the correlation of forces in society.
In the concrete case of the advanced democracy that the PCP proposes to the Portuguese people, it stems from the reality of the class struggle in Portugal, in which the April Revolution is a decisive milestone with its values ​​and experiences and the deep inroads that it created in Portuguese society. It is a democracy that is simultaneously political, economic, social and cultural, within a framework of national sovereignty. It is a democracy with popular content with an anti-monopoly and anti-imperialist class nature. It is a democracy that differs fundamentally from the bourgeois democracies dominated by monopoly capital which - increasingly diminished and amputated – incidentally exist all over Europe. It is a democracy in which tasks and objectives are placed, which are already tasks and objectives of a socialistsociety: between the stage of advanced democracy and the socialist stage of the Portuguese revolution, there is not only a "Chinese Wall" but interconnected stages. This is the reality with which those who, through ignorance or bad faith, establish absurd parallels with situations of other parties, even going so far as to accuse the PCP of "reformism" for not placing socialism as an immediate objective of their action or admitting convergences and alliances, more or less transient, socially and politically.
The content of democracy embodied in PCP’s Programme thus acquires a very "advanced" character, which does not mean that it is a pure and simple result of a mechanical and gradual development of the current democratic regime. No, the deepening of democracy in its multiple dimensions will be the result of class struggle, it will be conquest and rupture, will be an alteration not only of quantity but of quality, a process of a revolutionary nature, whose more or less peaceful form will depend essentially on the resistance of big monopoly capital and whose contours will be shaped by the creative intervention of the masses themselves.
The dialectical connection between the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialism is a reality very present in all phases and stages of the Portuguese revolution. This happened during the long fascist darkness when the struggle for freedom and the establishment of a democratic regime was the central objective of the struggle of the Portuguese people. This happened with the anti-fascist revolution of 1974, which in its fundamental lines confirmed the Party's Programme for the Democratic and National Revolution. This is particularly obvious today with the advanced democracy of the current Programme which, in order to achieve its fundamental objectives, has to carry out tasks which are already those of a socialist revolution. What may be incomprehensible to those who have a mechanical and schematic view of the historical process, but is not surprising to the PCP: at the time of the transition from capitalism to socialism, a time when any revolution - democratic, national-liberating or any other - in order to succeed in its own objectives, must necessarily acquire an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist character and place itself objectively in the perspective of socialism.
The immediate and the perspective
The process of revolutionary transformation of society is not straight like the Nevsky Prospekt (to use a famous statement by Lenin), but irregular and bumpy, made of advances and retreats, of exalting periods of influx and revolutionary advance and dramatic reflux, victories and defeats. Communists have to be prepared for the different situations, know how to retreat and advance and define according to the fundamental objectives to be achieved, the most appropriate forms of struggle and the corresponding social and political alliances. The alliances, convergences and compromises under fascism or at the time of the April Revolution were not the same. They are not the same that a patriotic and left-wing alternative demands, and those of an advanced democracy aimed at socialism. It is the duty of the party of the working class and all workers to build alliances, albeit limited and contingent, to move their struggle forward. That there are those who do not understand this need is not surprising, but it is absurd and ridiculous to attempt to justify such incomprehension on the ideological level with a supposed Marxist-Leninist "purity" when it was precisely Lenin who lambasted the most sectarian leftism, which he called "Infantile disorder of communism".
The PCP, because it is sure of its class independence and trusts the masses, is not afraid of convergences and agreements if, as in the case of the joint position with the PS, it is in the interests of the workers, the people and the Country. The PCP is aware of the positive and negative experiences in the history of the communist movement on matters of political alliances and knows that they can only favour the development of the struggle when they ensure a complete political, ideological and organisational independence of the communist party. And when, intervening in the immediate, one does not lose sight of the perspective and does not confuse tactics and strategy.
Yes, in the present stage of the Portuguese revolution, the PCP struggles for deep progressive transformations without placing as an immediate task the struggle for socialism, which has nothing to do with reformist illusion. Because the question has never been about seeking changes within a capitalist system. This is the immediate sense of the resistance and daily struggle of the workers, which, of course, verbalism despises. The point is to look for them within the limits of capitalism without a perspective and a line of revolutionary intervention. If one mistakes government with power, if one holds on to an electoral line and does not take into account that the masses - their organisation and mobilisation - are the determining factor of the process of social transformation, if one ignores that without the transformation of the economic and social base it is impossible to consolidate positive changes at the political level, and especially if one loses sight of the fact that the State is the central issue of every revolution, it inevitably slips into adaptation to the system, surrender and betrayal.
Finally, an enlightening extract of Comrade Álvaro Cunhal's speech at the opening of the XIV Congress of the PCP regarding the amendments introduced in the Party Programme "An advanced democracy at the threshold of the 21st century" that was adopted at the XII Congress in 1998 : "Starting from reflection and own experiences and from the positive and negative international experiences, the Programme points to the project of ulterior building a socialist society that incorporates and develops fundamental constitutive elements of the advanced democracy [...] This link between the advanced democracy that is proposed and the socialist society that we point in the horizon is rooted in our constant intervention in society. The communist ideal is for us not only a project for the future, but an ideal whose materialisation is prepared and developed in an attitude of reflection, criticism, intervention, relentless and convinced struggle to transform the present"4.
___________
1 From the Marxist-Leninist point of view the State has a class nature. The term "dictatorship of the proletariat" signifies the power of the workers, which is democracy for the vast majority of the people, while under capitalism there is a "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie", the power of a minority over the majority of society.
2 Lenin, Oeuvres, Editions Sociales-Editions en langues étrangères, Paris-Moscou, 1960, t. 22, p. 156.
3 Álvaro Cunhal, «A questão do Estado, questão central de cada revolução», in Obras Escolhidas, Editorial «Avante!», Lisbon, tome IV, 2013, p.223.
4 Álvaro Cunhal, Fracasso e Derrota do Governo de Direita do PSD/Cavaco Silva, Discursos Políticos 25, Edições «Avante!», Lisboa, 2016, p. 1288.
Translated “Avante!” article Edition Nº2264
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