This is an excerpt from Georgi Dimitrov’s concluding speech Unity of the Working Class against Fascism to the Seventh Congress of the Communist International, August 1935. The full text is at <<marxists.org>>.
ATTITUDE TOWARDS BOURGEOIS DEMOCRACY
In his speech Comrade Lenski pointed out that while mobilizing the masses to repel the onslaught of fascism against the rights of the working people, the Polish Party at the same time ‘had its misgivings about formulating positive democratic demands lest this would create democratic illusions among the masses.’ The Polish Party is, of course, not the only one in which such fear of formulating positive democratic demands exists in one form or another.
Where does this fear steam from, Comrades? It comes from an incorrect, non-dialectical conception of our attitude towards bourgeois democracy. We Communists are unswerving upholders of Soviet democracy, the great example of which is the proletarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union, where the introduction of equal suffrage and the direct and secret ballot has been proclaimed by-resolution of the Seventh Congress of Soviets, at the very time when the last vestiges of bourgeois democracy, are being wiped out in the capitalist countries. This Soviet democracy presupposes the victory of the proletarian revolution, the conversion of private ownership of the means of production into public ownership, the adoption of the road to socialism by the overwhelming majority of the people. This democracy does not represent a final form; it develops and will continue to develop, depending on the further achievements of socialist construction, in the creation of a classless society and in the overcoming of the survivals of capitalism in economic life and in the minds of the people.
But today the millions of working people living under capitalism are faced with the necessity of deciding their attitude to those forms in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is clad in the various countries. We are not Anarchists, and it is not at all a matter of indifference to us what kind of political regime exists in any given country: whether a bourgeois dictatorship in the form of bourgeois democracy, even with democratic rights and liberties greatly curtailed, or a bourgeois dictatorship in its open, fascist form. While being upholders of Soviet democracy, we shall defend every inch the democratic gains which the working class has wrested in the course of years of stubborn struggle, and shall resolutely fight to extend these gains.
How great were the sacrifices of the British working class before it secured the right to strike, a legal status for its trade unions, the right of assembly and freedom of the press, extension of the franchise, and other rights. How many tens of thousands of workers gave their lives in the revolutionary battles fought in France in the nineteenth century to obtain the elementary rights and the lawful opportunity of organizing their forces for the struggle against the exploiters. The proletariat of all countries has shed much of its blood to win bourgeois- democratic liberties and will naturally fight with all its strength to retain them.
Our attitude to bourgeois democracy is not the same under all conditions. For instance, at the threshhold of the October
Revolution, the Russian Bolsheviks engaged in a life-and-death struggle against all those political parties which, under the slogan of the defence of bourgeois democracy, opposed the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship. The Bolsheviks fought these parties because the banner of bourgeois democracy had at that time become the standard around which all counter-revolutionary forces mobilized to challenge the victory of the proletariat.
The situation is quite different in the capitalist countries at present. Now the fascist counter-revolution is attacking bourgeois democracy in an effort to establish the most barbarous regime of exploitation and suppression of the working masses. Now the working masses in a number of capitalist countries are faced with the necessity of making a definite choice, and of making it today, not between proletarian dictatorship and bourgeois democracy , but between bourgeois democracy and fascism.
Besides, we have now a situation which differs from that which existed, for example, in the epoch of capitalist stabilization. At that time the fascist danger was not as acute as it is today. At that time it was bourgeois dictatorship in the form of bourgeois democracy that the revolutionary workers were facing in a number of countries and it was against bourgeois democracy, that they were concentrating their fire. In Germany, they fought against the Weimar Republic, not because it was a republic, but because it was a bourgeois republic that was engaged in crushing the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, especially in 1918-20 and in 1923.
But could the Communists retain the same position also when the fascist movement began to raise its head, when, for instance, in 1932 the fascists in Germany, were organizing and arming hundreds of thousands of storm troopers against the working class” Of course not. It was the mistake of the Communists in a number of countries, particularly in Germany, that they failed to take account of the changes that had taken place, but continued to repeat the slogans and maintain the tactical positions that had been correct a few years before, especially when the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship was an immediate issue, and when the entire German counter-revolution was rallying under the banner of the Weimar Republic, as it did in 1918-20.
And the circumstance that even today we can still notice in our ranks a fear of launching positive democratic slogans indicates how little our comrades have mastered the Marxist-Leninist method of approaching such important problems of our tactics. Some say that the struggle for democratic rights may divert the workers from the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship. It may not be amiss to recall what Lenin said on this question:
It would be a fundamental mistake to suppose that the struggle for democracy can divert the proletariat from the socialist revolution, or obscure or overshadow it, etc. On the contrary, just as socialism cannot be victorious unless it introduces complete democracy., so the proletariat will be unable to prepare for victory over the bourgeoisie unless it wages a many-sided, consistent and revolutionary struggle for democracy. (V. I. Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 133)
These words should be firmly fixed in the memories of all our comrades, bearing in mind that in history great revolutions have grown out of small movements for the defence of the elementary rights of the working class. But in order to be able to link up the struggle for democratic rights with the struggle of the working class for socialism, it is necessary first and foremost to discard any cut-and-dried approach to the question of defence of bourgeois democracy.