From the Draft Programme of the RCP,USA

On the Road Toward the Finalization of the Party Programme!
During World Historic Times--We Need World Historic Answers

Proletarian Dictatorship, Democracy and the Rights of the People

Revolutionary Worker #1209, August 10, 2003, posted at

May Day 2001 the RCP released its Draft Programme with the slogan "Looking For A Plan To Change The World?...It's Here!" Since the release of the Draft Programme, or DP, the RCP has learned from the sentiments, thoughts and opinions of thousands of people checking it out. All the while RCP has been popularizing its revolutionary strategy and vision.

Over the past few years a new generation has stepped forward to oppose imperialist globalization. Since 9/11, literally millions more have come into political life and struggle against the juggernaut of war and repression. Mao Tsetung teaches us the fundamental law that "people fight back, then they seek philosophy." Many are asking why things are this way--and do they have to be this way, is another world possible.

Over the next several months the RW/OR will be putting a spotlight on the DP, highlighting important parts of the Draft Programme. Along with this the RW will publish selected comments, criticisms, and suggestions from people studying the DP--including comments from Party supporters, debates from the 2changetheworld web site, and letters from prisoners.

Readers of the RW are encouraged to contribute to the debate by sending in comments. Comments can be sent to "Draft Programme Debate" c/o RCP Publications, PO Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654. They can also be given to your local RW distributor.

The RW will not be able to publish all the comments sent in. However all such commentary from the debate will aid in the finalization of the DP. So don't hold back--join the debate!

This series began in issue #1200 with the question of the Central Task of the RCP. The DP appendix "The Party and the Masses" was the focus in issue #1204-1208. This week we are excerpting from the DP appendix "Proletarian Dictatorship, Democracy and the Rights of the People." Next in the series will be comments on this topic.


The following is excerpted from the appendix "Proletarian Dictatorship, Democracy and the Rights of the People" (pages 79-83).

Having seized power through a wrenching process of struggle, involving tremendous heroism and sacrifice on the part of millions of people, the proletariat will suppress any attempts by the overthrown bourgeoisie and counter-revolutionary forces to restore the old society, with all its horrors for the masses of people. Not to do so would be a monumental betrayal of the masses of people, not just in the particular country but worldwide, and of the proletariat's historic revolutionary mission. And the exercise of this dictatorship by the proletariat over the bourgeoisie is absolutely essential for and makes possible the carrying out of radical changes in society which represent the highest interests of the masses of people and ultimately of all humanity.

The Class Character of Democracy and Dictatorship

So long as classes exist, democracy can only be class democracy.And so long as the bourgeoisie and the proletariat exist, society can only be organized on the basis of either the bourgeois (capitalist) mode of production, or socialism. There is no middle way.

The bourgeoisie will always and everywhere fight relentlessly to defend and extend its ability to exploit the masses (and to restore that ability when it has been deprived of it); and that means it must and will exercise the most ruthless dictatorship over the masses.

The proletariat also aims to defend and extend the production relations that it embodies-- socialist production relations--and the political and social institutions that correspond to these production relations. To do this it must exercise dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, and do so no less relentlessly and thoroughly. But, at the same time, the dictatorship of the proletariat is and must be radically different from any previous form of the state.

First of all, it is dictatorship by the masses --it is the masses of people who are and must be relied on to suppress the overthrown bourgeoisie, and any newly arising exploiters, and to prevent the restoration of the old oppressive order. Second, this proletarian dictatorship represents and makes possible unprecedented democracy and rights for the masses of people. Finally, and fundamentally, the aim of this proletarian dictatorship is not simply to fortify the position of the proletariat, led by its vanguard party, as the ruling class in society. Rather, the aim is to carry forward the transformation of the production and social relations and the political institutions as well as the thinking of the people in order to advance, together with the proletariat and masses of people worldwide, toward the final goal of eliminating class distinctions and all oppressive divisions in society. And with that will come the elimination of the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat itself--for any state, and any specialized and institutionalized bodies of people to rule and administer society, apart from the people as a whole.

As discussed in the Appendix "The Party Under Socialism, and the Transition to Communism," this will occur through a complex, worldwide process marked and driven forward by class struggle within socialist society, in close interconnection with the struggle internationally; and the revolutionization of the leading institutions of socialist society--most especially the party--is a crucial aspect of carrying forward the overall revolutionization of society. Democracy in socialist society must be situated and understood in this context. Not only is it democracy that includes the vast majority of the people and is practiced on a far greater and more meaningful scale than anything practiced under capitalism, but it serves to strengthen the exercise of all-around dictatorship by the proletariat over the bourgeoisie and the advance to communism.

The Nature and Role of Democracy in Capitalist Society

Democracy in capitalist society, including the much-advertised "American democracy," is a fraud. It is democracy only for and among the ranks of the bourgeoisie, which decides every major question and exercises a ruthless dictatorship over the proletariat and the masses of people in general.

It is true that, particularly in relation to the middle classes in the U.S., the bourgeoisie has been able to conceal to a certain degree the sharp edge of its dictatorship. Its world domination has enabled the bourgeoisie to throw some crumbs to significant sections of the working class as well as the petty bourgeoisie, and this has brought some relative stability to its rule.

But this overseas domination is itself defended by armed force and terror: the platform of democracy in this country--worm-eaten as it is--rests not on its Constitution or Bill of Rights but on the dominant position of the U.S. in the world system, its role as the leading exploiter of the masses worldwide, and on fascist terror in the oppressed nations. Ask a peasant from El Salvador or Guatemala who watched an army backed and "advised" by the U.S. murder her entire village; ask the parent of a child dead in Iraq because U.S. "sanctions" made medical care impossible; or ask a revolutionary in Peru or Turkey, or dozens of other places, hunted down, tortured, and then either killed or imprisoned for years by police trained and funded by the CIA-- they can testify to the foundation of "democracy" within the U.S.

Even within the U.S. itself, for all that the bourgeoisie prattles on about "democracy" and "human rights," any serious challenge to its rule is met with vicious force.

Consider the consistent and merciless repression of the oppressed peoples in the U.S. and especially the bloody suppression by police, national guard, and army units directed against mass uprisings of Black people and others during the high tide of struggle in the late 1960s and early '70s. Think too about the murder of dozens of Black Panther Party members and other revolutionaries, along with the jailing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of revolutionary and radical activists. Look at how political protests are often brutally attacked by paramilitary police forces who use tear gas, rubber bullets, and other "non- lethal" weapons to maim demonstrators and who arrest and beat people indiscriminately. Recall the numerous economic strikes in which the police and even, at times, armed troops have enforced the "right" of the owners to continue production and fire the striking workers. Then the real picture of phony democracy and actual dictatorship for the masses in this country begins to become clear. And while the bourgeoisie makes a special point of coming down hard on any radical political expression from the proletariat, even movements based in the middle strata find themselves very quickly up against police spying, "black out" or distortion by the media, intimidation, jail time, beatings and even outright murder ...once they depart from the tightly approved limits of "dissent."

The whole of U.S. history--from its foundation in genocide against Native peoples and the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans down to the present day --is one long chain of atrocities graphically illustrating Mao Tsetung's analysis that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

In addition, the more or less "normal functioning" of capitalist society, upon exam- ination, reveals that the bourgeoisie and its representatives thoroughly dominate political affairs. They monopolize the ownership and use of the mass media and control access to vital information about political issues and world events. Further, the very division of labor of capitalist society determines that the millions of working class and other poor and oppressed people are prevented from having any significant voice in the political life of capitalist society. And again, should they attempt to do so--which necessarily brings them into direct confrontation with the capitalist state--the repressive forces of its dictatorship are ruthlessly unleashed against them.

In recent decades, the bourgeoisie has gone even further to enforce a day-in day-out atmosphere of repressive intimidation aimed against the proletariat, and especially against Black, Latino, and other oppressed peoples. The massive imprisonment of the youth; the rampaging and ever-present police in the ghettos and barrios; the use of the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service, or "La Migra") to turn immigrant proletarians into virtual outlaws: all this has been designed to break the spirit of those the bourgeoisie considers to be "social dynamite" and to pre-emptively repress any revolutionary movement among them. Beneath the facade of democracy lies the reality of dictatorship.

"But what about elections?" the bourgeois commentators say. "Surely the communists can't deny that people can vote in America?" True, but these elections are really nothing more than rituals in which the masses are allowed to choose which political operative of the bourgeoisie will oppress and crush them. And the electoral process is used to "legitimize" that oppression.

Rather than threaten or even impede the power of the imperialists, the bourgeois election ritual actually strengthens them. These elections put the masses in a passive and isolated position, training them to confine their political aspirations and activity to whatever their masters see fit to allow. Soon people either become disgusted with "politics" altogether, or they are forced to lower their sights and give up any higher aspirations. No matter which candidate gets elected in these farces, the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system always wins.

Democracy for the Masses

With this understanding, the accusations of the capitalists that communists and socialist society stand for "the destruction of democracy" are hypocritical and turn the truth upside down. In fact, communists stand for, and socialist society represents, the destruction of bourgeois democracy--that is, bourgeois dictatorship over the proletariat and the masses generally. Further, socialist society will bring real and unparalleled democracy for the masses of people through the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. The rights of the masses of people-- which under capitalism are suppressed and curtailed and in essence come down to the right to be exploited and oppressed--assume a completely different dimension and are of a qualitatively higher order once the proletariat has overthrown the bourgeoisie and established its own rule.

First of all, the most basic right of the masses in the new society, which they can never exercise under capitalism, will be the right to be masters of society, in every sphere, and to transform it in their interests. On a basic level, for the first time ever, the masses will have the right to collectively join together to wipe out starvation, do away with discrimination, reorganize production to meet human needs rather than profit, and to make many other urgently needed and profound changes. This won't be because of some law or resolution on paper but because the masses will have state power, backed by guns, and because the economic system will no longer be organized on the basis of private profit.

The masses will have the right, for the first time ever, to directly participate in struggle over the key political questions confronting society and in the actual administration of the state. They'll have the right, for the first time ever, to exercise dictatorship over--to subdue and suppress--the forces who want to resurrect exploitation, who want to reverse the uprooting of white supremacy and male supremacy, who want to restore a situation where a relative handful control all the economic and political power, who want to revive the plunder of other peoples and nations.

But these rights of the masses and their role as masters of society must find expression in concrete policies and actions, above all in political life and struggle. The most crucial question for the newly established proletarian state is to draw the millions and tens of millions of working class and other formerly oppressed people into the task of exercising political power.

The essential role of the institutions and organs of the new power must be to draw the masses into administering everything from economic planning to the suppression of counter-revolutionaries. The means must be developed and the political atmosphere created in which the masses debate everything from the purpose and shape of educational institutions to how best to support revolutions in other countries. This will be a matter of combining the mobilization of the masses and mass movements with the development of organizational forms through which the masses, under the overall leadership of the Party, increasingly carry out the actual administration of the state and of society as a whole.

As pointed out in the Appendix "Consolidating the New Proletarian Power, Developing Radically New Institutions," the immediate aftermath of the seizure of power, with its high tide of mass enthusiasm, will witness a level of direct mass participation in political and social life, in making and carrying out decisions in every sphere, that today can hardly be dreamed of. Yet, huge as these immediate changes will be, they will also, in another sense, be only the first steps to where society ultimately needs to go--that is, to the mass administering of all spheres of society without the medium of a state.

Moreover, it has not proven to be possible to sustain people through every ebb and flow of social life at the same high pitch of enthusiasm of revolutionary times. On a deeper level still, socialism will inherit the legacies of capitalism, in which the proletariat has been both denied the training to master politics and administration and has been influenced by the methods and "force of habit" of bourgeois society.

Thus, the direct mastery of the masses over society cannot happen all at once, nor will it develop in a straight line. But it will be the policy of the state, through all the ebbs and flows of the class struggle during the socialist period, to progress as far as possible at every stage in doing this. And the more that society can dig up the soil of inequality left over from capitalism--as, for example, the difference between mental labor and manual labor is broken down through many different policies and struggles--the more broadly and directly will the masses be able to rule.

Debate, Dissent and Diversity in Socialist Society

Our Party has seriously studied and learned a great deal from the proletariat's experience in ruling society, both in the Soviet Union and in China, before capitalism was restored in each of those countries. This experience reached its highest point in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, especially as regards widespread mass debate and struggle over the direction of society. The proletariat needs to learn from this experience, building on its positive points and taking them even higher.

Broad political debate and struggle throughout society must be an essential element of proletarian rule. To foster this, the state will make available to the masses of people the vast means of communication that have been previously monopolized by the bourgeoisie. Television, radio, printing presses, billboards and other vehicles for the expression of political views will provide time and space for groups and representatives among the masses to put forward and struggle over their ideas on the major political questions and social concerns of the day and on world affairs; and the masses as a whole will be organized, in the factories, neighborhoods, farms, schools, armed forces and so on to hear and debate these views and to struggle out these questions in general.

The Party will put great emphasis on fostering debate, dissent, and diversity in socialist society. It will certainly enter into and strive to lead the debate and struggle among the masses; at the same time it will take care to encourage an atmosphere where the masses freely express their ideas.

Specifically, the expression of views and opinions by the masses that are contrary to those of the Party will not be discouraged and in fact will be valued for whatever they raise that helps the Party and the masses to better understand things. Only when it represents the attempts of actual counter-revolutionaries to bring about the overthrow of the proletariat's political power and restore capitalism will the expression of such views be suppressed. And in that case, too, the masses themselves will be relied on to struggle against, expose, and suppress such people and to distinguish through such struggle what are backward and mistaken ideas among the masses and what are actual attempts at fomenting counter-revolution.

The proletarian state need not fear dissent and, again, should value it. Dissent --even dissent coming from a fundamentally oppositional point of view--has an important role. It may bring to light--or shed new light on--important problems or shortcomings of the socialist state.

In particular, dissent can play an important role in sparking debate and struggle over the unresolved contradictions and problems facing socialist society in moving towards classless, communist society. But unless it is clear that there is "space" for such dissent in society, unless people feel that they have room to disagree with those in authority, unless an atmosphere is created in which the masses actually grasp not only the possibility but the importance of their debating and wrangling over all the questions of the day--then any dissenting views and sentiments will be forced underground, the vigorous debate and struggle necessary to actually move society forward to communism will not flower, and the atmosphere in society will become lifeless and boring.

The question here is not whether the proletariat should exercise dictatorship, but how it should exercise it. The proletariat, with the leadership of the Party, must control the economy, as well as politics, the media, culture, and so on. But dictatorship and control by the proletariat need not mean, and should not mean, that no opposition is allowed. On the contrary, socialism can only advance to communism in an atmosphere characterized by vigorous and free-flowing debate and contention, which will greatly contribute to the identification, analysis, and resolution of contradictions on an ever higher level.

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