From Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That

The Paris Commune in Perspective: The Bolshevik and Chinese Revolutions as Its Continuation and Deepening

Revolutionary Communist Leadership

by Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1243, June 13, 2004, posted at

The RW/OR presents an important series, based on a major 1991 article by Bob Avakian, "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That."

Chairman Avakian's polemical essay takes head on key arguments and questions that have been raised in opposition to the overall historical experience of socialist states in the world. He defends the crucial essence of that historic experience from attack, and, in doing so, brings new insights into learning from the achievements of the proletariat in power, as well as the mistakes, to carry forward with communist revolution in today's world.

In various excerpts that will appear in this series, he examines the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin and China under Mao and draws out lessons for the future. He discusses why the proletariat needs a vanguard party and a specific kind of state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in order to carry out this rule and carry forward the all-around transformation of society and the world. He examines how the masses rule, and the complexities and contradictions involved in that--all of which has origins in underlying economic and social factors in socialist societies and in the world as a whole, which only the continuing proletarian revolution can uproot and transform. He also explains how the proletarian concept of freedom is different from bourgeois notions of electoral democracy.

Chairman Avakian's article originally appeared in the international journal A World To Win in 1992. It is a critique of the document "On Proletarian Democracy" by the CRC--a Marxist-Leninist formation in India whose main leader launched an attack in 1990-91 on Leninism, Maoism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat and later abandoned revolution. What is at stake in this argument over the dictatorship of the proletariat is nothing less than the right of the proletariat to rise up in revolution and establish their own rule, and carry through the long revolutionary transformation of society until the abolition of classes, communism, is achieved. Without the hope of that path--and the leadership to take it--the masses would be left, as Bob Avakian wrote in his article, "under the domination of an economic system of capitalist exploitation and a corresponding political system where, as Marx put it, they have the opportunity to choose, every so many years, which set of exploiters will rule over and oppress them."

The entire article by Bob Avakian is now available on line at, along with the CRC article it is criticizing.


This series begins with several segments of Bob Avakian's article which discuss the Paris Commune of 1871.1 Marx hailed the Commune as the first historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Here Bob Avakian takes on the argument of the CRC, which upholds only the Commune as a legitimate exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat and pits the Commune's experience-- which was very important, but brief and initial--against the entire historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in socialist society beginning with the October 1917 Soviet Revolution.2 This is the third excerpt on the Paris Commune.

Here it seems important to speak to another practice of the Paris Commune that Marx identified as a matter of decisive importance: the "replaceability" or "revocability" of leaders. Once again the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat has shown that it has not been possible to apply this principle in the strict sense in which Marx spoke of it, drawing from the Paris Commune, where officials were elected by the masses and subject to recall by them at any time.

It must be said straight-up that it does not get to the essence of things if the masses have the formal right to replace leaders, when the social conditions (contradictions) are such that some people are less "replaceable" than others. To give an extreme example, if the masses in socialist China had had the right to vote Mao out of office, and if they had exercised that right foolishly and voted him out, they would have been confronted with the stark fact that there wouldn't have been another Mao to take his place. In reality, they would find themselves in a situation where someone would have to play a role which, from a formal standpoint, would be the same as that of Mao; that is, someone would have to occupy leading positions like that, and the division of labour in society - in particular between mental and manual labour - would mean that only a small section of people would then be capable of playing such a role. Voting Mao out of office would only mean that somebody less qualified--or, even worse, someone representing the bourgeoisie instead of the proletariat - would be playing that leadership role. You can't get around this, and adhering to the strictures of formal democracy would be no help at all.3

This, of course, does not mean that the division between masses and leaders should be made into an absolute, rather than being restricted and finally overcome; nor still less does it mean that the leaders and not the masses should be seen as the real masters of socialist society. In revolutionary China great emphasis was given to the role of the masses in criticizing and in an overall sense supervising the leaders. And this found expression on a whole new level through the Cultural Revolution, which, Mao stressed, represented something radically new--"a form, a method, to arouse the broad masses to expose our dark aspect openly, in an all-round way and from below." (Mao, cited in Report to the Ninth National Congress of the Communist Party of China , Peking: Foreign Languages Press [FLP], p. 27) Yet, as important and pathbreaking as this was, the fact remains that throughout the socialist transition there will not only be the need for leaders-- and an objective contradiction between leaders and led--but there will be the possibility for this to be transformed into relations of exploitation and oppression.

Given the contradictions that characterize the transition from capitalism to communism, worldwide, if the party did not play the leading role that it has within the proletarian state, that role would be played by other organized groups--bourgeois cliques-- and soon enough the state would no longer be proletarian, but bourgeois. It must be said bluntly that, from the point of view of the proletariat, the problem with the ruling parties in the revisionist countries is not that they have had a "monopoly" of political power but that they have exercised that political power to restore and maintain capitalism. The problem is that they are not revolutionary, not really communist--and therefore they do not rely on and mobilize the masses to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to continue the revolution under this dictatorship.

As spoken to above, through the Cultural Revolution in China new means and methods were developed for attacking the differences and inequalities left over from the old society-- means and methods for restricting bourgeois right to the greatest degree possible at any given time in accordance with the material and ideological conditions. Yet it will remain a fundamental contradiction throughout the socialist transition period that there are these underlying differences and inequalities and their expression in bourgeois right, which constitute the material basis for classes, class struggle and the danger of capitalist restoration. This is a problem that cannot even be fundamentally addressed, let alone solved, by a formalistic approach. It has to be addressed through waging class struggle under the leadership of revolutionary communists--making this the key link--and in no other way. And this is exactly how it was approached under Mao's leadership.

Specifically with regard to income distribution, through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution a basic orientation and, flowing from it, concrete policies were adopted to gradually narrow wage differentials--in accordance with the development of common affluence and mainly by raising the bottom levels up. As an important part of this, there was an orientation of keeping the difference in pay between government officials and ordinary workers as little as possible--the fundamental spirit of the Paris Commune on this was proclaimed and upheld in practice--although such pay differences still existed and were viewed as something that had to be further reduced. But, once again, as important as it was to apply such principles, in correspondence with the actual conditions at any given time, this could not change the essential fact that, for a long historical period, there will persist differences and inequalities in socialist society which contain within them the potential to develop into class antagonism if a proletarian line is not in command in dealing with them.



1 The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first successful seizure of power by the working class. For 76 days, between March 26 and May 30, the revolutionary workers held the city of Paris.

The French bourgeoisie had been defeated in war by neighboring Prussia, and the two governments conspired to disarm and suppress the population of Paris. In defiance, the people rallied around their armed militia—the National Guard—and launched a struggle for power. On March 26, a city-wide council of workers and soldiers declared the Paris Commune.

While fighting courageously at the barricades and ramparts that defended the city, the revolutionary Communards took farsighted steps toward the social transformation toward classless communist society. They declared the abolition of the military draft and the standing army and police. They enacted the separation of church and state, nationalized church property, abolished night shift, abolished interests on debt, and canceled rents owed by the people. The hated guillotine was publicly burned and state execution was abolished. The workers reopened factories closed by the capitalists and ran them cooperatively. Schooling was made free and open to all. The Vendome Column, a monument to France's wars of aggression, was pulled down. It was announced that no one leading or working for the Commune would make wages above the workers'. Immigrant residents of Paris were declared full citizens of the Commune and held many posts in the revolutonary government--and it was declared that "the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic."

At the same time, the working class had not yet formed a Marxist vanguard party to lead this revolution. The Marxist internationalist currents were still only a small minority among the many different utopian socialist and radical democratic trends.

The reactionary French government launched an invasion from the nearby town of Versailles. The heroic fighters of the Commune, including many women and youth, defended the revolution with arms, street by street. Finally they were overrun by enemy troops. Tens of thousands were murdered in a bloodbath of mass executions.

The founder of modern communism, Karl Marx, who supported and closely studied this great struggle, wrote afterwards: "Workingmen's Paris with its Commune, will forever be celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society."

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2"Throughout this critique of the CRC document, where I speak of how it repudiates `the entire historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat,' I am referring specifically to the experience beginning with the October 1917 Soviet Revolution. While the CRC document claims to recognize certain achievements of this historical experience, it is clear in examining this document that--even on its own terms and without considering the logical implications of its position, it regards this entire experience as fundamentally flawed and insists that a whole different orientation should be adopted. And it should also be said that, in pitting the limited experience of the Paris Commune against the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat since then, rather than recognizing and emphasizing the essential unity between them, this CRC document in reality rejects the fundamental spirit and lessons of the Paris Commune itself."--Bob Avakian

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3As a matter of fact, the members of the Chinese Communist Party, numbering in the millions and millions and including a very large percentage of workers and peasants, did have this formal right to vote Mao out of office. to be precise, they had the right to elect delegates to a Party Congress and these delegates who elected the Party Central Committee, had the formal right to refuse to elect Mao to that Central Committee. That they did not do this and why they did not do this is a further illustration, from a number of angles, of the basic point here: not form but social (class) content, rooted in underlying material contradictions, is the essence of the matter.

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