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

On the Events of the 1980s and 1990s in the Former Soviet Bloc and China

by Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1244, June 20, 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."

RCP 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 in 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, K. Venu, 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."

In this excerpt, Bob Avakian dissects and refutes the arguments of K. Venu that the events of the late 1980s and 1990s in China and the Soviet Union called into question the leading role of the vanguard communist party in socialist society.


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the mass upsurge and massacre at Tienanmen Square in China raised big questions in the minds of many who had been committed to revolutionary change and socialism. At the same time the international guardians of the status quo launched a major ideological offensive, claiming that history had judged communism a "grand failure."

For genuine communists, who staunchly opposed the Tienanmen massacre, it was very clear that the brutal attack on protesters at Tienanmen Square was carried out by the reactionary, revisionist government of China, which overthrew the revolutionary society led by Mao Tsetung after Mao's death. This revisionist regime and the Chinese Communist Party of today have nothing in common with the dictatorship of the proletariat under Mao's leadership.

It was also clear, for those who upheld the line of Mao Tsetung, that the Soviet Union itself for many decades was no longer socialist, but had become social-imperialist -- socialist in words but imperialist in fact and in deed. And as Bob Avakian wrote in Phony Communism Is Dead. Long Live Real Communism, what happened in the dramatic events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union was "the further dismantling of the apparatus and institutions of social imperialism and their replacement by more and more openly `old style' bourgeois rule and imperialism."

There are world-historic questions confronting the communist revolution--questions which Chairman Avakian has been dealing with, in great depth, in his work. But the dramatic events in China and the Soviet Union were the backdrop for some in the international communist movement like K. Venu to claim that the leading role of the communist party and the dictatorship of the proletariat were obstacles for the proletariat, and all of humanity, in achieving liberation, and to search for some class-less democracy as a solution. And this line is sharply refuted in the following excerpt.

The entire article by Bob Avakian is now available on line at, and the CRC article it is criticizing will be available soon.1

On Recent Events in the Former Soviet Block and China

From the very start, the way things are formulated in this [CRC] document reveals a tailing after petit-bourgeois democratic illusions--and a bourgeois-democratic conceptualization in general. In the first sentence, the events of the last few years "in former socialist countries such as China, the Soviet Union, and those in East Europe" are referred to simply as "democratic upsurges." (paragraph 1.1--see CRC document starting p. 74)

First of all, these events, including the mass upheavals in such countries, have involved many different class forces, mobilized around a number of different programs, but the essential fact is that bourgeois ideology and politics have been in the lead.To describe these simply as "democratic upsurges" is to fail to make any serious class analysis--and to present democracy as it is presented by the bourgeoisie: as a "universal", "classless" phenomenon. It is to tail petit-bourgeois spontaneity, and more to promote, indirectly at least, the bourgeois forces, outlooks and programs in the lead of these "democratic upsurges".

And this is true, despite the fact that this document goes on to make general statements about how "M-L forces have cautioned them [the people] that bourgeois democracy or an unconcealed capitalism is not the solution". (par. 1.2) For, once again, to simply characterize these upsurges as "democratic" is to cover over their bourgeois -democratic essence: the essence of a thing, as Mao made clear, is determined by its principal aspect, which in this case is the domination of bourgeois forces and outlooks within these "democratic upsurges".

Further, it is important to take note of what might, at first, seem like a minor matter of formulation. At the beginning of the second paragraph we find the characterization of the regimes in "the former socialist countries" as "social fascist " (par. 1.2, emphasis added). This is a formulation that was used by Mao, and has been used by Maoists following him (including at times our Party, although we have more come to characterize the form of bourgeois rule in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and the like, as "revisionist democracy"). But the important point is that Maoists have always stressed the class content --the bourgeois essence --of this revisionist rule. Both in spontaneous popular consciousness and in the history of the international communist movement, fascism has tended to be treated as something virtually "above classes", something which is "worse" than "normal" bourgeois dictatorship, something which justifies reducing the terms of struggle to fascism vs. bourgeois democracy.This is what is suggested in this CRC document as well: the use of "social fascist" to refer to revisionist regimes is repeated and consistent throughout this document, and when to this is contrasted "democratic upsurges" then there is the clear implication that democracy--what is in essence bourgeois democracy--is preferable to "social fascism" and to open dictatorship in general--including, as we shall see, the dictatorship of the proletariat .

But we do not have to rely on drawing inferences from seemingly subtle nuances. Soon enough this document openly repudiates the entire historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat beginning with the Soviet Revolution, and in opposition to this comes out with a call for what is barely disguised bourgeois democracy. When the document says, from the very first paragraph, that in response to the "repercussions of these developments" ("the recent wave of democratic upsurges in former socialist countries") communists "have to grasp the depth of these problems and find out appropriate answers," it is already becoming evident that this document regards the basic answers that have been given by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to be insufficient or incorrect and that what it intends is a fundamental re-evaluation--and rejection--of what is soon referred to as "the traditional Marxist-Leninist interpretation of capitalist restoration in the former socialist countries". (par. 1.3)

This is made more explicit and further elaborated before long:

"In this situation, it is the duty of the genuine communists to look back and identify the root cause for the problem faced by the communist movement. Without answering the basic issues raised in front of us no communist organisation can advance in its own practice. Such basic questions if left unanswered for long, will demoralize the cadres and weaken the organisation. Therefore, the resolution of these problems, or at least attempts at resolution, must be taken up as an urgent political task. It is in this spirit that we call upon all genuine communists to re-examine the whole history of the communist movement and the basic concepts we had held aloft so far, so as to get a clear picture of the dictatorship of the proletariat as practised until now". (par. 1.9)

So, let's look at this "re-examination".

First let's begin with another quote from this document. Referring to "the traditional Marxist-Leninist interpretation of capitalist restoration", the document says, "This explanation is basically correct in relation to the economic aspect of capitalist restoration. But it is not sufficient to answer the principal political issue raised by the masses in these countries. Their major demand is the dismantling of the existing political system which ensures the monopoly of the communist party." (par. 1.3)

To begin with, this is a metaphysical separation of politics and economics--there cannot be an explanation that is correct in regard to the economic aspect but incorrect, or "insufficient" in fundamental terms, in regard to the political aspect. Further, referring, as the CRC document does, to "the masses" and "their major demand" obscures the fact that this "dismantling of the existing political system", while it may have considerable mass support and express considerable mass sentiment, is above all the demand of certain bourgeois forces, both in the sense that they are the ones who have been the motive force in promoting it and, more fundamentally, in the sense that it corresponds to their particular interests and meets real needs of theirs in the present situation.

Then the document goes on: "But so far as the masses of these countries are concerned, there is no difference between the essential structures of this social fascist political system and those which existed earlier when they were socialist." (par. 1.3) And the document makes clear it agrees with this view: "Even in China, where the Cultural Revolution gave rise to a new political situation, the state structure under Deng is not essentially different from the one which existed previously." (ibid)

What an astounding statement! No difference?! This amounts to tailing after the most backward among the masses and after the bourgeoisie, which has long run this line. This is ridiculous when applied to the Soviet Union--not only in the early years, in the time of Lenin's leadership, but even as an assessment of the decades during which Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union. Let's look at a few examples: the waging of the war against counterrevolutionary forces and imperialist invaders in the first years of the Soviet Republic; the lively struggles within the party throughout the '20s (notwithstanding the fact that organized factions were outlawed in the party); the mobilization of class- conscious contingents and the mass upheavals that brought into being the collective farms in the early 1930s; the mobilizations of the masses to carry out socialist industrialization, despite certain definite erroneous tendencies involved with this--all this and countless other examples are clear evidence that there was a radical difference between the Soviet Union when it was socialist and then when the revisionists seized power and restored capitalism.

It is true that, especially after major transformations had been carried out in the economy of the Soviet Union (by the mid-1930s), there was a real tendency for the Soviet Party and Stalin as its leader to rely more on administrative measures, experts, and so on. Criticism of this can and must be made--and has been made by Maoists--and an understanding of the basis for these erroneous tendencies must be deepened. But this can only be done, correctly, on the basis of MLM principles and not those of bourgeois democracy. As a guideline in this, not the howls of Trotskyites, Mensheviks, Kautskyites and bourgeois democrats generally about the horrors of bureaucracy under Stalin (and Lenin) but the following from Mao Tsetung sets the correct orientation: "At that time Stalin had nothing else to rely on except the masses, so he demanded all-out mobilization of the party and the masses [Mao is referring to the period of the late 1920s and early '30s]. Afterward, when they had realized some gains this way, they became less reliant on the masses." (Mao Tsetung, A Critique of Soviet Economics , New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977, p. 119) But it must be kept in mind, as Mao consistently did, that there is a world of difference between Marxists who err- -even seriously err--in the direction of becoming less reliant on the masses and revisionists whose rule is based on the exploitation and oppression of the masses.

It is sheer idealism and metaphysics to argue that this radical difference was not reflected throughout the institutions of society--in what actually took place there and on what basis--and in the relation of the masses to all this and their attitude toward it.

This argument is shallow formalism. What it amounts to is saying that, because there was the institutionalized role of the communist party as the leader of all facets of political and economic life, therefore it made no essential difference whether this leadership represented the socialist or the capitalist road. And to justify this argument in the name of "classless" masses who see "no difference" between the "essential structures" of socialism and capitalism is, at best, to tail after those strata and ideas among the masses that are most in thrall to the outlook of the bourgeoisie.

And this is all the more patently ridiculous when applied to China. Have the authors of this CRC document "forgotten" the tremendous transformations that were carried out on all levels of Chinese society, first of all with the nationwide seizure of power and even more so through the Cultural Revolution? Apparently they have "forgotten" how the revisionists, having seized power after Mao's death in 1976, set about systematically attacking and reversing all this, dismantling these "socialist new things"--things such as the revolutionary committees, from the basic levels on up, which combined the masses and leaders in actual forms of government and administration; the various 3-in-1 combinations, combining the masses, cadres and experts, and so on, on all levels of society; the participation of the workers in management and of managers as well as leading officials in productive labour as an official policy; the May 7 cadre schools where cadres of the party and state went to the countryside and took part in productive labour as well as study and ideological and political struggle; "open-door" education and science, mobilizing and relying on the masses and combining experts with the masses and practical experience with theoretical study; health care oriented toward the masses, and in particular toward the masses in the rural areas, and relying not simply on professional medical personnel but "barefoot doctors" throughout the countryside and so on.

Also, very decisively, the revisionists have made fundamental changes in the People's Liberation Army, abolishing its character as a revolutionary army that relies on the conscious dynamic role of its soldiers and the support of the broad masses. The revisionists have replaced this with a "professionalized" bourgeois armed force. It is this "new" PLA that carried out the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. Along with this, the revisionists have reversed the earlier efforts, under revolutionary leadership, to build up the militia precisely as an expression of the broad masses themselves in arms, guided by a proletarian line (even while it remained the case that the standing army could not be abolished for some time, for all the reasons that will be discussed here).2

Do the authors of this CRC document really expect anyone who is familiar with all this to believe that this constitutes no real difference in the essential structures of society or that the masses--particularly the masses of workers and peasants--are unaware of these differences or consider them insignificant?! When, in accordance with the "essential structures" and the prevailing proletarian ideology in socialist China, the workers on the Shanghai docks raised the slogan "Be masters of the wharves, not slaves to tonnage"; when the workers in an enterprise marched into the management office, demanding of the management personnel, "Where are your hammers"--where is your participation, together with the workers, in productive labour?--was that not a radical difference from the situation in China today, and don't the masses of workers know the difference? When the people's communes in the countryside were broken up and rich-peasant farming promoted, while the policy of giving priority to agriculture in the national economy was undermined; when "serve the people" was replaced by "to get rich is glorious" as a guiding principle--did not all this represent a radical reversal which the masses of working people could not help but recognize? Once again, when this CRC document speaks of "the masses", it apparently has in mind the most backward and above all those among the intellectuals and other privileged strata who are most influenced by "classical" bourgeois-democratic ideas and bourgeois ideology in general.



1 This series began with several segments on the Paris Commune of 1871. Marx hailed the Commune as the first historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In these excerpts (RW #1241, #1242, and #1243) Bob Avakian takes on the argument of the CRC--which essentially 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.

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2 It is not the case that militias have been altogether eliminated under revisionist rule; rather, they too have been transformed into a part of the bourgeois apparatus of repression, an adjunct to the regular, standing army serving the rule of the revisionists over the masses.

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