When we think of the word democracy we usually think of going to the polls every few years to decide who we want to elect into office. But this is only one type of democracy, formal democracy. There is- in effect only one type of democracy in the United States and in all capitalist countries and that is not merely formal democracy, but formal bourgeois democracy. There is also a second form of democracy, a form of democracy that can only exist under socialism. That democracy is workers’ democracy. When the workers own the means of production they can only control it democratically- or else there is only private or state ownership, which is the definition of capitalism and state-capitalism respectably. Not only do we merely have formal democracy, but we have formal democracy which favors the property owning class, the class of the 1%, or the bourgeoisie. In a socialist state democracy is still skewed in favor of one class over another, such is the nature of all state power. However in a socialist state that democracy is not skewed in favor of the former 1%, of the rich elite but rather it is in favor of the 99%, of the proletariat or the working masses. As Marx said, “Instead of deciding once every three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, …”
Economic democracy is arguably even more important- but nonetheless indispensable to political democracy. People spend the majority of their time at work- however under the modern society we effectively live under a tyranny in the workplace, where the capitalist has the final say and the workers voice is blunted. All excess profit under the current mode of production goes not to the worker but to the capitalist- who did nothing of any particular value to earn that capital. Our government recognizes the importance of political democracy, however it completely negates economic democracy. If we took the principles of our political democracy to a workers’ state where instead of bourgeois political democracy it was proletarian democracy we would have an undeniable expanse in democratic representation of the masses. However, when combined with economic democracy the effect is utterly undeniable. It is a complete expansion of democracy in every possible form. As Rosa Luxembourg said, “Democracy is indispensable to socialism and socialism is indispensable to democracy.” With economic democracy undeniably comes economic rights. Before I go on I will admit that I am a Trotskyist, and thus I am VERY critical of Stalin’s principles and policies in the USSR. However his 1936 Soviet Constitution is a prime example of economic rights. Stalin’s version of democracy negated any real political democracy- much like our own system negates economic democracy. Most people are utterly unfamiliar with this concept so I will elaborate on some of the rights given to the soviet people under these new (for the time, and even today) provisions.
To quote section x of the 1936 Soviet Constitution (FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF ALL CITIZENS):
Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to work, that is, are guaranteed the right to employment and payment for their work in accordance With its quantity and quality.
The right to work is ensured by the socialist organization of the national economy, the steady growth of the productive forces of Soviet society, the elimination of the possibility of economic crises, and the abolition of unemployment.
Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to rest and leisure. The right to rest and leisure is ensured by the reduction of the working day to seven hours for the overwhelming majority of the workers, the institution of annual vacations with full pay for workers and employees and the provision of a wide network of sanatoria, rest homes and clubs for the accommodation of the working people.
Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to maintenance in old age and also in case of sickness or loss of capacity to work. This right is ensured by the extensive development of social insurance of workers and employees at state expense, free medical service for the working people and the provision of a wide network of health resorts for the use of the working people.
Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to education. This right is ensured by universal, compulsory elementary education; by education, including higher education, being free of charge; by the system of state stipends for the overwhelming majority of students in the universities and colleges; by instruction in schools being conducted in the native Ianguage, and by the organization in the factories, state farms, machine and tractor stations and collective farms of free vocational, technical and agronomic training for the working people.
Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured to women by granting them an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.
Equality of rights of citizens of the U.S.S.R., irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life, is an indefeasible law. Any direct or indirect restriction of the rights of, or, conversely, any establishment of direct or indirect privileges for, citizens on account of their race or nationality, as well as any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness or hatred and contempt, is punishable by law.
In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.
In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, the citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed by law:
- 1. freedom of speech;
- 2. freedom of the press;
- 3. freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings;
- 4. freedom of street processions and demonstrations.
These civil rights are ensured by placing at the disposal of the working people and their organizations printing presses, stocks of paper, public buildings, the streets, communications facilities and other material requisites for the exercise of these rights.
We recognize some of these rights in our own constitution, however many seem alien to us. For instance the ‘right to work’ means something completely different in our society. In our society it is a right of the capitalist to fire workers without explanation, a very obvious anti-worker law. In the Soviet constitution the work day is legally restricted to the majority of the masses to a mere 7 hours, something unthinkable even in a modern capitalist society. The right of relaxation is completely overlooked in our society. We are not legally required any vacation time, and paid vacation are almost unheard of. Not only this but leisure facilities such as spas are freely available to all working people. They also had an unalienable right to be taken care of in sickness, old age or otherwise in any incapacity to work. All healthcare was free to all citizens. All higher education was free. In their constitution (back in 1936, mind you) women were legally equal to men, something we don’t even have today in America. All women received paid maternity leave. We also see staunch anti-racist laws 30 years before the civil rights movement in America, laws that suppress racism from taking up a significant role in the social intellectual sphere. We even see separation of church and state as something guaranteed in the constitution. (However I will say that in the Soviet Union the Church was separate from the State, but the State was not separate from the Church, something I am very critical of and you can read more about this issue here.) Of course the Soviet Union also had its own ‘bill of rights’ which was similar to ours. This in combination with democracy in the workplace was a huge triumph for working people.
However the Soviet Union never did actually achieve socialism in the traditional sense of the word. Socialism requires the workers to own AND democratically control the means of production. In the Soviet Union the state still owned most of the industry and agriculture and often set quotas to be met by the working people, this top-down leadership was often at odds with workers’ democracy because the means of production were still state-owned. We call this system state-capitalism, in which the state owns the means of production. However it was arguably a mix between state-capitalism and a very basic form of socialism due to the level of economic democracy guaranteed to all citizens, but this is often debated by even the most prominent economists and scholars. State ownership of the means of production was a necessary prerequisite to socialism because Russia had its revolution before passing through an advanced capitalist phase of development.
If you’re a Trotskyist like me you believe that the Soviet state actually became a tool against the working masses due to this excessively bureaucratic, top-down leadership that was in direct conflict with workers’ democracy. As a result I do not advocate the Soviet model, and I actually would call it a ‘deformed workers state’. I am advocating for worker- not state ownership of the means of production (as it is no longer needed) and democratic control over both the economic and political spheres. I am fighting for the same economic democracy and rights guaranteed to the Soviets in 1936 along with the political democracy we have now in a proletarian- not bourgeois form. That being said, the USSR certainly made undeniable progress, and even in its limited accomplishments it continues to make us look bad 80 years after the fact. And that certainly speaks volumes.