There are, in my view, four prerequisites to democracy that unfold historically with the progression of human social development, each progression allowing for a fuller democracy. Mankind has found democracy to be the most ideal system, the system that best represents the will of the majority of the population. But democracy under capitalism is limited, is a democracy that de facto serves only the capitalist class. Let us look at what these prerequisites are, and how each stage represents an ever increasing democratic progression, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism and finally, to stateless communism. In this, I also will attempt to explain the inherent lack of liberty and genuine democracy in the 20th century Marxist-Leninist states. This is a new theory.
1: Industrial Development And The Social Development That Accompanies It (Feudalism to Capitalism) As The First Prerequisite To Democracy
The industrial revolution, and the decline of feudalism, brought forth the initial prerequisites of bourgeois democracy on a massive scale. Industrialization, and the social consequences that come with it (literacy, increases in the average knowledge of each individual, education, etc.) provided a solid foundation for the emerging dominance of the capitalist mode of production. But this alone was merely the necessary prerequisite for bourgeois democracy. Democracy did not come about merely from this new emergence in human society. It is also worth noting, that the lack of these characteristics largely explains the failures of U.S. imperialism’s attempt at grafting liberal democracy onto backward nations such as Iraq, and why dictatorship is sometimes necessary before liberal democracy can come about (see South Korea)
2: Declaration Of The Rights Of Humanity (Negative Liberty, Human Rights) As The Second Prerequisite To Democracy (Capitalism)
The great bourgeois revolutions of the late 18th century introduced the idea of negative liberty into human society. With these social explosions, notions of what we would call human rights came about. Individuals were granted the freedom of speech, protest, press, religion, etc. Of course, these freedoms remained mainly bourgeois in character, because they were only in actuality, privileges mainly of the bourgeois class. Built into the doctrine of these great social advances, is the right, or more accurately put, the privilege, of the ruling class to own private property. In a word, the entitlement to all a worker produces solely by owning the means of production is written into the bill of rights itself. Private property rights are negated with the transcendence of this stage, into a more democratic society.
These two developments form the necessary prerequisites not only for bourgeois democracy, but for democracy in general, excluding as aforesaid, private property “rights”. No form of democracy, neither bourgeois or proletarian, can exist without sufficient industrial development and the social development that comes with it, as well as the negative liberty that bourgeois revolutions establish (excluding private property).
I hope the reader will forgive me for using this quote again by Rosa Luxemburg,
“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege…
Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.”
But with this alone, private property and all, the Fukuyamaists declare liberal capitalism to be the end of history! They declare neoliberal capitalism to be the highest stage of human development! They declare bourgeois democracy to be the epitome of democratic institutions! But as we shall see, these are opinions blinded by historical limitations.
“Bourgeois democracy”, says Lenin, “although a great historical advance in comparison with medievalism, always remains, and under capitalism is bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.” In fact, bourgeois democracy is only different from the democracy of the Greek Slave states in that it takes on a truly national character, in that it guarantees the formal rights of the oppressed classes. It is a “democracy” all right, but a democracy for who? What social class does it represent? In ancient Greece, the answer is simple: the ruling class, the slave owners. In America, the answer is the same: the ruling class, the capitalists. The image below shows beyond doubt the bourgeois character of the American government, the true nature of this so-called “bastion of democracy”.
There are two ruling political parties in the United States, both are owned and controlled exclusively by the capitalist class. The recent election between the hated Donald Trump, a billionaire capitalist, and the loathed Hillary Clinton, a mega-millionaire, is evidence of this fact. The DNC rigging of the election against Bernie Sanders is evidence of this fact. The overwhelming majority of people voted for one solely out of having more hatred for the other. There is no real democracy here. Every election, regardless of size, is intangibly bound up with the interests of capital. It is built into the base of the capitalist mode of production. The inherently undemocratic nature of capitalism creates an inherently undemocratic government, or rather, one that is subservient and “democratic” only for the bourgeois class. The video below of a lecture by Richard Wolff explains the undemocratic nature of capitalism, and its effect on political democracy, perfectly.
3: Industrial Democracy (Socialism) And Positive Liberty As The Third Prerequisite To Genuine Political Democracy (Capitalism to Socialism)
Thus we come to the next stage of democratic development. It is not one independent of the previous two stages (industrial/ social development and negative liberty), but is entirely reliant on it. In an advanced capitalist country, where bourgeois democracy and industry are fully developed, it’s inherently undemocratic nature in regards to the overwhelming propertyless majority becomes increasingly apparent, and socialist revolution brings the abolition of capitalism. Despite “formal” declarations of equality, despite the bourgeois class making concessions to women, people of color, and to the poor, it still exists as an equality in spite of inequality. That is, equality in spite of the actual inequality between rich and poor. The influence of the rich in the government becomes so apparent that the existing bourgeois government is abolished by the will of the proletariat.
In its place, a new prerequisite to real political democracy is declared: industrial democracy. No more shall the capitalist be entitled to what the worker produces merely by “owning” the means of production! No more shall the capitalist fund political candidates and parties to look after their own interests! From this stage onward, the working masses themselves have democratic control over what is done with the fruits of their common labor. Negative liberty is not abolished, but on the contrary, it is expanded in this stage of development. For the first time, all are guaranteed not only the fundamental rights of man and citizen, but are provided the means to realize those rights in the form of positive liberty. The rights to housing, healthcare, food, education, labor, rest and leisure, a dignified existence, etc. are declared to be absolutely fundamental human rights. This is the only possible way for “money to be separated from politics”. Only those ignorant of the way our bourgeois society functions declare the possibility of the “separation of capital and politics” without the abolition of capitalism. Because the state in this stage of development represents the overwhelming majority of society, and is the ever vanishing dictatorship of the proletariat, the next stage begins to emerge.
4: Stateless Society And The End Of Class Society, The Abolition Of Class Democracy (Communism)
But democracy as we know it, while it is certainly a democracy, is a dictatorship of one class over another. “Democracy” in the class sense of the word, becomes superfluous. With the abolition of the state, this limited notion of democracy is also abolished. In this sense, only with the coming of stateless communism, can a “fully democratic system” emerge. While this is the withering away of democracy in one sense, it is the ultimate unfolding of the pure essence of democracy in another. At this stage, class interests cease to be, for class society ceases to be.
20th Century Marxism-Leninism: “Socialist” “Democracy” Without Any Of These Prerequisites
The socialist revolutions of the 20th century took place in the most backward countries of the world. They were as far from advanced capitalist countries as one can get (excluding, of course, war torn Germany). We have to acknowledge the fact that most of these countries were in the midst of, or had yet to have, bourgeois revolutions. A bourgeois revolution can occur, and be immediately followed by the seizure of power by the proletariat. However, if the proletariat is to have not fought in vain, the revolution must spread abroad, favorably towards the advanced capitalist countries of the earth. The imperialist world wars came as a result of the fact that the internal contradictions of the most advanced capitalist countries of the world could no longer be reconciled within the confines of the nation state. Because of this, the construction of socialism, the mode of production more efficient and advanced than capitalism, cannot possibly be completed in one country alone as the Stalinists insist.
However, these prerequisites I have laid out, are not dogmas. Historical stages are not dogmas, as Trotsky points out in his history of the Russian Revolution saying,
“The privilege of historic backwardness – and such a privilege exists – permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages. Savages throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without traveling the road which lay between those two weapons in the past.”
The October Revolution was a permanent revolution, but it ceased its permanent character when the fervent pursuit of international revolution was abandoned and the Stalinist bureaucracy took power.
The socialist states of the 20th century, while basing themselves on Stalinism, decided to ‘skip over’ the advanced capitalist phase of development. While this was no doubt difficult, it was theoretically possible. With Trotsky’s genius idea of rapid industrialization, a plan implemented under Stalin, it was thought that these socialist states could emulate the capitalist stage of development without having to pass through it. But a crucial element is missing from this formula: democracy, or more specifically, the necessary prerequisites of even bourgeois democracy. So this system, by the way, was not socialist! Of course, one of the aims of this rapid industrialization was to establish the necessary prerequisites to democracy (Industrial development, literacy, education, etc.). And it no doubt succeeded in this regard. Illiteracy was abolished in the Stalinist countries, industrial output quintupled, life expectance was doubled, education was mandatory, healthcare was free for all, and other positive liberties were expanded exponentially. However, under Stalinism in these previously semi-feudal, now degenerated workers states, the negative liberty that develops naturally under capitalism was missing entirely. This negative liberty is not only a necessary prerequisite to bourgeois democracy, but to socialist democracy as well!
Socialism without negative liberty, is therefore impossible, for democracy without negative liberty is impossible. Since socialism without democracy is impossible, we cannot call those Stalinist countries that lacked negative liberty socialist, or anything other than degenerated or deformer workers states.
This is one of the key reasons why Stalinism failed. While these countries did not naturally undergo a bourgeois stage of development, and they did try to emulate the industrial and social development that comes with it, they did not emulate the exponential expansion of negative liberty that occurs under capitalism. What we were left with, is a country with positive liberty, but no negative liberty. This contradiction, as we know, was reversed entirely in 1991. The positive liberty in the former Stalinist countries was abolished in its entirety and replaced with negative liberty alone. Life expectancy dropped some 10 years in Russia, homelessness returned, and all the social ills of capitalism.
I have quoted it perhaps too often in my articles, but I hope the reader will forgive me if I quote again from Marxists Internet Archive’s encyclopedia:
“In hitherto existing Socialist states, like the Soviet Union and China, “negative freedoms” were severely restricted, while “positive freedoms” were advanced. All people had universal access to health care, full university education, etc, but people could only use those things they had in a particular way – in support of the government. In the most advanced capitalist governments, this relationship is the other way around: “positive freedoms” are restricted or do not exist all together, while “negative freedoms” are more advanced than ever before. A worker in capitalist society has the freedom to say whatever she believes, but she does not have the freedom to live if crippled by a disease regardless of how much money she has. A socialist society that has been established from a capitalist society will strengthen “negative freedoms”, while ushering in real “positive freedoms” across the board, ensuring equal and free access to social services by all.
The fullest development of positive freedom is impossible however without a further development of negative freedom – people cannot be forced to be free.”
We have never had a socialist revolution in an advanced capitalist country. When we do, the contradiction mentioned here will cease to be, and a free society such as the one mentioned above, will inevitably come about in a developed society that already enjoys negative liberty.
Onward, the historical dialectic unfolds.