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On Socialist Democracy (July 1977)

7 September 2020
Petrograd soviet of 1917

This text was originally published in 1977 in Inprecor, the French language journal of the Fourth International. Drafted by Mandel, it was adopted by what was then the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. The text was intended as a contribution to a debate in the Fourth International over the issue of Socialist Democracy in the run up the Eleventh World Congress of the Fourth International (1979). This discussion eventually led its 12th world congress adopting in 1985 the resolution ‘The dictatorship of the proletariat and socialist democracy’. We publish the 1977 text as a historical document of the debate in the Fourth International and the thought of Mandel.

Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The current debate in the international labour movement over differing conceptions of socialist democracy is the most deep-going since the years following the Russian Revolution of October 1917. The intensification of the crisis of East and West European Stalinism and Maoism and the growing crisis of the bourgeois political order in Western Europe have brought this debate out of the realm of' more or less academic polemics into the field of practical polities. A clear position on this question is required to advance the processes toward socialist revolution in the West and political revolution in the bureaucratized workers states. It is therefore necessary for the Fourth International to state its programmatic positions.

1. What is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat?

The fundamental difference between reformists and centrists of all varieties on the one hand, and revolutionary Marxists, i.e. Bolshevik-Leninists, on the other regarding the conquest of state power, the need the need for a socialist revolution, the nature of the proletarian state, and the meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat docs not lie in defence of a multiparty system by the former and a one-party system by the latter. Nor does it lie in defence of unrestricted democratic freedoms by the former and defence of severe restriction, or even suppression, of democratic freedoms by the latter. Any attempt to identify the difference between reformists and revolutionists primarily in this way distorts the basic lessons of three-quarters of a century of historical experiences with revolutions and counter-revolutions and objectively represents a grave concession to reformism itself.

The fundamental differences between reformists and revolutionary Marxists on the key issue of state power consist of:

A. The clear recognition by revolutionary Marxists of the class nature of all states and of the state apparatus as an instrument for maintaining class rule.

B. The illusion upheld by the reformists that 'democracy' or 'democratic state institutions' stand above classes and the class struggle.

C. The clear recognition by revolutionary Marxists that the state apparatus and state institutions of even the most democratic bourgeois states serve to uphold the power and rule of the capitalist class and cannot be instruments with which to overthrow that rule and transfer power from the capitalist class to the working class.

D. The clear recognition by revolutionary Marxists, flowing from these considerations, that the conquest of power by the working class requires the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus, in the first place of the repressive apparatus of the bourgeoisie.

E. The necessary conclusion drawn by revolutionary Marxists as a consequence: that the working class can exercise state power only within the framework of state institutions of a type different from those of the bourgeois state, state institutions arising out of sovereign and democratically elected and centralized workers councils (soviets), with the fundamental characteristics outlined by Lenin in State and Revolution—the election of all functionaries, judges, leaders of the workers or workers and peasants militias, and all delegates representing the toilers in state institutions; regular rotation of elected officials; restriction of their income to that of skilled workers; the right to recall them at any time; parallel exercise of legislative and executive power by soviet-type institutions; radical reduction of the number of permanent functionaries and greater and greater transfer of administrative functions to bodies run by the toilers. In other words, a qualitative growth of direct democracy as contrasted to indirect, representative democracy. As Lenin said, the workers state is the first state in human history that upholds the rule of the majority of the population against exploitative and oppressive minorities. 'In stead of the special institutions of a privileged minority (privileged officialdom, the chiefs of the standing army), the majority itself can directly fulfil all these functions, and the more the functions of a state power are performed by the people as a whole, the less need there is for the existence of this power,' ('State and Revolution,' Collected Works, Vol. 25, pp. 419-420) Thus, the dictatorship of the proletariat is nothing other than a workers democracy. It is in this sense that the dictatorship of the proletariat begins to wither away almost Irvin its inception.

The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which summarizes all these points, is a basic part of the Marxist theory of the state, of the proletarian revolution, and of the process toward building a classless society. The word 'dictatorship' ha a concrete meaning in that context: it is a mechanism for the disarmament and expropriation of' the bourgeois class and the exercise at slate power by the working class, a mechanism to prevent any re-establishment of private property in the means of production and thus any reintroduction of the exploitation of wage-earners by capitalists. But it in no way means dictatorial rule over the vast majority of people. The founding congress of the Communist International stated explicitly that 'proletarian dictatorship is the forcible suppression of the resistance of the exploiters, i.e., an insignificant minority of the population, the landowners and capitalists. It follows that proletarian dictator ship must inevitably entail not only a change in democratic forms and institutions, generally speaking, but precisely such a change as provides an unparalleled extension of the actual enjoyment of democracy by those oppressed by capitalism—the toiling classes [...] - all this implies and presents to the toiling classes, i.e., the vast majority of the population, greater practical opportunities for enjoying democratic rights anti liberties than ever existed before, even approximately, in the best and the most democratic bourgeois republics.' ('Theses and Report on bourgeois democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,' Lenin, (Collected Works, vol. 28, pp. 464-465)

Against the now avowedly programmatic revisionism of many Communist parties and centrist formations, the Fourth International defends these classical concepts of Mars and Lenin. A socialist society is not possible without the collective ownership of the means of production and the social surplus product, economic planning and administration by the working class as a whole through democratically centralized workers councils, i.e., planned self-management by the toilers. No such socialization is possible unless the capitalists are economically and politically expropriated and state power is wielded by the working class.

Especially after the tragic Chilean experience, which confirmed so many previous lessons of history, the Kautskian reformist concept now defended by the so-called Eurocommunist parties, the Japanese CP, and several other CP's as well as centrist formations, according to which the labour movement can fully attain its goals within the framework of bourgeois parliamentary institutions through reliance on parliamentary elections and gradual conquest of 'positions of power' within these institutions, must be energetically opposed and denounced for what it is: a cover-up for abandonment of the struggle for the conquest of state power by the proletariat; a cover-up for abandonment of the struggle for the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, for abandonment of a policy of consistent defence of the class interests of the working class; a substitution of ever more systematic class collaboration with the bourgeoisie for the policy of consistent class struggle; and, flowing therefrom, a growing tendency to capitulate to the class interests of the bourgeoisie at moments of decisive economic, political, and social crisis. Far from reducing the costs of 'social transformation' or from ensuring a peaceful. albeit slower, transition to socialism, this policy, if it should decisively determine the political attitude of the toilers in a period of unavoidable overall class confrontation, can only lead to bloody defeats and mass slaughters of the German, Spanish, and Chilean type,


2. For a One-Party or a Multi-party System?

In no way does the Marxist theory of the state entail the concept that a one-party system is a necessary precondition or feature of workers power, a workers state, or the dictatorship of the proletariat. In no theoretical document of Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Trotsky and in no programmatic document of the Third International under Lenin did such a defence of the one-party system ever appear. The theories developed later on, such as the crude Stalinist theory that throughout history social classes have always been represented by a single party, are historically wrong and serve only as apologies for the monopoly of political power usurped by the Soviet bureaucracy and its ideological heirs in other bureaucratized workers states, a monopoly based upon the political expropriation of the working class. History—including the latest events in the People's Republic of China—has on the contrary confirmed the correctness of Trotsky's position that 'classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms and arrive at the solution of common problems not otherwise than through an inner straggle of tendencies, groups and parties. An example of only one party corresponding to one class is not to be found in the whole course of political history—provided, of course, you do not take the police appearance for the reality,' (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 267) This was true for the bourgeoisie under feudalism. It is true for the working class under capitalism. It will remain true for the working class under the dictatorship of the proletariat and in the process of building socialism.

In that sense, the freedom of organization of different groups, tendencies, and parties without ideological restrictions is a precondition for the exercise of political power by the working class. Without such freedom there can be no genuine, elected, democratic workers councils, nor the exercise of real power by such workers councils. Socially, it is a precondition for the working class collectively, as a class, arriving at a common or at least a majority viewpoint on the innumerable problems of tactics, strategy, and even theory (program) that are involved in the titanic task of building a classless society tinder the leadership of the traditionally oppressed, exploited, and downtrodden masses. Unless there is freedom to organize political groups, tendencies, and parties there can be no real socialist democracy.

Revolutionary Marxists reject the substitutionist, paternalistic, and 'apparat' (bureaucratic) deviation from Marxism that sees the socialist revolution, the conquest of state power, and the wielding of state power under the dictatorship of the proletariat as a task of the revolutionary party acting 'in the name of' the class or, in the best of cases, 'with the support of' the class.

If the dictatorship of the proletariat is to mean what the very words say, and what the theoretical tradition of both Marx and Lenin explicitly contains, i.e., the rule of the working class as a class (of the 'associated producers'); if the emancipation of the proletariat can be achieved only through the activity of the proletariat itself and not through a passive proletariat being educated for emancipation by benevolent and enlightened revolutionary administrators, then it is obvious that the leading role of the revolutionary party both in the conquest of power and in the building of a classless society can be only to lead the mass activity of the class politically, to win political hegemony in a class that is increasingly engaged in self-activity, to struggle within the class for majority support for its proposals, through political and not administrative or repressive means. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat state power is exercised by democratically elected workers councils. The revolutionary party struggles for a correct line and for political leadership within these workers councils, without substituting itself for them. Party and state—and still more party apparatus and state apparatus— remain strictly separate and distinct entities. Furthermore, the goal should be to reduce the apparatus of the party.

But genuinely representative, democratically elected workers councils van exist only if the masses have the right to elect whomever they want without distinction, and without restrictive preconditions as to the ideological or political convictions of the elected delegates. Likewise, workers councils can function democratically only if all the elected delegates enjoy the right to 10mm groups, tendencies, and parties, to have access to the mass media, to present their different platforms before the masses and to have them debated and tested by experience. Any restriction of party affiliation restricts the freedom of the proletariat to exercise political power, i.e., restricts workers democracy, which would be contrary both to our program and to the historical interests of the working class.

If one says that only parties and organizations that have no bourgeois (or petty-bourgeois?) program or ideology, or are not 'engaged in anti-socialist or anti-soviet propaganda and/or agitation' are to be legalized, how is one to determine the dividing line? Will parties with a majority of working-class members but with a bourgeois ideology be forbidden? How can such a position be reconciled with free elections for workers councils? What is the dividing line between 'bourgeois program' and 'reformist ideology'? Must reformist parties be forbidden as well? Will Social Democracy be suppressed?

It is unavoidable that on the basis of historical traditions, such reformist influence will continue to survive in the working class of many countries for a long period. That survival will not he shortened by administrative repression; on the contrary, such repression would tend to strengthen it. The best, way to tight against reformist illusions and ideas is through the combination of ideological struggle and the creation of the material conditions for the disappearance of such illusions. Such a struggle would lose much of its efficacy under conditions of administrative repression and lack of free debate and exchange of ideas.

If the revolutionary party agitates for the suppression of Social Democratic or other reformist formations, it will be a thousand times more difficult to maintain freedom of tendencies and toleration of factions within its own ranks, for the political heterogeneity of the working class would then inevitably tend to reflect itself within the single party.

Thus, the real alternative is not: either freedom for those with a genuine socialist program or freedom for all political parties. The real choice is: either workers democracy with the right of the masses to elect whomever they want, and freedom of political organization for those elected (including people with bourgeois or petty bourgeois ideologies or programs), or a decisive restriction of the political rights of the working class itself, with all the consequences which flow therefrom. Systematic restriction of political parties leads to systematic restriction of workers democracy and unavoidably tends toward systematic restriction of freedom within the revolutionary vanguard party itself.


3. What Do Political Parties Represent?

Revolutionary Marxists reject all spontaneist illusions according to which the proletariat is capable of solving the tactical and strategic problems posed by the need to overthrow capitalism and the bourgeois state and to conquer state power and build socialism by spontaneous mass actions without a conscious vanguard and an organized revolutionary vanguard party based upon a revolutionary program tested by history, with cadres educated on the basis of that program and tested through long experience in the living class struggle.

The argument of anarchist origin, also taken up by ultra-leftist 'councilist' currents, according to which political parties are by their very nature 'liberal-bourgeois' formations alien to the proletariat and have no place in workers councils because they tend to usurp political power from the working class, is theoretically incorrect and politically harmful and dangerous. It is not true that political groupings, tendencies, and parties come into existence only with the rise of the modern bourgeoisie. In the fundamental (not the formal) sense of the word, they are much older. They came into being with the emergence of forms of government in which relatively large numbers of people (as opposed to small village community or tribal assemblies) participated in the exercise of political power to some extent (e.g., under the democracies of Antiquity).

Political parties in that real (and not formal) sense of the word are a historical phenomenon the contents of which have obviously changed in different epochs, as occurred in the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions of the past (especially, but not only, in the great French revolution). The proletarian revolution will have a similar effect. It can be predicted confidently that under genuine workers democracy parties will receive a much richer and much broader content and will conduct mass ideological struggles of' a much broader scope and with much greater mass participation than anything that has occurred up to now under the most advanced forms of bourgeois democracy.

In fact, as soon as political decisions go beyond a small number of routine questions that can be taken up and solved by a restricted group of people, any form of democracy implies the need for structured and coherent options on a great number of related questions, in other words a choice between alternative political lines and programs, That's what part it-s represent

The absence of such structured alternatives, far from giving large numbers of people greater freedom of expression and choice, makes government by assemblies and workers councils impossible. Ten thousand people cannot vote on 500 alternatives. If power is not to be transferred to demagogues or secret pressure groups and cliques, there is need for free confrontation among a limited number of structured and coherent options, i.e., political programs and parties, without monopolies or prohibitions. This is what will make workers democracy meaningful and operative.

Furthermore, the anarchist and 'councilist' opposition to the formation of political parties under the dictatorship of the proletariat in the process of building socialism either: 1) represents wishful thinking (i.e., the desire that the mass of the toilers will abstain from forming or supporting groups, tendencies, and parties with different political lines and programs), in which case it is simply utopian, for that will not happen; or 2) it represents an attempt to prevent and suppress the attempts by all those toilers who wish to engage in political action on a pluralistic basis to do so, and in that case it can objectively favour only a process of bureaucratic monopolization of power, i.e., the very opposite of what the libertarians want.

In many centrist and ultra-leftist groupings a similar argument is advanced, according to which the dispossession of the Soviet proletariat from the direct exercise of political power was rooted in the Leninist concept of democratic centralist organization itself. They hold that the Bolsheviks' efforts to build a party to lead the working class in a revolution inevitably led to a paternalistic, manipulative, bureaucratic relationship between the party and the toiling masses, which led in turn to a party monopoly on the exercise of power after the victorious socialist revolution.

This argument is unhistorical and based on an idealist concept of history. From a Marxist, i.e., historical-materialist point of view, the basic causes of the political expropriation of the Soviet proletariat were material and socio-economic, not ideological or programmatic. The general poverty and backwardness of Russia and the relative numerical and cultural weakness of the proletariat made the long-term exercise of power by the proletariat impossible if the Russian revolution remained isolated; that was the consensus not only among the Bolsheviks in 1917-l8, but among all tendencies claiming to he Marxist. The catastrophic decline of the productive forces in Russia as a result of the first world war, the civil war, foreign imperialist military intervention, sabotage by pro-bourgeois technicians, etc. led to conditions of scarcity that fostered a growth of special privileges. The same factors led to a qualitative weakening of the already small proletariat. In addition, large portions of the political vanguard of the class, those best qualified to exercise power, died in the civil war or left the factories to be incorporated massively into the Red Army and the state apparatus.

After the beginning of the New Economic Policy a certain economic upturn began, but massive unemployment and continuous disappointment caused by the retreats and defeats of the world revolution nurtured political passivity and a general decline of mass political activity, extending to the soviets. The working class was thus unable to stem the growth of a materially privileged layer, which, in order to maintain its rule, increasingly restricted democratic rights and destroyed the soviets and the Bolshevik Party itself (while using its name for its own purposes). These are the main causes of the usurpation by a bureaucracy of the exercise of direct power and for the gradual merger of the party apparatus, the state apparatus, and the apparatus of economic managers into a privileged bureaucratic caste.

Marxist historians can argue whether some of the concrete measures taken by the Bolsheviks even before Lenin's death may have objectively favoured the process of Stalinization, or if Lenin and Trotsky were late in understanding the scope of the danger of bureaucratization and the degree to which the party apparatus had already been absorbed by the bureaucratization process. But these could be said to be contributing factors at most. The main causes of all these processes were objective, material, economic, and social. They must be sought. in the social infrastructure of Soviet society, not in its political superstructure and certainly not in a particular concept of the party.

On the other hand, historical experience has confirmed that where a leading or even highly influential revolutionary party is absent, workers councils last shorter and not longer than they did in Russia: Germany in 1918 and Spain in 1936-37 are the most conspicuous examples. Furthermore, without such a party these councils do not succeed in conquering state power, i.e.. in overthrowing the bourgeois state. Empirical evidence confirms Marxist theory, showing that it is the free and democratic self organization of the toiling masses, dialectically combined with the political clarification made possible by a revolutionary vanguard party in the leadership, that represents the best chance for the conquest and continuous exercise of power by the working class itself.


4. Workers Councils and the Extension of Democratic Rights

Without full freedom to organize political groups, tendencies, and parties no full flowering of democratic rights and freedoms for the toiling masses is possible under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx and Lenin's whole critique of the limitations of bourgeois democracy is based on the fact that private property and capitalist exploitation (i.e., social and economic inequality), coupled with the specific class structure of bourgeois society (atomization and alienation of the working class, legislation defending private property, function of the repressive apparatus, etc.), result in the violent restriction of the practical application of democratic rights and the practical enjoyment of democratic freedoms by the big majority of the toiling masses, even in the most democratic bourgeois regimes. The logical conclusion flowing from this critique is that workers democracy must be superior to bourgeois democracy not only in the economic and social sphere—not only in the right to work, to security of existence, to free education, to leisure time, etc., which are obviously very important—but also in the scope and extent of the enjoyment of democratic rights by the workers and all layers of toilers in the political and social sphere. To grant a single party, so-called mass organizations, or 'professional associations' (like writers associations) controlled exclusively by that party a monopoly en access to printing presses, radio, television, and other mass media, to assembly halls, etc., would, in fact, restrict and not extend the democratic rights of the proletariat compared to those enjoyed under bourgeois democracy. The right of the toiling people, including those with dissenting views, to have access to the material means of exercising democratic freedoms (freedom of the press, of assembly, of demonstration, the right to strike. etc.) is essential.

Therefore, an extension of democratic rights for the toilers beyond those already enjoyed under conditions of bourgeois democracy is incompatible with the restriction of the right to form political groupings, tendencies, or parties on programmatic or ideological grounds.

Moreover, self-activity and self-administration by the toiling masses under the dictatorship of the proletariat and in the building of a socialist society will take on many new facets and extend the concepts of 'political activity', 'political parties,' 'political programs' and 'democratic rights' far beyond any thing characteristic of political life under bourgeois democracy. Through media such as television and time-sharing (i.e., telephone access to) computers, contemporary technology makes possible a tremendous leap forward in the interaction between direct and indirect (representative) democracy. Workers in a factory or toilers in a neighbourhood can follow 'live' speeches by their delegates in local, regional, national, or international congresses and can intervene rapidly to correct false representations of facts or violations of mandates, once a general atmosphere of free political criticism and debate prevails. Millions of toilers can have direct access to an immense mass of information, once capitalist 'secrecy' and monopoly on information centralized by computer systems is forbidden or broken. Political instruments like referendums on specific questions could be used to enable the mass of the toilers to decide directly on a whole series of key questions of policy.

Likewise, instruments of direct democracy could be used on a wide scale in the field of planning, to ascertain real consumer wishes not through indirect means (market mechanisms) but through consumer-producers conferences and consumer mass meetings or referendums on the choice of specific models, varieties, and quality grades of consumer goods. Here again, contemporary techniques make all these mechanisms much more realistic and much more applicable to millions of people than was objectively possible in the past.

The building of a classless socialist society is also a gigantic process of remoulding all aspects of social life. It involves constant revolutionary change not only in the relations of production, the mode of distribution, the work process, the forms of administration of the economy and society, the customs, habits and ways of thinking of the great majority of people, but also fundamental reconstruction of all living conditions; reconstruction of cities, reunification of manual and intellectual labour, complete revolution of the education system, restoration and defence of the ecological equilibrium, technological revolutions designed to conserve scarce natural resources, etc.

All these endeavours, for which humanity possesses no blue prints, will give rise to momentous ideological and political debates and struggles. Different political programs arising around these combined issues will play a much greater role than nostalgic references to the bourgeois past or abstract affirmations of the communist ideal. But any restriction of these debates, struggles, and formation of parties under the pretext that this this or that platform 'objectively' reflects bourgeois or petty-bourgeois pressure and interests and 'if logically carded to time end' would lead to the 'restoration of capitalism' can only hinder the emergence of majority consensus around the most effective and correct solutions of these burning problems from the point of view of building socialism, i.e., in the class interests of the proletariat itself.

More specifically, it should he pointed out that momentous struggles will continue throughout the process of building a classless society, struggles that concern social evils that are recited in class society but will not disappear immediately with the elimination of capitalist exploitation or wage-labour. The oppression of women, the oppression of national minorities, and the oppression and alienation of youth are archetypes of such problems, which cannot automatically be subsumed under the general heading 'class struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie' except by divorcing the categories 'working class' and 'bourgeoisie' from their classical Marxist, materialist definitions and foundations, as is done by Maoists and various ultra-leftist currents.

Political freedom under workers democracy therefore implies freedom of organization and action for independent women's liberation, national liberation, and youth movements, i.e., movements much broader than the working class in the scientific sense of the word, not to speak of the revolutionary Marxist current within the working class, Revolutionary Marxists will be able to win political leadership within these autonomous movements and to ideologically defeat various utopian or reactionary ideological currents not through administrative or repressive measures but on the contrary by promoting the broadest. possible mass democracy within their ranks and by uncompromisingly upholding the right of all tendencies to defend their opinions and platforms before society as a whole.

It should likewise be recognized that the specific form of workers state power implies a unique dialectical combination of centralization and decentralization. The withering away of the state, to be initiated from the inception of the dictatorship of the proletariat, expresses itself through a process of gradual devolution of the right of administration in broad sectors of social activity (health system, education system, postal-railway-telecommunications systems, etc.) internationally, nationally, regionally, and locally, once the central congress of workers councils (i.e., the proletariat as a class) has by majority vote allocated to each of these sectors that part of human and material resources at the disposal of society as a whole. This again implies specific forms and contents of political debates and struggles which cannot be predicted in advance or in any way reduced to simplistic and mechanical 'class criteria,'

Finally, in the building of a classless society, the participation of millions of people not only in a more or less passive way through their votes, but also in the actual administration at various levels cannot be reduced to a workerist concept of considering only workers 'at the point of production.' Lenin said that in a workers state the vast majority of the population would participate directly in the administration of 'state functions.' This means that the soviets on which the dictatorship of the proletariat will be based are not factory councils, but bodies of self-organization of the masses in all areas of economic and social life, including factories, commercial units, hospitals, schools, transport and telecommunications centres, and neighbourhoods. This is indispensable in order to integrate into the proletariat its most dispersed and often poorest and most oppressed layers, such as women, oppressed nationalities, youth, workers in small shops, old-age pensioners, etc. It is also indispensable for cementing the alliance between the working class and the lower petty bourgeoisie, which is important in reducing the social costs both of a victorious revolution and of the building of socialism.


5. A Clear Stand Is Necessary to Win the Masses for the Socialist Revolution

The defence of a clear and unequivocal program of workers democracy is today an indispensable part of the struggle against the reformist leaderships that seek to inculcate bourgeois-democratic myths and illusions in the working class in the imperialist countries. It is likewise indispensable in the struggle against pro-capitalist illusions and anti-soviet prejudices among various layers of rebels and oppositionists in the bureaucratized workers states in the process of the unfolding struggle for political revolution in these countries.

The historical experiences of both fascism (and other types of reactionary bourgeois dictatorships) in the West and the Stalin and Mao regimes and their successors in the East have aroused in the proletariat of both the imperialist countries and the bureaucratized workers states a deep distrust of any form of one-party system and of any justification, however sophisticated, for restricting democratic rights after the overthrow of capitalism. This distrust objectively conforms to the basic course of all proletarian revolutions up to now; the direction has always been toward the broadest possible democratic rights and self-activity of the masses. This has been the case from the Paris Commune to the Russian and German revolutions to the experiences of the Spanish revolution of 1936-37 to the more recent working-class upsurges in France in 1968, Italy in 1969-70, and Portugal in 1974. 75; it has likewise been expressed in the anti-bureaucratic upsurges in East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia since the 1950s.

The ruling class utilizes all the ideological means at its disposal to identify parliamentary institutions with the maintenance of democratic rights. In both Western Europe and North America, for instance, the capitalist rulers seek to appear as champions of the democratic outlook of the working class and plebeian masses. an outlook which has been powerfully strengthened by the negative experiences of fascism and Stalinism.

One of the key components of the struggle for leadership of the masses consists of properly understanding the import of their democratic demands and actions, of expressing them adequately. and thus counteracting the strenuous efforts of the reformists to co-opt the struggle for democratic demands and turn it into the blind alley of bourgeois parliamentary institutions.

The task of wresting leadership from the reformists as representatives of the democratic aspirations of the masses is thus crucial tor revolutionary Marxists. Obviously, programmatic clarification and propaganda—important as they are—are insufficient to achieve this objective. The masses learn through their practical daily experience; hence the importance of going through this daily experience with them and drawing the correct lessons from it.

As the class struggle sharpens, the reformist leaders, who trumpet the alleged benefits of the bourgeois parliamentary system, will sound less and less convincing, and the workers will increasingly challenge the authority and prerogatives of the ruling class on all levels. The workers themselves, through their own organizations—from workers committees in the factories to workers councils (soviets)—wilt begin to assert more and more economic and political decision-making authority, and they will gain confidence in their power to overthrow the bourgeois state. in this same process, in order to carry out their struggles most effectively, with the broadest mass involvement, the workers will see the need for the most democratic forms of organization. Through this experience of struggle and participation in their own democratically run organizations, the masses will experience more freedom of action and more liberty in the broadest sense of the word than they ever exercised under bourgeois parliamentary democracy, and they will learn the irreplaceable value of proletarian democracy. This is an indispensable link in the chain of events leading from capitalist rule to the conquest of power by the proletariat and will be a vital experience to draw upon in establishing the democratic norms of the workers state.

If the revolutionary Marxists leave the slightest impression, either through their propaganda or through their practice, that under the dictatorship of the proletariat the political freedoms of the workers will be narrower than under bourgeois democracy— including the freedom to criticize the government, to have opposition parties and an opposition press—then the struggle to overcome the panderers of parliamentary illusions will be incommensurably more difficult, if not condemned to defeat. Any hesitation or equivocation in this field by the revolutionary vanguard will only help the reformist lackeys of the liberal bourgeoisie to divide the proletariat and divert an important sector of the class into defence of bourgeois state institutions, under the guise of assuring democratic rights.

It has been argued that all the above arguments apply only to those countries in which the wage-earning class already represents a clear majority of the active population, i.e.. where they are not faced with a great majority of petty independent producers. It is true that in some semi-colonjal countries the weakness of the old ruling class led to a very favourable relationship of social forces in which the overthrow of capitalism was accomplished without the flowering of workers democracy (China and Vietnam being two outstanding examples). But it is necessary to underline the exceptional character of these experiences, which will not be repeated in most semi-colonial countries and cannot be repeated in imperialist countries. It is necessary, furthermore, to stress that insofar as the overturn of capitalism in several backward countries was not tied to the emergence of direct workers power through democratically elected councils of workers and poor peasants, these workers states were condemned to be bureaucratized from the start. As a result, severe obstructions have been erected to progress on the road toward the building of a socialist classless society, both at home and internationally.

Likewise, inasmuch as a growing number of semi-colonial countries are at present undergoing processes of partial industrialization, their proletariat today is often already of much greater weight relative to the active population than was the Russian proletariat in 1917 or the Chinese proletariat in 1949. This proletariat, through its own experience of struggle, will speedily rise toward levels of consciousness and self-organization that will place the organization of soviet-type state organs on the agenda. In that sense, the Fourth International's program of workers council democracy as a basis for the dictatorship of the proletariat is a universal program for world revolution, which corresponds fundamentally to the social nature, historical needs, and way of thinking of the working class itself. it is in no way a 'luxury' reserved for the workers of the 'richest countries.'


6. In Response to the Stalinists

Among those who claim to stand for the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is only the Stalinists who advance a theoretically and politically consistent alternative to our program of socialist democracy based on workers councils and a multiparty system within which the revolutionary vanguard party fights for political leadership by winning the majority of the toilers to its views. The Stalinist alternative is based on the exercise of state power under the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' by a single party in the name of the working class. This alternative is based upon the following (not often clearly stated) assumptions:

A. That the 'leading party' or even its 'leading nucleus' has a monopoly on scientific knowledge and is guaranteed infallibility (which implies the theological and scholastic conclusion that one cannot give the same rights to those who defend truth and those who propagate falsehoods).

B. That the working class, and even more the toiling masses in general, are too backward politically, too much under the influence of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology, too much inclined to prefer immediate material advantages as against historical social interests, for any direct exercise of state power by democratically elected workers councils; genuine workers democracy would entail the risk of an increasing series of harmful objectively counter-revolutionary decisions which would open the road to the restoration of capitalism, or at the very least gravely damage and retard the process of building socialism.

C. That therefore the dictatorship of the proletariat can be exercised only by the 'leading party for the proletariat,' i.e., that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the party (either representing an essentially passive working class, or actively basing itself on the class struggle of the masses, who are nevertheless considered unworthy of directly exercising state power themselves).

D. That since the party, and that party alone, represents the interests of the working class, which are considered homogeneous in all situations and on all issues, the 'leading party' itself must be monolithic. Any opposition tendency necessarily reflects alien class pressure and alien class interests in one form or another. (The struggle between two lines is the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie inside the party, the Maoists conclude.) Monolithic control of all spheres of social life by the single party is the logical outcome of these concepts. Direct party control must be established over all sectors of 'civil society.'

E. A further underlying assumption is that of an intensification of the class struggle in the period of building socialism (although this assumption alone does not necessarily lead to the same conclusions if it is not combined with the previous ones). From that assumption is deduced the increasing danger of restoration of bourgeois power even long after private property in the means of production has been abolished, and irrespective of the level of development of the productive forces. The threat of bourgeois restoration is portrayed as the mechanical outcome of the victory of bourgeois ideology in this or that social, political, cultural, or even scientific field. In view of the extreme power thereby attributed to bourgeois ideas, the use of repression against those who are said to objectively represent these ideas becomes a corollary of the argument.

All these assumptions are unscientific from a general theoretical point of view and are untenable in the light of the real historical experience of the class struggle during and after the overthrow of capitalist rule in the USSR and other countries. Again and again they have shown themselves to be harmful to the defence of the proletariat's class interests and an obstacle to a successful struggle against the remnants of the bourgeoisie and of bourgeois ideology. But inasmuch as they had become nearly universally accepted dogmas by the CPs in Stalin's time and undoubtedly have an inner consistency—a reflection of the material interests at the bureaucracy as a social layer— they have never been explicitly and thoroughly criticized and rejected by any CP since then. These concepts continue to linger on, at least partially, in the ideology of many leaders and cadres of the CPs and Soicalist Parties, i.e., of the bureaucracy of the labour movement. They continue to constitute a conceptual source for justifying various forms of curtailing the democratic rights of the toiling masses in the bureaucratized workers states, as well as in those sectors of the labour movement in the capitalist countries which are dominated by the CPs. A clear and coherent refutation of these concepts is indispensable in defending our program of socialist democracy.

First: the idea of a homogeneous working class exclusively represented by a single party is contradicted by all historical experience and by any Marxist, materialist analysis of the concrete growth and development of the contemporary proletariat, both under capitalism and after the overthrow of capitalism. At most, one could defend the thesis that the revolutionary vanguard party alone programmatically defends the long-term historical interests of the proletariat. But even in that case, a dialectical-materialist approach, as opposed to a mechanical-idealist one, would immediately add that only insofar as that party actually conquers political leadership over the majority of the workers can one speak of an integration of immediate and long-term class interests having been achieved in practice, with the possibilities for error much reduced.

In fact, there is a definite, objectively determined stratification of the working class and of the development of working-class consciousness. There is likewise at the very least a tension between the struggle for immediate interests and the historical goals of the labour movement (for example, the contradiction between immediate consumption and long-term investment). Precisely these contradictions, rooted in the legacy of uneven development of bourgeois society, are among the main theoretical justifications for the need for a revolutionary vanguard, as opposed to a simple 'all inclusive' union of all wage-earners in a single party. But this again implies that one cannot deny that different parties, with different orientations and different ways of approaching the class struggle between capital and labour and the relations between immediate demands and historical goals, can arise and have arisen within the working class and do genuinely represent sectors of the working class (be it purely sectoral interests, ideological pressures of alien class forces, etc.).

Second: a revolutionary party with a democratic internal life does have a tremendous advantage in the field of correct analysis of socio-economic and political developments and of correct elaboration of tactical and strategic answers to such developments, for it can base itself on the body of scientific socialism, Marxism, which synthesizes and generalizes all past experiences of the class struggle as a whole.

This programmatic framework for its current political elaboration makes it much less likely than any other tendency of the labour movement, or any unorganized sector of the working class, to reach wrong conclusions, premature generalizations, and one-sided and impressionistic reactions to unforeseen developments, to make concessions to ideological and political pressures of alien class forces, to engage in unprincipled political compromises, etc. These undeniable facts, confirmed again and again by every turn of events in the more than three-quarters of a century since Bolshevism was founded, are the most powerful arguments in favour of a revolutionary vanguard party.

But they do not guarantee that errors by that party will automatically be avoided. There are no infallible parties. There are no infallible party leaderships, party majorities. 'Leninist central committees,' or individual party leaders. The Marxist program is never a definitively achieved one. No new situation can be comprehensively analysed in reference to historical precedents. Social reality is constantly undergoing changes. New and unforeseen developments regularly occur at historical turning points: the phenomenon of imperialism after Engels's death was not analysed by Marx and Engels: the delay of the proletarian revolution in the advanced imperialist countries imperialist countries was not foreseen by the Bolsheviks; the bureaucratic degeneration of the first workers state was not incorporated in Lenin's theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat: the emergence after World War II of many workers states (albeit with bureaucratic deformations) following revolutionary mass struggles not led by revolutionary Marxist leaderships (Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, Vietnam) was not foreseen by Trotsky; etc. No complete, ready-made answers for new phenomena can be found in the works of the classics or in the existing program.

Furthermore, new problems will arise in the course of the building of socialism, problems for which the revolutionary Marxist program provides only a general framework of reference but no automatic source of correct answers. The struggle for correct answers to such new problems implies a constant interaction between theoretical-political analysis and discussions and revolutionary class practice, the final word being spoken by practical experience.

Under such circumstances, any restriction of free political end theoretical debate spilling over to a restriction of free political mass activity of the proletariat, i.e., any restriction of socialist democracy, will constitute an obstacle to the revolutionary party itself arriving at correct policies. It is therefore not only theoretically wrong but practically ineffective and harmful from the point of view of successfully advancing on the road of building socialism.

One of the gravest consequences of a monolithic one-party system, of the absence of a plurality of political groups, tendencies, and parties, and of administrative restrictions being imposed on free political and ideological debate, is the impediments such a system erects on the road to rapidly correcting mistakes committed by the government of a workers state. Mistakes committed by such a government, like mistakes committed by the majority of the working class, its various layers, and different political groupings, are by and large unavoidable in the process of building a classless, socialist society. A rapid correction of these mistakes, however, is possible in a climate of free political debate, free access of opposition groupings to mass media, large-scale political awareness and involvement in political life by the masses, and control by the masses over government and state activity at all levels.

The absence of all these correctives under a system of monolithic one-party government makes the rectification of grave mistakes all the more difficult. The very dogma of party infallibility on which the Stalinist system rests puts a heavy premium both on the denial of mistakes in party policies (search for self-justification and for scapegoats) and on the attempt to postpone even implicit corrections as long as possible. The objective costs of such a system in terms of economic losses, of unnecessary, i.e., objectively avoidable, sacrifices imposed upon the toiling masses, of political defeats in relation to class enemies, and of political disorientation and demoralization of the proletariat, are indeed staggering, as is shown by the history of the Soviet Union since 192S. To give just one example: the obstinate clinging to an erroneous agricultural policy by Stalin and his henchmen has wreaked havoc with the food supply of the Soviet people for more than a generation; its negative consequences have not been eliminated to this day, nearly fifty years later. Such a catastrophe would have been impossible had there been free political debate over opposing policies in the USSR.

Third: the idea that restricting the democratic rights of the proletariat is in any way conducive to the gradual 'education' of an allegedly 'backward' mass of toilers is blatantly absurd. One cannot learn to swim except by going into the water. There is no way masses can learn to raise the level of their political awareness other than by engaging in political activity and learning from the experience of such activity. There is no way they can learn from mistakes other than by having the right to commit them. Paternalistic prejudices about the alleged 'backwardness' of the masses generally hide a conservative petty bourgeois fear of mass activity, which has nothing in Common with revolutionary Marxism. Any restriction of political mass activity under the pretext that the masses would make too many mistakes can only lead to increasing political apathy among the workers, i.e., to paradoxically reinforcing the very situation which is said to he the problem.

Fourth: under conditions of full-scale socialization of the means of production and the social surplus product, any long-term monopoly of the exercise of political power in the hands of a minority—even it it is a revolutionary party beginning with revolutionary proletarian motivations—runs a strong risk of stimulating objective tendencies toward bureaucratization. Under such socio-economic conditions, whoever controls the state administration thereby controls the social surplus product and its distribution. Given the fact that economic inequalities will still exist at the outset, particularly in the economically backward workers states, this can become a source of corruption and of the growth of material privileges and social differentiation. Thus, there is an objective need for real control over decision-making to rest in the hands of the proletariat us a class, with unlimited possibilities to denounce pilferage, waste, and illegal appropriation and misuse of resources at all levels, including the highest ones. No such democratic mass control is passible without opposition tendencies, groups, and parties having full freedom of action, propaganda, and agitation, as well as full access to the mass media.

Likewise, during the transition period between capitalism and socialism, and even in the first phase of communism (socialism) it is unavoidable that forms of division of labour (especially separation between intellectual and manual labour) will survive, as well as forms of labour organization and labour processes totally or partially inherited from capitalism that do not enable a full development of all the creative talents of the producer. These cannot be neutralized by education, indoctrination, moral exhortation or periodic 'mass criticism campaigns,' as the Maoists contend, and still less by mystifying expedients like cadres' working one day a week as manual labourers. These objective obstacles on the road to the gradual emergence of truly socialist relations of production can be prevented from becoming powerful sources of material privileges only if a strict distinction is made between the functional and the social division of labour, i.e., if the mass of the producers (in the first place those likely to be the most exploited, the manual workers) are placed in conditions such that they can exercise real political and social power over any 'functionally' privileged layer. The radical reduction of the work day and the fullest soviet democracy are the two key conditions for attaining this goal.

The present conditions, which make the problem of upholding and advancing proletarian democracy especially difficult, would of course be altered qualitatively if (or when) either of the two following developments occur.:

1. A socialist revolution in one or more industrially advanced capitalist countries. Such a revolution would itself give enormous impulsion to the struggle for democratic rights throughout the world and would immediately open the possibility of increasing productivity on an immense scale, eliminating the scarcities that are the root cause of the entrenchment of parasitic bureaucratism, as explained above.

2. A political revolution in the bureaucratically deformed or degenerated workers states, particularly the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China. This would likewise signify an upsurge of proletarian democracy with colossal repercussions international ly, besides putting an end to the bureaucratic caste and its concept of building 'socialism in one country.'

Following a political revolution, common economic planning among all the workers states would become realizable, thus assuring a leap forward in productivity that would help remove the economic basis of parasitic bureaucratism.

Finally, it is true that there is no automatic correlation or simultaneity between the abolition of capitalist state power and private property in the means of production and the disappearance of privileges in the field of personal wealth, cultural heritage, and ideological influence, not to speak of the disappearance of nil elements of commodity production. Long after bourgeois state power has been overthrown and capitalist property abolished, remnants of petty commodity production and the survival of elements of a money economy will continue to create a framework in which primitive accumulation of capital can still reappear, especially if the level of development of the productive forces is still insufficient to guarantee the automatic appearance and consolidation of genuinely socialist relations of production. Likewise, long after the bourgeoisie has lost its positions as a ruling class politically and economically, the influence of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies, customs, habits, cultural values, etc. will linger on in relatively large spheres of social life and broad layers of society.

But it is completely wrong to draw from this undeniable fact (which is, incidentally, one of the main reasons why state power f the working class is indispensable in order to prevent these 'islands of bourgeois influence' from becoming bases for the restoration of capitalism) the conclusion that administrative repression of bourgeois ideology is a necessary condition for the building of a socialist society. On the contrary, historical experience confirms the total ineffectiveness of administrative struggles against reactionary bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies; in fact, in the long run such methods even strengthen the hold of these ideologies and place the great mass of the proletariat in the position of being ideologically disarmed before them, because of lack of experience with genuine political and ideological debate and the lack of credibility of official 'state doctrines'.

The only effective way to eliminate the influence of these ideologies upon the mass of the toilers lies in:

A. The creation of objective conditions under which these ideologies lose the material roots of their reproduction.

B. The waging of a relentless struggle against these ideologies in the field of ideology itself, which can, however, attain its full success only under conditions of open debate and open confrontation, i.e., of freedom for the defenders of reactionary ideologies to defend their ideas, of ideological cultural pluralism.

Only those who have neither confidence in the superiority of Marxist and materialist ideas nor confidence in the proletariat and the toiling masses can shrink from open ideological confrontation with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once that class is disarmed and expropriated, once their members can have access to the mass media only in relation to their numbers, there is no reason to fear a constant, free, and frank confrontation between their ideas and ours. This confrontation is the only means through which the working class can educate itself ideologically and successfully free itself from the influence of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas.

Any monopoly position accorded to Marxism (not to speak of particular versions or interpretations of Marxism) in the ideological-cultural fields through administrative and repressive measures by the state can lead only to debasing Marxism itself from a critical science into a form of state doctrine or state religion, with a constantly declining attractive power among the toiling masses and especially the youth. 'This is apparent today in the USSR, where the monopoly position accorded 'official Marxism' masks a real poverty of creative Marxist thought in all areas. Marxism, which is critical thought par excellence, can flourish only in an atmosphere of full freedom of discussion and constant confrontation with other currents of thought, i.e., in an atmosphere of full ideological and cultural pluralism.


7. The Self-defence of the Workers State

Obviously, any workers state must defend itself against attempts at open overthrow and open violation of its basic laws. In a workers democracy the constitution and the penal code will forbid private appropriation of the means of production or private hiring of labour, just as the constitution and penal codes under bourgeois rule forbid individual infringement on the rights of private property. Likewise, as long was we are not yet in a classless society, as long as proletarian class rule survives but the restoration of capitalism remains possible, the constitution and the penal code of the dictatorship of the proletariat will forbid and punish acts of armed insurrection, attempts to overthrow working-class power through violence, terrorist attacks on individual representatives of workers power, sabotage, espionage in the service of foreign capitalist states, etc. But only proven acts of that kind should be punishable, not general propaganda explicitly or implicitly favourable to a restoration of capitalism. This means that freedom of political organization should be granted all those, including pro-bourgeois elements, who in actual practice respect the constitution of the workers state, i.e., are not engaged in violent actions to overthrow workers power and collective property. The workers have no need to fear as a mortal danger propaganda that 'incites' them to give the factories and banks back to private owners. There is little chance that a majority of them will be 'persuaded' by propaganda of that type. The working class in the imperialist countries, the bureaucratised workers states, and an increasing number of semi-colonial countries is strong enough not to have to reintroduce the concept of 'crimes of opinion' either in its penal codes or in the daily practice of the workers state.

This is our programmatic and principled norm—unfettered political freedom for all those individuals, groups, tendencies, and parties who in practice respect collective property and the workers' constitution. This does not mean that these norms can be fully implemented irrespective of concrete circumstances. In the process of establishing and consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat, civil war or international military interventions have been and can be unleashed by the bourgeoisie. Under conditions of civil war or foreign military intervention, i.e., attempts by the former ruling classes to overthrow workers power by force, then the rules of war apply, and restrictions on the political activities of the bourgeoisie may well be called for. No social class, no state, has ever granted full rights to those actively engaged in a violent war to overthrow them. The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot act otherwise in that respect.

What is important, however, is to strictly distinguish between activities instigating violence against workers power and political activities, ideological positions, or programmatic statements that can be interpreted as favouring a restoration of capitalism. Against terror the proletarian state defends itself by repression. Against reactionary politics and ideas it defends itself by political and ideological struggle. This is not a question of 'morality' or 'softness.' It is essentially a question of practical long-term effectiveness.

The disastrous experience of Stalinism, which has systematically misused slanderous accusations of 'collusion with imperialism,' 'espionage for foreign powers,' and 'anti-socialist' or 'anti-soviet' agitation to suppress any form of political criticism, opposition, or non-conformism in the countries under the rule of a parasitic bureaucracy and which has organized barbaric repression on a mass scale under these pretexts, has created a profound (and essentially healthy) distrust of the abuse of penal, juridical, or police institutions for purposes of political repression. It is therefore necessary to stress that the use of repressive self-defence by the proletariat and its state against attempts to overthrow workers power by violence should be strictly circumscribed to proven crimes and acts, strictly separated from the realm of ideological, political, and cultural activities. This means, furthermore, that the Fourth International should stand for the defence and the extension of the most progressive conquests of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions in the field of penal codes and justice and should fight for their incorporation into the socialist constitutions and penal codes. These include such rights as:

A. The necessity of written law and the avoidance of retroactive delinquency. The burden of proof to be on the accuser; the assumption of innocence until proof of guilt.

B. The full right of all individuals to freely determine the nature of their defence: full immunity for legal defenders of any statements or lines of defence used in such trials.

C. Rejection of collective responsibility of social groups, families, etc.

D. Strict forbidding of any form of torture or extortion of confessions by physical or psychological pressure.

E. Extension and generalization of public trial by jury.

F. Democratic election of all judges. The right of the mass of the toilers to recall elected judges.

Again, the fundamental guarantee against all abuses of state repression lies in the fullest participation in political activity of the toiling masses, the broadest possible socialist democracy, and the abolition of any monopoly of access to weapons for privileged minorities, i.e., the general armament of the proletariat (workers militias).

Furthermore, if civil war conditions make certain restrictions of democratic rights unavoidable, the basic nature and limitations of such restrictions should be made clearly understood. It is necessary to clearly and frankly explain before the whole working class that any such restrictions are deviations from the programmatic norm that corresponds to the historical interests of the proletariat, that they are exceptions and not the rule. This means that they should be limited to the utmost, both in scope and in time, and revoked as soon as possible, This means that the workers should be especially alerted to the need to prevent them from becoming institutionalized and elevated into the realm of principle.

It is likewise necessary to stress the direct political and material responsibility of bourgeois counter-revolution for any restrictions of socialist democracy under war conditions. This means to indicate clearly to society in its totality, and to the remnants of the former ruling classes themselves, that the way they will be dealt with depends on themselves alone, i.e., upon their practical behaviour.

The survival for the time being of powerful imperialist states and rich bourgeois classes in the world imposes a situation of more or less permanent potential class confrontation on a world scale, and therefore of more or less potential civil war. But the obvious need for the workers states to protect themselves against the threat of foreign imperialist intervention does not at all imply the identification of conditions of potential civil war with those of actual civil war, an argument that the Stalinists of all shades have continually used to justify the strangling of workers democracy in the countries under the rule of a parasitic bureaucracy, Furthermore, the establishment of monolithic one party rule in a workers state does not strengthen its capacity for self-defence against imperialist aggression. The very opposite is true. The existence of a system of socialist democracy would make it much more difficult fr the imperialists to undertake military aggression under the pretext of 'defence of freedom' A high level of political understanding and conviction on the part of the toiling masses; mm high level of political activity, mobilization, and alertness; an internationalist education and activity of the proletariat all help to transform a workers state into a powerful pole of attraction for the' international working class. Of course, any workers state must develop a modern military and intelligence defence system against hostile capitalist states, but the support of the international working class is a thousand times more effective for self-defence than a powerful secret police continually in search of 'foreign infiltrators' and 'spies.' in the long run, police methods generally weaken the capacity for self-defence of the victorious proletariat against foreign enemies.

Finally, it should he stressed that the main problem today in the Soviet Union, China, and the East European workers states is not the danger of capitalist restoration under conditions of war or civil war. The main problem facing the working claim in these countries is the dictatorial control over economic, political, and social life by a privileged bureaucratic caste. Under these present conditions it is all the more important to place the central stress on the defence of the democratic rights of all against the restrictions imposed by the bureaucracy.


8. A Fundamental Aspect of the Program for Socialist Revolution

The balance sheet of fifty years of bureaucratic power beginning with the rise of' the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union, and of twenty-five years of crisis of world Stalinism can be summarized as follows:

A. In spite of all specific differences between the various European and Asian workers states and in spite of all the changes that have occurred there, all remain characterized by the absence of institutionalized and constitutionally guaranteed direct workers power (i.e., democratically elected workers councils, or councils of workers and toiling peasants exercising direct state power). Everywhere de facto one party systems exist as expressions of the complete monopoly of real power in all spheres of social life by the privileged bureaucracies. The absence of the right to form tendencies within the single party, the negation of real democratic centralism in the Leninist sense of the word, reinforces that monopoly in the exercise of state power. The parasitic nature of the materially privileged bureaucracies furthermore implies that to various degrees momentous additional obstacles are placed on the road to advancing the world socialist revolution and building a socialist society; the transition from capitalism to socialism becomes bogged down, creativity is stifled, and tremendous amounts of social wealth are misused and wasted.

B. In spite of many partial criticisms of the existing political and economic system in the USSR and the other bureaucratized workers states by various ideological currents that have developed since the postwar crisis of Stalinism (Titoism, Maoism, Castroism, 'Eurocommunism,' and left centrism of the Italian, Spanish, and West German types, etc.) none of these currents has put forward a fundamental alternative to the Stalinist model in the USSR. Against that bureaucratic power structure none offer a coherent alternative of democratic direct working class power. No real understanding of the problem of Stalinism is possible without a Marxist analysis of the bureaucracy as a specific social phenomenon. No real alternative to rule by the bureaucracy (or restoration of capitalism) is possible without institutionalizing direct workers power through democratically elected workers councils (workers and toiling peasants councils) with a multiparty system and full democratic rights for all toilers, within a system of planned and democratically centralized self-management of the economy by the associated producers.

The so-called Eurocommunist current, while accentuating its criticism of the dogmas and practices of the Soviet and East European bureaucracies, and while broadening its polemics with the Kremlin, proposes at the most a reform of the worst excesses of Stalinist role rather than a revolutionary change. The 'Eurocommunist' parties have not cut their umbilical cord with the Soviet bureaucracy and continue to offer 'objectivist' justifications and apologies for the past crimes of the bureaucracy and many aspects of the present forms of bureaucratic rule. Furthermore, in the imperialist countries their general policy of class collaboration and upholding the bourgeois order even in face of big explosions of mass struggle of necessity limits their claims to respect democracy inside the labor movement, particularly within the mass organizations that they control and within their own parties. In their critiques they have systematically obscured the differences between bourgeois and workers democracy and, under the guise of combatting the one-party system in the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China, in reality defend the concept that the only alternative to the rule of the bureaucracy through a single party is acceptance of parliamentary institutions built on the bourgeois model, plus refusal to question the existence of the bourgeois state. In this way they reintroduce into the labor movement today the general theses of classical Social Democracy with regard to the 'peaceful' and 'gradual' transition to socialism.

In the light of all these failures, the program of the Fourth International on the dictatorship of the proletariat, direct working class rule through elected workers councils and plurality of soviet parties emerges as the only coherent and serious alternative to the twin revisions of Marxism advanced by Social Democratic reformism and Stalinist codification of monopoly rule by a usurping bureaucratic caste. This program, which represents in its main lines the continuity of the tradition from the writings of Marx and Engels on the Paris Commune through Lenin's State and Revolution, through the documents of the first congresses of the Communist International on the dictatorship of the proletariat, has been further enriched in the light of the successive analyses of proletarian revolutions and bureaucratic degeneration or deformation of workers states, first by Trotsky in the Revolution Betrayed and in the founding programmatic documents of the Fourth International, and later by the successive international gatherings of' the Fourth International after World War II. The present document summarizes the present thinking of the revolutionary Marxists on this key aspect of the program for socialist revolution.

© IIRE 2024

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