Three concepts of democracy

Posted: October 28, 2015 in Political Views

The following article by Maziar Razi was first published in Marxist Revival No. 3.

The following is the English translation of the transcript of a discussion at a Marxist Revival meeting in February 2014.


In this meeting I will try to present a basic and short outline of the discussion, because you can have detailed discussions on the various issues around it. In this session, in contrast to the other two views of “democracy”, I wanted to comment about socialist democracy.

The first reason for this is that in the next period the question of democracy (as well as the concept of socialism), can be one of the bases of convergence between revolutionary Marxists.(1) These two concepts, i.e., the concepts of “democracy” and “socialism” are in some ways linked to each other. Because both of these issues have been much misrepresented, and there are numerous conflicting arguments around them. As revolutionary Marxists we have to distinguish clearly our opinions from other different shades of understanding of the concepts of “democracy” and “socialism”. In a previous interview (see interview with the Socialist Komala TV), I dealt with the main points of the concept of socialism. However, in this discussion, I will focus on the Marxist concept of democracy.

Before explaining about the Marxist concept of democracy, I first wanted to mention two deviant concepts on the question of democracy that have been posed by former and current defenders of “socialism”. These two deviations have been posed by a range of leftist and socialist currents.

First, the position of the liberal currents, which can be seen today in many of the Iranian opposition. Currents with different “Social Democratic”, “constitutionalist”, “atheist republican”, “secular” names, and all kinds of currents that have broken away from Stalinist and Maoist tendencies, can be seen. Many of these tendencies are those who supported the “socialist camps” (e.g., Russia and China), and due to the collapse of the camps, have made a 180-degree turn towards the camp of “social democracy” and joined it. Today, the monarchists are also standing next to the wide range of social democrats. In fact, from a class position, the whole of the opposition social democrats and liberals represents the left wing of the bourgeoisie in Iran, i.e., the “reformists”.

As a result, in recent years we have seen a wide range of these currents. Now, we should evaluate what they mean by “democracy”? Many have assumed that this group of the bourgeoisie carries a great “gift” for the Iranian nation. Or that perhaps the bourgeois society of the West is a “Utopia” that can be exported to our country as a model, and that we can use it to solve all social problems.

The flip side of the liberal vision is the Stalinist position on democracy. These people believe that democracy has essentially no connection to the labour movement and communists. They assume that ‘democracy’ is basically bourgeois word. They argue that communists call for the establishment of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the sense of an authoritarian regime that is supposed to suppress the minority in society. They see “democracy” as a phenomenon of the “bourgeois” minority that is supposed to suppress the majority. Consequently, these currents have completely distanced themselves from the word “democracy” and see it as distinctly “bourgeois”.

From a Marxist perspective, both views of “democracy” are inaccurate and misleading. However, even though these two concepts are opposed to each other they have two common points. First, both see “democracy” as belonging to the bourgeoisie. Second, both views distort Karl Marx’s theory of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” – consciously or unconsciously. In the liberal view, “democracy” is a “modern” concept that came out of the bourgeois democratic revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe.

The Stalinist vision of “democracy” is similar to the liberal reasoning, but in reverse. This view believes that the principle of ‘democracy’ has no relevance to the labour movement.

Second, the assumptions of both views of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” are also incorrect.

The concept of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat

The liberal view poses the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a totalitarian dictatorship. As the tool of the state to suppress the people, and hence it is rejected. In contrast, it assumes that bourgeois democracy will give democracy to all the people.

The Stalinist  concept also believes that the working class is supposed to create a regime called the “dictatorship of the proletariat” that will rule over the non-working class population, and when any differences crop up, uses force and bayonets “to repress” them. So a despotic regime, in the name of the “proletariat”, will “dictate” its rule on the majority of society. This process will generally be led and organised by the Stalinist “iron party”. In fact, in this concept the “party” has replaced the working class and generally a “leader” has been placed at the head of the party. In other words, a leader of the “communist party” exercises the dictatorship of the working class. A brutal regime that will crush all opposition in society. A system that relies on state control over all issues at all levels of society, so that a sort of state capitalist system is realised. As was experienced during the era of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot and now in North Korea.

In fact Karl Marx did not have any of these views about the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. First, when Marx uses the word “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (Stalinist tendencies omit the word “revolutionary”). Second, what Marx meant by the word is not a “regime” or government. He meant a transient state (or a non-state), a state for the transition from capitalism to socialism. The “revolutionary” state has been described as a period of transition from capitalism to socialism, it must apply the best democracy that humanity has ever known, otherwise the transition from capitalism to socialism cannot be realised. Marx believed that socialism must be direct and with the active participation of all sections of society from below and be realised not by a “leader” or an “iron party” or even just the “working class”. According to Marx, all members of society (workers, peasants, the urban petty bourgeoisie, intellectuals, national minorities, etc.), after the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (the soviet republic) has been established, should eventually become socialist human beings. Because this “revolutionary” state, after the conquest of power, will constantly revolutionise the economy of society. The limits of the power of the state will determined by a government of the majority of society through a constituent assembly (a government of workers and toilers or something like a government of the masses) which will guide it.

In addition, in Marx’s time the word “dictatorship” did not mean a tool for tyranny and repression. Marx, for example, speaks of “the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” even about governments that had bourgeois democracy. At that time Marx used the word “dictatorship” in the “right of veto” sense. Marx never meant the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat as an authoritarian and repressive state. Marx meant that just as bourgeois states had a right of veto on certain matter (e.g., preservation of private property etc.), the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” will also be a state will have the “right of veto” on issues it wants to control (nationalising economic resources like the banks under the control of the workers’ republic. Dispossessing the bourgeoisie of economic power and the tools of violence. Control over international trade and so on to prevent the restoration of capitalism. These will be under the veto right of the new proletarian power).

As a result, it should be clear from the outset that the liberal and the Stalinist conceptions of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” are distorted and fundamentally flawed.

The liberal vision of democracy

To explain further the liberal view of democracy it should be noted that its supporters are partly from a leftist and socialist background. They therefore argue that the future socialist society can only pass through the route of bourgeois democracy and that these two stages are linked together. This view maintains that the only path to realising socialist democracy goes through the path of bourgeois democracy – and gradually. Many of the so-called Marxist spectrum that today see social democracy as an alternative for the future, have such an idea. Of course, there are also right-wing social democratic currents who in principle do not believe in socialism (like the monarchists and the right-wing bourgeoisie tendencies who now call themselves social democrats).

This view believes that a model or template can be made of societies like America or Sweden and then “implemented” in Iran. The ideal future society of this viewpoint is the Western bourgeoisie. Their utopia or ideal society is Sweden or America. They think that if there is a democracy like America in Iran, the current dire situation will change and, ultimately real freedom, equality and democracy will come about in Iran. This vision also holds the belief that democracy belongs to the bourgeoisie and is the achievement of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions in Western societies. Whereas historically this debate is essentially baseless. It should be emphasised that democracy has a history and its origin is not the bourgeois democratic revolution.

The history of democracy in human societies

From the beginning of social activity some kind of democracy has been seen in human societies and it is not only related to the bourgeoisie. Just as there was democracy before the bourgeoisie, after the bourgeoisie or after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and capitalism, there will also be democracy. We call that democracy “socialist democracy”. A democracy for all sections of society, not just a specific minority of society.

Contrary to the liberal attitude, if we look at history, we see that even in the years before Christ, and in societies before slavery, a kind of democracy existed. We have witnessed democracy in tribal communities. At that time, the tribal leaders would deliberate and then make decisions. In 400 BC, in slave-owning societies, democracy existed. Among the slave-owning masters of Plato’s time there was democracy and Plato’s writings show that a democratic style of interaction existed there. This was the case also during the period of feudalism. During feudalism there was all sorts of democracy between aristocrats, land owners, kings and others. There were a series of forums where they made decisions and exchanged views. In capitalist society it was the same too. Different periods of capitalism, during free trade and before that and after that, different types of democracy existed. Eventually what we see today as the product of bourgeois democracy after the bourgeois-democratic revolutions was attained.

Therefore this discussion of the liberal currents that democracy belongs to the bourgeoisie is completely false and not related to historical facts.

The liberal’s utopian view of democracy

On the other hand, the point that the liberal view within the opposition does not consider is that adopting models and transferring an idea from the “outside” into Iranian society, is a completely utopian method. Because the question is that even the democracy within bourgeois democratic societies has been the product of a series of bourgeois-democratic struggles and revolutions. The bourgeoisie has in fact organised struggles against feudalism and these struggle went as far as ousting feudalism from power and bourgeois-democratic political revolutions were organised. It was during the fight against feudalism and the struggle for democracy that bourgeois-democratic demands that the bourgeoisie had in mind were realised. In other words, if we are to have bourgeois democracy in Iran, we must show what has been the history of bourgeois democracy in Iran. What anti-feudal struggles has the Iranian bourgeoisie had and basically where has Iran’s bourgeoisie come from?

It is clear that there is no alignment and compliance of the Iranian bourgeoisie with the bourgeoisie of the West. In principle the imperialist bourgeoisie imposed Iran’s bourgeoisie on society. Specifically from the Safavid era capitalism was imposed from above by imperialism in Iranian society. Reza Shah’s reign in the form of a modern capitalism state, in accordance with the needs of imperialism and to curb the spread of the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, and then during the Shah and the needs of new imperialism to export the means of production into Iran, imperialist policies under the title “White Revolution” and “land reform” of the monarchy in Iran, were implemented and a capitalist state was installed at the top of society. This capitalist state, in contrast with capitalist states of the West, was not the result of anti-feudal struggles, because basically feudalism did not exist in Iranian society, but a despotic pre-capitalist state existed and a specific mode of production existed in that society that until the Safavid period was known as the Asiatic mode of production and after that the bourgeoisie was just the result of imposition by imperialism on society.

In other words, the bourgeoisie was in fact “injected” into underdeveloped countries such as Iran. This bourgeoisie is a bourgeoisie that has no relation to the bourgeois of the West. From this perspective the argument of the liberals that bourgeois democracy, based on the model of the Western bourgeoisie, be created in Iran is unfounded. During the last century, no element that showed any signs of wishing to create democracy, even a bourgeois democracy, was seen. Consequently, we have to deduce from the objective conditions in society what kind of government and democracy should be realised in society.

Which class can bring democracy to Iran?

I believe that in Iranian society, like many capitalist societies, there are three classes. In the particular case of Iran there is a bourgeois class that does not have a revolutionary character or had any struggles against the feudal and pre-capitalist classes, and essentially has nothing to do with democracy. Members of this class are capitalists who have no history or tradition of revolutionary struggle. Most of them are smugglers, thieves and large landowners that imperialism, in order to serve its own interests, placed in power. This imposed bourgeoisie has never had a social base. In Iran, the bourgeoisie is essentially a completely regressive and reactionary class.

Therefore it is not able to bring democracy to Iran and has shown no sign during the past 230 years, from the Safavid period onwards, that the bourgeoisie in Iran has wanted new developments. However, in relation to Constitutional Revolution, it was an event that passed quickly and was not a bourgeois revolution as seen in the Western sense. But it was too unstable and failed. The only time we saw the rise of bourgeois democracy was in this period, which quickly disappeared.

The second class that can carry the fight against tyranny and pose the issue of democracy is the petty bourgeoisie. But during the 1979 revolution the petty bourgeoisie clearly showed that it is basically part of the repressive forces of the bourgeoisie and has a counter-revolutionary role. Not only did it not move in the direction of the proletariat and the struggle for democracy, but was essentially anti-democratic. The experience of 1979 showed that this class (upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie and the urban petty bourgeoisie) in fact had become the Islamic Republic regime’s repressive force. As a result, this class is also not a layer that can create democracy in Iran. Many of the left tendencies have wrongly assumed that to reach a democratic revolution and a socialist revolution in the future they can unite with a section of the petty bourgeoisie – which has been shown that basically this is not possible.

Therefore the only class that has shown any sign of democratic struggle in Iran, is in fact the working class. Even if we look at it just at the level of the question of democracy, we see that the working class was the only class that in the struggle against the royal despotism built workers’ councils in Iran and was able to overthrow one of the most powerful forces in the region, which was completely dependent on imperialism, and create democratic workers’ councils, so that for the first time in Iran’s history, we witnessed democratic relations in our society.

Despite all the crackdowns that the working class has suffered during the past 33 years, and despite all the divisions within itself, and all the attacks, incursions and murders that it has had to endure, workers’ struggles have continued for their first and main demand, i.e., democratic rights. No force and no other class has been as persistent and as consistent as the working class in the manner it has fought for the restoration of democracy. Therefore the only hope for those who want a democratic future and to establish a democracy in Iran, in fact, should be focused on the working class. Fighting and preparing for the proletarian revolution in Iran and strengthen the working class is the only way to achieve democracy. Because a workers’ revolution in Iran is the only revolution that will not only realise the bourgeois-democratic democracy that has been delayed, but can also bring about a new type of democracy, socialist democracy, in society.

This is a problem that the liberal currents, especially the tendencies that have a communist background, do not pay attention to. Of course these new liberals were never Marxist tendencies, but were quasi-Stalinist, Stalinist and Maoist tendencies. By abandoning Stalinism they have not only joined the regiment of the enemies of the working class, but have become missionaries of this bourgeois deception and are promoting this model-making and building a bourgeois-democratic society in Iran. Posing this issue by the liberal spectrum under the guise of creating democracy, and the sort of democracy that is imported from abroad, without the basic history and objective conditions for it existing in Iranian society, means nothing other than the strengthening of capitalist reaction.

From this point of view, revolutionary Marxists must specifically and clearly stand against the spectrum that wants bourgeois democracy using the imported method as in Western countries like Sweden, Norway, America and so on, and ruthlessly struggles against them as enemies of the working class, the only class carrier of democracy in Iran.

The limits of bourgeois democracy

Even if we assume that these utopian model-making methods are real and that a Western-style democracy can really be implemented in Iran by the supporters of the liberal concept, we must be aware that these European societies themselves have many limitations in implementing their democracy. To understand this, you do not need to have to be lawyers and theoreticians. Bourgeois democracy is “formal” because it does not enter the field of social production. The advocates of the bourgeoisie claim that all societies have the freedoms of speech, assembly, press and founding parties. Obviously, all these arguments are unfounded. How can ordinary people (workers’ organisations, youth and women) without any access to vast financial resources have the same propaganda tools as the capitalists? Opening party offices and hiring “full-time” employees needs huge financial resources that workers lack. As a result all this publicity is impossible to achieve, except for those who are rich.

They say that in “civil society” all have the right to vote and can freely choose their parliamentary representatives. First, these elections take place every few years, and during this period the people cannot dismiss or control the representatives. In fact, the representatives become “privileged” and do not have the slightest contact with the electorate. Second, this method gives the wealthy, and parties tied to the state, a free hand to exert their political influence in every geographical area. Third, the main political force is not in parliament but is organised through a vast bureaucratic apparatus behind closed doors. Fourth, in these “free” elections do the voters have the right to vote essentially for their favourite system? – rather than voting for this or that candidate. Or according to the eternal constitution that the system has determined for ever, they can only vote for the candidates who swear that they will uphold the constitution with their lives. The most fundamental principle of the constitution is respect and protection for an individual’s property. Therefore, respect for personal or private property, which needs its own democracy, it is democracy for the owner of the means of production, an insignificant minority within a society. To impose and dictate this democracy on the vast majority of society, is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This bourgeois dictatorship, includes cabinet ministers, the judiciary, the security forces, the Iranian regime’s Pasdaran, police and plain clothes security agents. The heads of these institutions are in fact the key decision-makers in capitalist society and not the general public. Because none of these institutions can be changed by the general vote and are permanently in power or they are selected.

Every honest and active person in a society such as Sweden or America can find out the limitations of this form of democracy. Bourgeois democracy is merely a deception that the bourgeoisie imposed on society at the time of the bourgeois democratic revolution. In fact, this form of democracy is a formal democracy. This means that the bourgeoisie pretends that “all are equal” and society is based on “national unity”, “national state”, “equality” and so on. When the bourgeoisie led the anti-feudal struggle, always as a minority of the society not only did it deceive and fool the majority of the population, but it pretended that this is democracy, democracy for all the people. From itself inception, the bourgeoisie has had to hide its class interests, it has falsely posed as the protector of the interests of “all” the population. It has used categories such as “equality of rights”, “national state”, “public interest”, “popular democracy” to fool the people. In fact, there is not the slightest aspect of these bourgeois social and economic issues that is “public” or “general”. All the “laws” of capitalism are “special” and “one-sided” and all serve the immediate interests of the bourgeois class.

Bourgeois “democracy” is merely a formal democracy. They say that the “buyer” and the “seller” of goods have “equal rights” in the market. That’s true! However, this is just the surface appearance. In this “equal” deal one of the parties (the proletariat), due to poverty is forced to sell their labour power at wages far lower than the value that is generated. What happens is a completely undemocratic and unfair deal. In fact, the owners of capital exploit workers in an “uneven” way and in this way become wealthier. According to new data, between 1979 and 2007, the top 1% of society in the United States acquired more than half (53.9%) of the total increase in revenue. During the same period, the average income of the bottom 99% of taxpayers in America grew by approximately 19%, while the average income of the top 1% increased more than 10-fold – a 200.5% increase. Between 2009 and 2012, in the period after the “recession” and the beginning of the economic “recovery”, the top 1% of income in America pocketed 95% of total growth in revenue. So the “improvement” has not been for “all”, but for a very small minority of society. (2) Meanwhile a vast number are suffering from unemployment and poverty. Just in 2010, 15.1% of the population lived in poverty. The poverty rate is the highest since 1993. In the same year, 16.4 million children, or 22%, were poor and the rate for black children is estimated at more than 38%. So capitalism even imposes penury “unevenly” on the vast majority of society. (3) So bourgeois “democracy” is a cover for the exploitation of one class by another class.

This propaganda has penetrated even into the consciousness of many among the masses. This in fact suggests that this “equality” and “democracy” is basically no more than a deception, even in advanced industrial societies, that now the Iranian liberals want to bring into the country!

Thus, not only are the masses unable to dismiss the representatives they chose during the election period, they also do not have a role in controlling them. A section of parliamentary representatives become transformed into state bureaucrats. In other words, part of a privileged layer of society. Consequently, these are not candidates that the working class can criticise or dismiss. In fact, a formal relationship between voters and parliamentarians is established.

Bourgeois democracy is not only a formal democracy, but actually, in bourgeois society political power is primarily not in parliament. Parliament itself is basically a show. Political power is in the hands of the state, because bourgeois currents are essentially based on the deception of the masses, they confuse the concepts of the “state” and the “government”. They say that since the government was elected by the people, therefore the whole of this society and state are in the hands of the people! But this is not so! The fact is that first of all the government is a part of the state and the state has fixed elements lying behind the government. For example, the people never elect the chief of police. The chairmen of banks, heads of state bureaucracy, who have all matters in their hands, not the representative in parliament, always remain consistent. The main pillar of the capitalist state is this permanent and non-dismissible bureaucracy. Even in countries like America and in Europe, all these posts are appointed. In all decisive matters the government, in principle, does not determine anything. To be elected as the President, Prime Minister and other government officials requires the approval and need of financial institutions and banks. For example, if America’s Wall Street wants the candidate from a particular party to be elected the president, such huge financial resources are put into his/her campaign that the person is probably elected.

As a result, every four or five years, they launch a show that is actually for deceiving the masses. Iran’s liberal opposition wants to import such a “democracy” for the Iranian people from abroad!

No, Iran’s working class and toilers have no need for this form of “democracy”. Iran’s historical experience has shown that the bourgeois will not even tolerate such Western formal “democracy” in Iran. In contrast, the working class, with the formation of workers’ councils, has shown that it is able to provide socialist democracy to society. Just look at what America’s “democracy”, which is supposed to be the world’s “cradle of liberty”, has been doing recently. It has deployed an information surveillance system for the whole world, even its allies in Europe. Disclosures by a former employee of the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, have shown the international crimes of the Obama administration against the people of the world, including even its European allies. It is the mark of the dictatorship of a minority over society. Because of this humanitarian action Edward Snowden has had many threats from the American government. We do not want this form of bourgeois “democracy” (even if it is possible to realise) in Iran!

To defend this kind of formal western democracy the liberals say: “Look, there is no democracy in Iran, there are no free elections, therefore we have to resort to Western democracy, and export such a democracy to Iran.” They say: “See what repression rules the “communist” societies of the Soviet Union and China or Eastern Europe or Cuba. Communism means repression and subjugation of the people. Consequently, we must resort to Western democracy”!

These words are pure lies. In the Soviet Union, especially after 1925, and in China and Cuba, “socialist democracy” did not exist for various reasons (a detailed analysis of these societies lies outside today’s discussion; in previous discussions we have dealt in detail about the lessons and reasons of the defeat of the 1917 October revolution).

In fact, as mentioned, the equality that exists in bourgeois society, is equality for capitalism. In other words, the basic motto of the bourgeoisie in the West is: “To each according to the size of his capital.” That means that whoever has more money has a bigger role in decision-making. The existing capitalist states wish to preserve private property. Hence, if the masses take to the streets and say: “We accept political democracy, but we are also calling for economic democracy!” That means that we want to abolish private property, we want to replace it with social property, it means crossing a red line. Abolition of private property is the red line and will be suppressed in the strongest way with every force available. There should be no doubt that even in Sweden or in America or other western countries, if there are demonstrations demanding the abolition of private property, the police, the army and all sections of the bourgeois state will repress the working class and the toilers, to the extent of using armed conflict and shooting them (recently in a suburb of Stockholm in Sweden, young immigrants protested against poor conditions, using some violence, and were immediately confronted by a police crackdown). In these communities, the so-called “Cradle of Liberty”, the masses cannot basically raised issues about their underlying problems, because they do not have the necessary facilities. After more than two hundred years of exploitation, the working class in Western capitalist societies has not been able to make its voice heard. Therefore after more than 200 years the threats against workers, because of all the different advertisements of the bourgeoisie, have not reached a wide public audience. For all media, including radio, television and the press is focused mainly in the hands of the bourgeoisie (For example, in August 2010, the roof of the San Jose mine in Chile collapsed and 33 miners were trapped below ground at a depth of approximately 700 meters and 5 kilometres from the pit head. This is the modern form of slavery). The bourgeoisie says to the workers: “You are free to print your publication, you are free to talk, you are free to choose whoever you want to do”. Except that having the right and having the ability are different things. None of the workers’ financial institutions are able to compete with those of the capitalists. A “neutral” and “national” state should provide the same amount of money that it puts into capitalist media as to workers for their propaganda. However, it is not so. Because there is no real equality between capitalists and workers. As Marx would say, the dictatorship of the bourgeois reigns in these societies.

The question is this: why do capitalists acquiesce to this formal democracy? Because one of the cheapest ways of continuing their survival is in fact bourgeois democracy, otherwise they will be confronted with revolutions and then they would have to repress the mobilised masses and pay heavily. If a strike occurs, it will disrupt the economy and investors may lose large amounts of money. So, to continue their survival, they have to concede some points to keep control of the situation (and we must not forget that democratic demands such as the eight-hour day, women’s suffrage, universal suffrage, etc., are the result of struggles, where the working class paid for with its blood and the bourgeoisie did not just “award” them).
So the masses are deceived on a huge scale. To divert the consciousness of the masses and to postpone and neutralise revolution, they draw the people’s attention to minor issues. For example, in Britain they spend huge sums on the royal family, who actually do nothing (taxpayers spent almost $26 million on maintenance costs of palaces. $6.5 million on the royal train, helicopters and jets. $6.5 million on royal visits. In total, each year the Queen gets $83.8 million from the government and the estates and it is widely assumed she also receives a multi-million dollar income from her private portfolio of stocks and bonds). (4) Using huge budgets they divert the attention of youths to coverage of football tournaments. Large sums of money are spent to divert public opinion and to prevent socialist consciousness from being formed. In this way they can affect society and make the deception even deeper (in the US, six big corporations control 90% of the media). (5)

As a result, we do not want this kind of “democracy” and we want real democracy, our real democracy is not bourgeois democracy, our real democracy is socialist democracy and it goes far beyond the democracy that exists in bourgeois societies.

The concept of socialist democracy

The democracy that revolutionary Marxists have in mind is socialist democracy. Since the working class does not have anything to hide it also has no need for an ideology like “bourgeois democracy”. In other words, it does not accept bourgeois democracy as an ideology. (6) Unlike “bourgeois democracy”, socialist democracy hides nothing from the scrutiny of the masses. It is a democracy for all sections of society (because in the transition to socialism, social classes and conflicts between them should gradually disappear). It is a clear, explicit and clear democracy that is controlled by the majority of society, for the working class and all toilers in society, and not just a wealthy minority.

The “left” advocates of capitalism attempt to portray “bourgeois democracy” and “socialist democracy” as the same thing. Naturally, not only the middle classes of society but even the majority of the working class are tainted with this deviation and are deceived by it.
From the standpoint of revolutionary Marxists, these two types of “democracy” have nothing in common. Each serves a specific social class and is in conflict with another class. Unlike the view of liberals and the “democratic” bourgeoisie, “socialist democracy” is not only not the development of “bourgeois democracy”, but it is just the opposite of it. Bourgeois democracy is designed to preserve the rule of the bourgeoisie and to justify the capitalist system. Whereas socialist democracy is based on the intention to eliminate the system of exploitation and getting rid of the capitalist state. The struggle of the working class and toilers (and other oppressed layers) only finds its true expression when it is aimed at achieving socialism.

There are a few important points worth mentioning about socialist democracy. Unlike the liberal preachers, who claim that if socialist democracy is to be developed, it must be done peacefully and through the channels of bourgeois democracy and by supporting and strengthening bourgeois democracy, we say that basically socialist democracy has no connection with bourgeois democracy. These two are essentially alien to each other and are the dialectical negation of each other. Bourgeois democracy wants to preserve the exploitation of the working class and toilers, whereas socialist democracy wants to wipe out exploitation, and these two are completely separate and stand opposed to each other and there is no common ground between them. From Marx’s point of view, “democracy” and “socialism” were inseparable. This is Marx’s reply to all sectarian Stalinist currents and various currents that claim that democracy belongs to the bourgeois. In fact, Marx in all his writings from 1848, specifically sees the struggle for democracy as one of the effective and important ways to achieve socialism. In the Communist Manifesto Marx says: “… the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.” (7) This means that the struggle for democracy paves the way to socialism. So unlike the Stalinist left and contrary to the centrist currents that say “democracy” is bourgeois, Marx believed that democracy means socialism. Democracy belongs to the proletariat. Just as you can see in Iran, the first step and the first struggles of the proletariat and the working class are for its own democratic rights. And these democratic rights will lead them to socialist consciousness.

Therefore “democracy” belongs to the proletariat and not the bourgeoisie. Marx in many of his writings, especially after 1848 when he sees the bourgeoisie of Germany and France are not capable of realising their bourgeois democratic tasks, in the March 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League talks of permanent revolution. Because he reached the conclusion that the bourgeoisie had lost the ability to solve bourgeois democratic tasks, and fearing the proletariat, has gone over to the side of authoritarian and pre-capitalist currents. Because if it starts to solve the democratic tasks, it will see the proletariat standing against itself and in the struggle for democracy the proletariat will stand opposed to the bourgeoisie. Since then Marx specifically mentions “Democracy belongs to the proletariat”, that it is part of the life of the proletariat and the struggle for democracy, means the struggle for democratisation of the social system, the democratisation of all aspects of human life. And ultimately the democratisation of the state means revolution. According to Karl Marx, the socialist revolution cannot have any other meaning than this.

So when we talk about the democratisation of our social problems, it means that we want a socialist revolution, and it cannot have any other meaning. In addition, from 1853 onwards, in many of Marx’s own writings, he mainly does not use the term “democracy” and “bourgeoisie” together and used the term “liberalism” to describe the bourgeoisie. He said the liberals are no longer democrats and do not adhere to democracy. In other words, Marx views democracy as belonging to the proletarian. This is a very important and central issue and in fact the first step in the proletarian revolution is to fight for it.
This problem is also particularly true in Iranian society. In other words, the central question regarding reaching socialism in Iran is the struggle for democracy. This means that the working class of Iran, which has the specific experience of exercising democracy and building workers’ councils during the past revolution, is particularly in a position to be able to take the struggle for democracy forward until the overthrow of the regime and the building of socialist society. Despite all the problems that the working class has today, and despite all the problems facing the workers’ movement, it continues to be the only class that can achieve democracy and create democracy for all sections of society. All the currents that for whatever reason want freedom and democracy in this sense, should see that the quickest and shortest way for them is to strengthen the working class and support the preparation for a workers’ revolution and a socialist revolution.
In Iran, capitalism is more backward than the bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries. Iranian capitalism was imposed on society by imperialism and from above. The Iranian bourgeoisie, in contrast with the bourgeoisie of the West, which has a tradition of struggling against feudalism and had a belief in bourgeoisie democracy, is devoid of any democratic originality and tradition. It therefore cannot tolerate any kind of freedom and democracy. That is because any democratic opening would sound the alarm for the overthrow of the regime. For example, as soon as some relative democratic openings took place, the Shah’s military dictatorship was overthrown in a short time by the protests of millions. During the past century, experience has shown many times that the bourgeoisie of Iran (and other Third World countries), whichever way it appears (royal crown or clerical turban) has no choice but to take away all democratic freedoms to protect its interests. Within the framework of the international capitalist system, the Iranian bourgeoisie will never be able to develop the productive forces and fundamentally solve the economic and social issues – and thus will not tolerate any democratic openings. Petty bourgeois democracy will not be able to go beyond bourgeois democracy (the experience of the Nicaraguan revolution is a concrete example of this).

From this viewpoint, the problem of workers’ revolution is on the agenda of our society and we cannot wait for the liberal currents to bring the Swedish and American models of democracy to Iran for us. By no means can we expect the Iranian bourgeoisie to bring us democracy. We cannot wait for the petty bourgeoisie, which is a strike force of the bourgeoisie, to bring about democracy for us. Only the working class is able to resolve such tasks.

The expansion of democratic rights

Although from the historical perspective of the proletariat, “democracy” is nothing but a bourgeois tool to fool the masses, the working class (and toilers of society), in order to advance its anti-capitalist struggle, benefits from the relative democratic rights that have been gained in society and struggles to extend these rights.
However, the struggle of the working class and other oppressed layers (such as youth, women and oppressed nationalities) for democracy is quite different from the struggle of reformers for democracy. The proletariat takes its struggle beyond the realm of politics and uses it as a tool to abolish the capitalist system as a whole. In other words, ultimately the basic struggle of the working class is for the complete overthrow of the bourgeoisie and not to maintain and improve the existing situation.

Meanwhile, the struggle for democratic rights of the masses and realising their rights such as unemployment benefit, social security, paid leave, democratic rights such as the freedom of expression, the right to organise and strike, the freedom to establish trade unions and independent labour organisations, free education for women and men at all levels, respect for human rights and the right of any citizen to complain about and prosecute any government official in court, and so on, provides the practical experience and political and organisational training for workers. These experiences increase workers’ confidence and strengthen their spirit of militancy. Moreover, the struggle for “transitional” demands (such as workers’ control, opening the books of capitalists’ offices income and expenditure, etc.) that are not realisable in capitalism, open the path to more confrontation between workers and the capitalist state and prepare for the overthrow of the entire system. In a situation when even one bourgeois democratic regime (even the worst type) does not exist in society (like the current situation in Iran) popular insurrections and rebellions, will reflect the discontent of the masses and will prepare the ground for gaining practical experiences against the regime.

Reformist parties and organisations of various colours and hues indirectly resist workers’ independent action. Because their aim is to “reform” the existing system, not to overthrow it. They present today’s independent student and labour activity as “riots related to Western governments”. They are frightened of workers and students gaining experience, because without these experiences the Iranian people cannot be prepared for the overthrow. Recent experience of student protests has shown that all reformers (even Aghajari who was condemned to death!) forbid the students from action beyond the law.

To prepare for the overthrow of the regime and confronting reformist deviations, the Iranian working class needs to form its own organisations and political parties. Parties that have set themselves up as the “guardians” of the working class and see themselves as the “leaders” of the working class, without the slightest connection with the vanguard workers, and call on everyone to join their party, they certainly will not be able to organise the fight against reformism and prepare for the upcoming revolution.

The struggle for the realisation of socialist democracy (the highest form of democracy in the history of mankind) is linked with the complete overthrow of the capitalist ruling regime (including all its factions) and the fight against reformist ideas within the labour movement. This matter cannot be realised without forming a “revolutionary party vanguard” of advanced workers.

1- See Towards Twenty-First Century Marxism: Marxist Revival Project for breaking away from elitism and utopianism (a pamphlet in Persian).





6- Marxism: Ideology or Science?, a series of Marxist Revival discussions, 13 October  2013.



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