State, Society, Party

Democracy is the Essence of Marxism

Arup Baisya

American socialist Hal Draper wrote, the two things are woven together in Marx's theory, which "moves in the direction of defining consistent democracy in socialist terms, and consistent socialism in democratic terms." Lenin intended to ensure democracy to prevail over centralism, but the idea inherent in the concept of Democratic centralism was dualistic with its functional separation and formulaic idea of interaction between centralism and democracy. The planned implementation from above and democracy of soviets from below in functioning of the state were separated in space and time and so was the functioning of the party. To achieve unity of the party by doing away with the factional groups since 1921 had become an attempt to homogenise the party through central command. These two phenomena cannot be justified in the pretext of an adverse international and domestic situation facing the building of socialism in Russia at that time because it contradicts the basic Marxist ideas of “emancipation of working class is conquered by themselves” and the emergence of communist society is guaranteed by the process of withering away of state and party. This initial aberration was the result of Leninist vanguardism which formulated the rise of socialist mass consciousness to be instilled from outside. At a later stage in post-Lenin era, Lenin's democratic centralism had degenerated into bureaucratic centralism in Russia.

The idea of vanguardism contradicts the field theory of consciousness. The active and living interaction between the communist party activists and the workers can occur when the workers can find the conscious communist elements within the range of the energy-field of consciousness generated from their own struggle that brings disparate elements closure together to form collective power. The socialist consciousness cannot be instilled from outside, it is emancipated through a social process of which communists are part and parcel. This is not socialist consciousness from outside, but it is a linkage inside. This linkage develops from a desire to bridge the social cleavages historically developed through alienation of labour from the nature. The deepest and diversified forms of alienation emerge in capitalist social relations of production. The desire to bridge the cleavages is objectively determined and linkages with communists are coincidence.

One fundamental category of Marxist way of dealing with the social reality and social change is the category of alienation. This alienation is diversified and deepened with the diversification of labour. The objectified results of workers’ past labour actually became the rulers and exploiters of today’s workers. The past created by workers becomes the ruler of the present. The labour becomes really subsumed to its own creation ‘capital’ which is dead labour and so also is the wealth in all pre-capitalist class divided society. Capitalism is the highest form of social relation in the history of society when it can only be replaced through a journey of bridging the gap and doing away with diverse forms of alienations. This journey is accompanied with a revolutionary break to seize the power from the classes that runs the system to maintain status quo and by the collective actor which is working class for eroding capitalism. The extreme and diverse forms of alienation of capitalist system are mediated between individuals as an abstraction by capital as commodities and abstraction by state as community. The individuals adhere to the capital’s market rule of exchange and state’s juridical rule of community. Here individual loses its identity as relation between one individual with other is mediated through commodity and the people loses their identity as the relation between the people is mediated through state. So to make the inverted world straight, the point is to appropriate alienated social power and to organise them as social powers. The project of practical re-appropriation is the only secure basis for democratisation. In this context only, Marx’s idea of communist society as described in Communist Manifesto as “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” becomes meaningful. Struggles to “democratise democracy” are thus pivotal to the prospects for eroding capitalism.

The more deeply democratic is the capitalist state, the greater the possibility of state policies supporting the conditions for non-capitalist alternatives, and the obverse is also true, that is, the lesser the democratic character of the state, the greater the possibility of state policies supporting pre-capitalist relations. The values like racism, religious bigotry, casteist parochialism, sectarian and chauvinistic identitarianism etc are the hallmark of the regressive nature of a bourgeois state policy curtailing democracy. The democracy under a bourgeois state extends in consonance with the increase of collective power of workers vis-à-vis social power and is dependent on the balance of forces and limited by the hegemony and dominance of bourgeois rule. In Jews question, Marx states that the limits of political emancipation are evident at once from the fact that the state can free itself from a restriction without man being really free from this restriction, that the state can be a republic without man being a free man. In the middle Ages, Marx writes, the economy is political and man is the basic principle of the state – but the “unfree man.” Then, as landed property and trade are freed from the medieval constraints, the material sphere becomes private and independent, which clears the way for a republican political system. The republic is the negation of monarchy but within the same sphere as monarchy, for it merely creates a heavenly beyond of political equality within an earthy framework of continuing inequality. This limitation of the bourgeois democracy is to be overcome by strengthening social power through collective mobilisation which bourgeois state restricts as the state appropriates the social power through indirect and passive 'participation' of the representative system. Thus extending democracy actually means the decentralisation and re-appropriation of power by the society. This re-appropriation of power by the society is preceded by the process of collective political emancipation of labour. This collective political emancipation of the labour is achieved through the denial of diverse forms of alienation of labour under capitalist social relations of production and also in pre-capitalist relations where labour is formally subsumed under capital.

Workers may accept the alienations of wage labour in return for sufficient access to commodities to fulfil their personal wants, needs and desires. Alienated wage labour may be offset by compensatory consumerism. Marx notes that endless capital accumulation rests on the endless production and reproduction of new wants, needs and desires backed by ability to pay. This is the reason why the collective emancipation of labour occurs during the deep crisis of capitalism as a world system. The systemic crisis entails disruption of the cycle of production and reproduction for capital accumulation and this further restricts the democracy of bourgeois state. For Marx, this conflict--between the expansion of democracy and the limitation of it--was an essential part of the class struggle.

The democracy can be extended beyond the restrictions of bourgeois state in a socialist state. Foundation of this socialist state must be the collective association of labour as observed by Marx in Paris Commune as a discovery of working class. The basic tenet of the socialism is the extension of democracy of the bourgeois state to do away with all coercive apparatus to replace alienated freedom with real freedom, mediated abstract social opinion by real concrete opinion. It’s a transition from the struggle for democracy in bourgeois state in socialist term to the struggle for socialism in socialist state in democratic terms.

A communist party with centralism at its core cannot lead the class struggle for democracy both in pre and post-revolutionary state. The communist party with elected representatives and leaders actually appropriates the opinion of the members similar to the state with representative democracy appropriates the alienated social power. The extending of democracy actually means the decentralisation and re-appropriation of power by the society from the state. Similarly the working class must also continuously re-appropriates the power of building opinion for the party, and for that, the struggle for decentralisation of decision making process and certain modalities to continuously ascertain the working class opinion which must be respected by the party and its central committee need to be ensured. One way to continue such struggle for democracy within the party is to ensure that the class organisations should not be in any form brought under the control of the party and this will, in turn, ensure the democratic interaction between class opinion and party opinion. If this policy is incorporated by a communist party, there will always be a need and effort for a single class organisation like trade union to achieve workers’ unity.

Formation of a party means that the individuals voluntarily agree to get one’s individual freedom to be subsumed under collective freedom. The formation of a party means that there exists a central committee without which there will be stalemate in the collective activity of the party as a whole. Thus the formation of party also means to create the essence of centralism in a structured format. The only difference with bourgeois party is that the communist party is a party of individuals who have a theory of mind to do revolutionary change to build communist society. This inherent trend of centralism of communist party must always be challenged by the struggle for democracy so that the opinion of the working class always prevail over the opinion of the central committee in decision making process and for this struggle for democracy, the diverse opinion of the individual, minority, group and faction must always be welcome and even after the final decision is reached, the divergent opinions must be allowed to be discussed, debated and published for public consumption. If this democratic space is guaranteed, the unified single party for communist revolutionaries can be envisaged.

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Vol 55, No. 26, Dec 25 - 31, 2022