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Fourth International, January-February 1953


Jean-Paul Martin

Democracy and Workers’ Rule


From Fourth International, Vol.14 No.1, January-February 1953, pp.25-31.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The classics of Marxism, from Marx to Lenin, definitely conceived the “dictatorship of the proletariat” not as the dictatorship of a “Jacobin” minority over the class hut on the contrary as the flowering of democracy for the whole proletarian class and for the strata of poor allied with it. On this score there can be no doubt whatever.

In order to obtain a clear understanding of the real meaning which they gave to the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” after its establishment, all that is necessary is to reread the texts attentively, those of Marx and Engels, as well as those by Lenin himself (especially his writings prior to the seizure of power in October 1917).

So far as the ideas of Marx and Engels on this question are concerned, no one can honestly challenge them. The foremost leaders of the Russian Mensheviks, Martov and Dan, delighted in emphasizing the evolution of Marx’s thought from a conception of the revolution and the regime it subsequently establishes that was slightly “jacobin” in the beginning to that expressed more completely by Engels in 1895 in his introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France.

“The epoch of bold forays, of revolutions made by small conscious minorities leading unconscious masses, is over. When a complete transformation of the social organization is involved, the masses themselves must participate and understand what is involved, why they must intervene. That is what the history of the past fifty years has taught us.”

The theoreticians of Russian and international Menshevism concentrated their fire mainly against the Russian Revolution, against the character and evolution of the regime established by Lenin. Basing themselves on the theory of the party as elaborated by Lenin in What Is To Be Done and also on certain formulations contained in the pamphlet One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward they expounded the idea that Bolshevism was an anti-Marxist doctrine, predicated on a political organization of the proletariat, and on a conception of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat which were essentially Jacobin, that is to say, upon a conscious active minority within the class, without widespread and effective democratic participation in political life of the this class, as well as of the other strata of poor allied with the proletariat.

In addition they established an organic link between the conception held by the Bolsheviks and Lenin, of the party, of the revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which led to their conclusion that “under the cover of Lenin’s ideas on organization were really concealed his ‘Jacobin’ conceptions on revolutionary development and on the dictatorship.” [1]

According to them the Russian Revolution was carried out in a Jacobin manner and installed a Jacobin regime.

The Menshevik View

Th. Dan, it is true, is willing to concede that this character assumed by the Russian revolution and its political regime is not due exclusively to the organization and ideas of Bolshevism but also to the objective conditions in Russia,

“the social, political and cultural conduct of the forces on which the Bolsheviks based themselves, forces which determined not only the ‘Jacobinism’ of the Bolshevik dictatorship, but also its subsequent tribulations ... From the birth of the dictatorship, the petty-bourgeois peasantry appears as the decisive force in the Russian Revolution (on which the active proletarian minority bases itself and to which it adapts itself) and it puts its imprint on the course of events.” [2]

Hence the birth of Stalinism, an organic product of Leninism, according to Dan.

Rosa Luxemburg who had, as we know, already criticized the organization of the Bolsheviks in the past and the ideas of What Is to Be Done, also formulated certain criticisms of the Russian Revolution but from an essentially different point of view from that of the theoreticians of Menshevism. [3]

Far from criticizing the activity of the Bolshevik Party in the period preceding the seizure of power and its firm orientation toward this objective, or from denying the proletarian and socialist character of the Russian Revolution, she considered, on the contrary, that:

“Lenin’s party was the only one which had grasped the mandate and duty of a truly revolutionary party and which, by the slogan – ‘All power in the hands of the proletariat and the peasantry,’ – insured the continued development of the revolution.” (p.14)

“Moreover the Bolsheviks immediately set as the aim of this seizure of power a complete far-reaching revolutionary program: not the safeguarding of bourgeois democracy, but a dictatorship of the proletariat for the purpose of realizing socialism. Thereby they won for themselves the imperishable historic distinction of having for the first time proclaimed the final aim of socialism as the direct program of practical politics.” (p.15)

Her criticisms regarding the Russian Revolution were aimed on the one hand against Lenin’s two slogans of division of the land and the rights of peoples to self-determination, which she wrongly considered as petty bourgeois, and on the other hand with regard to the democratic content of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is the latter aspect of her ciiticisms with which we are most concerned now.

Anyone who now strives to recapture the physiognomy of the Russian Revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat as it existed in Lenin’s time has difficulty in grasping its characteristic features and their modifications under very specific conditions, because of the monstrous disfigurement produced by almost three decades of bureaucratic degeneration.

The October Revolution had installed a political regime whose character, in the beginning at any rate, was that of a government not exclusively Bolshevik, based on democratic Soviets in which there were several political tendencies representing several legal Soviet parties. On the other hand, the majority Soviet party, the Bolshevik Party, far from representing a monolithic bureaucratically governed bloc, was in reality the most virile proletarian party, the richest in discussions and in tendencies which had ever existed. Let us recall several important facts and dates in the evolution of the political regime installed by the October Revolution.

The Revolutionary Regime After October

The Left Social Revolutionaries withdrew from the coalition government, formed with the Bolsheviks in March 1918, as a result of their disagreement over the Brest-Litovsk treaty. (They wanted to continue the war, and as petty bourgeois nationalists they denounced the concessions made to secure peace.)

But they remained a legal party outside the government, as did the Mensheviks and Right Social Revolutionaries.

The last two were temporarily outlawed during the same year, 1918, because of the connections of certain of their members with the White Guards, while the civil war was in full swing.

But the Mensheviks were authorized to become legal again in November 1918 when they promised to act as a loyal opposition within the framework of the Soviet regime.

The Social Revolutionaries were definitely outlawed following the action undertaken by this party in opposition to the Brest-Litovsk peace, in which they provoked the assassination of Count Mirbach, German ambassador, as well as a series of insurrections in various parts of the country, including Moscow. Finally, on August 30, they wounded Lenin himself and assassinated two other Soviet leaders: Uritsky and Volodarsky.

Nevertheless, a kind of libertarian spirit continued to exist both in the Soviets and in the party (especially in the latter) despite the civil war and until its conclusion in the middle of 1920.

It is from this time on, as the result of a new danger for the revolution arising out of the critical economic situation of the country, exhausted by civil war and isolated from the international revolution, that new measures restricting democracy were taken, this time affecting the life of the party itself.

The Tenth Congress of the Russian CP, which forbade the formation of any opposition groups or factions within the party, concides with the suppressed insurrection at Kronstadt in March 1921.

The famous discussion on the role of the trade unions, where Lenin defended their relative independence from the “workers state,” which already was suffering from “bureaucratic deformation,” dates back to this Congress.

Neither government by a single party, nor a regime of a single party in the country, nor the monolithic leading party, nor trade unions incorporated into the state apparatus, were in the program or initial intentions of the Bolshevik Party. That is the strict historial truth.

Concrete conditions, linked fundamentally to events set off by the civil war, in a USSR which remained deprived of the support of the advanced proletariat in the West, compelled the Bolshevik leadership and Lenin personally to take this or that measure at a given moment, but this was done provisionally and not in any final sense.

How Lenin Saw the Dictatorship

Lenin, in fact, never theorized that any of the measures to which he was compelled to resort were part of the real meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Trotsky mentions as an example in this connection that the decision of the Tenth Congress of the party forbidding factions had only an essentially provisional character in Lenin’s mind and it was understood and approved by the party exclusively in this sense. (L. Trotsky, The New Course)

Any discussion on the manner in which proletarian democracy was or was not applied in the USSR by the Bolshevik Party and by Lenin runs the risk of being without practical value if it is not placed in the context of the concrete historical conditions surrounding the first proletarian regime. The question is: could any other revolutionary regime placed in the same conditions have reacted differently without at the same time losing the revolution?

Unquestionably from, the standpoint of a pure application of proletarian democracy many errors were committed, and up to his death, Lenin personally never ceased to admit, affirm, and even to insist on the specifically Russian character of certain forms used by the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR. These forms, he conceded, were not necessarily valid for the revolution in other economically and culturally more advanced countries than Russia, and that not all the Russian experience of revolution was good for export.

But to what extent can the errors and “stupidities” – to use Lenin’s own term – committed by the Bolsheviks in power be attributed solely to the fact that they were compelled to deal in some way with the most pressing needs, in the given historical conditions, or risk seeing the revolution completely ruined, and not to a false interpretation, really tainted with “Jacobinism” in deeds, of the party, of the leadership of the revolution, and of the dictatorship of the proletariat?

The question of more than of academic interest at the present time.

The extraordinary degeneration of the proletarian power which has characterized the development of the Soviet regime established by the October Revolution in the USSR; the more recent experience acquired by the Yugoslav and Chinese Revolutions, as well as the fact that we are now witnessing an objectively higher phase of the proletarian revolution developing internationally, give an enormous, primary importance to this question of the real meaning of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and of the effective application of proletarian democracy.

These factors compel us to a critical reconsideration of the entire experience of the proletarian revolution since the Russian Revolution, to think these problems out anew and to draw certain conclusions from them. These are not artificial problems but are imperatively posed by the present situation; they are sufficiently matured, they are, in a word, necessary, that is to say, they have been prepared by all the previous development and experience.

The Criticisms of Rosa Luxemburg

If we return to the criticisms which Rosa Luxemburg made of the Bolsheviks, of Lenin and Trotsky in particular, it is because, unlike the Mensheviks, she took her stand regarding the Russian Revolution on the solid ground of the revolutionary proletariat, adopting this revolution as her own; because, also, some of her criticisms, at least, have never really been refuted either in writing or by events; because now, after so many years of experience, they seem to us singularly fresh and full of insight; because L. Trotsky himself reviewed some of these conceptions held in the revolutionary period.

For all these reasons, Rosa’s criticisms deserve to be recalled and warrant the effort of further consideration and study.

Rosa Luxemburg did not criticize the Bolsheviks from the standpoint of “formal democracy” but from that of the real meaning of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” regarded as a “dictatorship of the class, not that of a party or a clique – dictatorship of the class, that means in the broadest public form on the basis of the most active, unlimited participation of the mass of the people, of unlimited democracy.” (The Russian Revolution, p.53)

She started with the idea that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is not opposed to democracy in general, but to bourgeois democracy, a democracy which is limited and deformed insofar as the masses are concerned. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” does not reject the democratic element but completes it and develops it to the ultimate in the interests of the masses.

She repeated time and again that the essence of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a class dictatorship is to be found in “the active, free, energetic political life of the broadest popular masses,” in the “social activity of the masses” enjoying “unlimited political freedom.”

“Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion,” she thought, “life dies out in every public institution (including the Soviets, she added) becomes a mere semblance of life in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.” ( Ibid., p.47. My emphasis – J.-P.M.)

For the “dictatorship of the proletariat” to remain a class dictatorship it must be “the work of the class and not of a small minority leading in the name of the class – that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the popular masses.” (Ibid., p.54. My emphasis – J.-P.M.)

The Mechanism of Workers’ Democracy

What should the concrete mechanism be, according to Rosa Luxemburg, of such a manner of applying proletarian democracy under the regime of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”?

Although Rosa Luxemburg nowhere clearly indicates the whole of this mechanism it is not difficult to make a critical formulation of this as follows: The system of Soviets should be combined with a National Assembly elected by universal suffrage; authorization of parties; autonomy of the trade unions and all mass organizations in their relationship to the state.

Rosa Luxemburg criticized Lenin and especially Trotsky for having concluded from the necessary dissolution of the Constituent Assembly elected under Kerensky that “Constituent Assemblies in general were absolutely useless” even up to denying the value “of any popular representation whatsoever which might come from universal popular elections during the revolution.” (Ibid., p.35.)

She found, on the other hand, that to proclaim the right of universal suffrage and at the same time grant it “only to those who live by their own labor,” while society is still not yet economically in a position “to make possible for all who want to work an adequate civilized life on the basis of one’s own labor,” was “a non-viable improvisation,” a measure not consonant with the concrete social reality, a right which was not measured by the concrete economic and social conditions of the moment in accordance with “abstract schemas of justice.” It ran the risk of remaining an anachronism, and according to Rasa Luxemburg, that is what it was in effect. There was no effective exercise of universal suffrage.

Rosa Luxemburg conceded that the measures taken against “the entire middle class, the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia [who] boycotted the Soviet government for months, after the October Revolution, crippled communications, etc., opposed the workers’ government”: deprivation of political rights, of the economic means of existence, etc., were required “in order to break their resistance with an iron fist.” (Ibid., p.41)

But she appeared to be against such conjunctural measures becoming the “general rule of long-standing effect” of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The right of suffrage granted “to those who work” must at the same time imply, according to her, the effective possibility of the regime’s furnishing work to all those who want it.

Rosa Luxemburg, we must repeat, was completely conscious when making these criticisms of the unfavorable historical conditions which in some way had imposed these “deviations” on the Bolsheviks. She was sincerely convinced that they would have proceeded quite differently “were it not that they suffered under the frightful compulsion of the world war, the German occupation and all the abnormal difficulties connected therewith, things which were inevitably bound to distort any socialist policy, however imbued it might be with the best intentions and the finest principles.” She found, however, that “the danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity and want to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them; by these fateful circumstances” and want “to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics.” (Ibid.. pp.54, 55)

What Must We Say Today?

What criticisms of Rosa Luxemburg remain valid today? In the light of our acquired experience, what must the function of the real “dictatorship of the proletariat” be, conceived as a class dictatorship of the proletarian class allied with the other poor layers of the population?

Let us first take note that it was L. Trotsky himself, who, on the basis of the experience of the Russian Revolulion which after the death of Lenin entered a phase of accelerated bureaucratic degeneration, was first to review certain of these initial ideas and to draw conclusions along the lines of Rosa’s criticisms.

As soon as he saw the use which the epigones sought to make of the decision of the Tenth Congress of the Russian CP on the banning of factions, L. Trotsky began a vigorous struggle for the defense of the democratic essence of the Leninist Party of the proletariat against the theory of “monolithism” outlined by Zinoviev and practiced by Stalin.

This brilliant defense of the proletarian party, considered in its concrete relationships to the class on the one hand, and in the relationship between its ranks and leadership on the other, is among the best contributions of Leon Trotsky to the dialectical spirit of revolutionary Marxism. (See New Course, L. Trotsky)

It completes and strengthens Lenin’s theory of the party, which is fundamentally alien to the monstrous caricatures which are to be seen in the Stalinist parties today, beginning with that of the USSR.

Trotsky’s Review of the Problems of the State

Later, after L. Trotsky had given up hope of an internal reform of the Communist International and the Communist Parties, including the Russian CP, and had come to the opinion that Thermidor – that is to say, a stage of political reaction on the social foundations of the Revolution – had already been accomplished in the USSR, he formulated certain new opinions on how proletarian democracy would be reborn in the USSR.

In Revolution Betrayed, reconsidering the problems of the concrete experience of the USSR, he had already thought it necessary to combat the idea of the single party which was in no way inherent in the Bolshevik program, and to reaffirm that the banning of other parties, “obviously in conflict with the spirit of Soviet democracy, the leaders of Bolshevism regarded not as a principle but as an episodic act of self-defense.” (Revolution Betrayed, p.96)

In the same work, L. Trotsky, developing the program of the new political revolution required for the overthrow of the Soviet bureaucracy, believed that “a restoration of the right of criticism, and a genuine freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of freedom of Soviet parties, beginning with the party of Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions.” (p. 289)

Finally, in the Transition Program, in the chapter dealing with the situation in the USSR, this very important passage is included: “Democratization of the Soviets is impossible without legalisation of soviet parties. The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognise as soviet parties. (Transitional Program, p.51. My emphasis – J.-P.M.)

When L. Trotsky mentions the “resurrection” or “freedom” of the trade unions, he is obviously reviewing the positions he defended in his discussion with Lenin in 1921 and means to speak of their independence in relation to the State and governing party, that is to say, of their right to defend the interests of the workers on ocassion against the “Workers State” itself. (Which does not exist as such – “Workers State” – but more or less “bureaucratically deformed,” and this until its complete withering away, when there will no longer be any “State”).

Like Rosa Luxemburg, L. Trotsky, too, describes in somewhat summary fashion the mechanism: for the effective application of proletarian democracy, insofar as it is the essence of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” considered as a class dictatorship, presenting a few guiding ideas, but without a more complete analysis. This is due in our opinion to two fundamental reasons operating simultaneously: to” the lack of concrete experience on the course of socialist, development once the proletariat has taken power, and to the fact that the application of proletarian democracy in one manner or another, on one scale or another, is not established once and for all times in accordance with certain abstract schemas, as a matter of principle, but is dialectically dependent on the given historical conditions in which the class struggle unfolds in each country.

National Assembly and Universal Suffrage

Let us take for example the case of the National Assembly and universal suffrage which Rosa Luxemburg discussed.

Should Soviets and National Assembly be combined or opposed to one another or should Soviets and National Assembly be elected in different ways in order to attain a more authentic and direct representation by the masses? Who then will have the right to vote and in what degree? These questions cannot be resolved a priori for all countries and all circumstances in accordance with an abstract code of principles of proletarian democracy.

For example, particularly as regards the right to vote, it is obvious that the answer to this question may depend on the social character of the country, on the precise proportions of peasants, city petty-bourgeois, and workers, and on economic conditions which do or do not permit a guarantee of work to all those who want to work. Shall the petty-bourgeoisie of country and city, under an NEP regime where they continue to be small proprietors, trading more or less freely, have the same voting weight as the workers, agricultural laborers and landless peasants? Shall the bureaucracy and labor aristocracy have the same rights as the mass of workers?

In this connection, Trotsky had considered, for example, that “it is necessary to drive the bureaucracy and new aristocracy out of the Soviets.” (Ibid., p.51) “In the Soviets,” he added, “there is room only for representatives of the workers, rank-and-file collective farmers, peasants, and Red Army men.” The right to vote should be restricted to these layers of the population.

It can be seen from all this how complicated the question is.

Nevertheless, it seems to us that ithe manner of effectively applying proletarian democracy, as the essence of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” considered as the dictatorship of the working class in alliance with the other layers of poor in the population, will not be determined in an arbitrary way but that it falls within a generally applicable guiding framework.

This framework is as follows: Organisms representative of the masses able to exercise their direct control right up to the top of the State apparatus. Legalisation of all soviet parties; genuine regime of democratic centralism in the revolutionary party; independence of the trade unions in relation to the State apparatus and the parties.

Let us analyze the more precise meaning of these elements.

The Aim Is Popular Control

Whether based on a system exclusively of Soviets or on one combining them, with a National Assembly, the important thing is to avoid establishment of a practice in which the lowier, local, or even regional ranks have only some crumbs in the real control and leadership of the State and of the economy, but that they shall have as direct an influence as possible on the government itself.

Such a government must be subject to the constant control of a body which is as democratic and representative as possible and which designates it and recalls it. In an exclusively Soviet system, this should be the supreme Soviet replacing the bourgeois parliament or the national assembly elected by direct suffrage.

The legalization of all soviet parties means the right and possibility for all tendencies within the working class and its allies to constitute themselves as distinct parties so long as these tendencies do not challenge the social foundations of the revolution. This measure is theoretically justified by the following reasons: heterogeneity of the working class which will disappear only in the general process of the disappearance of classes and of the State in the evolution of socialist society; the fact that “practical realization of socialism,” as Rosa Luxemburg wrote so correctly, “as an economic, social and juridical system, is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future. What we possess in our program is nothing but

a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look for the necessary measures, and the indications are mainly negative in character at that. Thus, we know more or less what we must eliminate at the outset in order to free the road for a socialist economy. But when it comes to the nature of the thousand concrete, practical measures, large and small, necessary to introduce socialist principles into economy, law and all social relationships, there is no key in any Socialist party program or textbook. (Russian Revolution, pp.45, 46)

A regime of democratic centralism within the revolutionary party means the possibility of forming tendencies, temporary currents of opinion which are occasionaly in disagreement with the line of the party leadership. In case these currents, crystallizing, become factions and prove themselves incompatible with existence in the same party which, while democratic, does not cease to be centralist, they shall have the possibility of constituting themselves a distinct political party.

Finally, trade union independence from the State and political parties does not mean that fractions of these parties within the trade unions should not struggle for political influence, but only that neither the workers’ state nor any workers’ party must identify itself with the unions and incorporate their apparatus into its own apparatus. Without that there can be no guarantee that the trade unions can remain the widest organizations of the proletariat defending its interests even as against the “workers’ state” itself.

Importance of Multiple Party System

Of all the elements entering into the effective application of proletarian democracy, essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the most important for the effective functioning of the whole mechanism appears to us to be the legalization of all soviet parties.

In fact if we take the trouble to reflect on the theoretical aspect of the problem, as well as on the experience which the proletarian revolution has gone through up to now, only the possibility of eventually constituting several soviet parties gives the whole of proletarian democracy its real meaning and all its effectiveness. Without the possibility for the different currents of opinions which can eventually appear within the working class which takes power to constitute themselves as distinct parties and thereby influence the whole of political life in the country, there is the danger, despite the best intentions, of the theory and practice of a paternalistic regime for the class, which will favor only one of its sections.

Pursuing such a practice, which is that of the single party, there no longer exists any guarantees that this party will effectively represent its class (even if such were the case at a given moment) and will enjoy its confidence. For this to be true, the class must at every moment have the possibility of expressing itself in a different political way, to promote and organize other parties, to choose other parties, to vote for other parties.

The political party remains the highest formation in class consciousness and its best instrument for effective action. No other form of organization, neither the Soviets, the trade unions, nor the various Fronts of Stalinist practice, which were repeated by both the Yugoslavs and the Chinese, can replace the political party.

If only a section of the class has the possibility of constituting itself as a political party and in that guise setting itself up against the remainder of the class, it can easily dominate all these other organizations, thanks to the superiority of national organization acting uniformly on the basis of a program and a line embracing all of the problems of the class.

Confronted by such a political formation of a section of the class, the rest of it appears atomized, restricted in its views, local in its interests, hesitant, unable to express and defend its interests and views, which may be in opposition to those of the single party, in a coherent, that is to say political way on a national scale. The dictatorship of the class inevitably degenerates under such a regime into a “Jacobin” dictatorship and the whole fabric of proletarian democracy becomes warped.

In order that the Soviets should remain genuinely alive and democratic, that a national representative body, supreme Soviet or National Assembly, should determine the government, that the internal regime of the revolutionary party should not degenerate into “monolithism,” that the trade unions should remain really free, there must be the possibility of several legal soviet parties.

It is through them that the free play of opposing opinions can be exercised which will yield the genuine freedom which is “always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently” (R. Luxemburg).

We mean that it is necessary that such a possibility should exist, for we do not believe that the various soviet parties should be promoted and organized artificially.

The revolutionary party representing the consciousness of the vanguard of the class can remain the only party [4], or the party of the overwhelming majority of the class, but this must be ratified by the class itself, by the continued confidence which the class places in the party under conditions allowing the former to decide differently if it so wishes. The revolutionary party must prove itself by submitting itself to the constant judgment of the class.

The Distortion of Monolithism

Every attempt to substitute the party for the class, to flee its free verdict, to place it somehow under tutelage, and to limit its constant control over all the party’s political manifestations, is a practice contrary to a Marxist-revolutionary, healthy understanding of the concrete relations between the class and the party, and of the essence of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a class dictatorship.

Stalinism has naturally erected into a principle the system of the single party as well as that of the monolithic party. It thereby expresses the incompatibility of the rule of the Soviet bureaucracy, a privileged social caste raised above the broad Soviet masses, with the very minimum of democracy for the latter.

But now the Yugoslavs, who nevertheless make such a lot of noise about the accelerated “withering away” of their state, of the de-bureaucratization of its apparatus, of the decentralization of its political and economic functions, remain among the fiercest defenders of the system of the single party and set it up as a specific characteristic of genuine proletarian democracy in the socialist regime.

“The first task of the revolution,” Tito asserts in Tito, by V. Dedijer, “will consist of liquidating the multi-party system.” It will be replaced, according to the Yugoslav leaders, by the single party on the one hand, and a broad organization of the masses, a front embracing communists and non-communists at the same time, but all struggling for one goal: socialism.

Several parties, Tito argues, “mean several programs, and in our country there is but one program: to create a socialist society. This program unites the vast majority of the citizens of our country.”

The arguments which Kardelj uses elsewhere are the same: one goal, one party. (The State and Democracy)

Legitimate Differences and Their Resolution

However, we have already presented the theoretical reasons relating to the heterogenous nature of the working class, and the uncertainty concerning the means for attaining socialism, which refute these arguments of the Yugoslavs. Though the goal may be a single one for all of the proletariat and its allied poor layers, there can be several different orientations within the class concerning the means for reaching it. On the other hand, in undertaking one or another road for reaching the goal, one or another particular layer of the class will be favored to the necessary detriment of certain others, and this will also not fail to provoke various differences.

For example, the question of industrialization as well as that of collectivization of agricultural economy, the sectors to be favored in industry, the tempo of development of each sector, the methods to be used in order to pass from individual agricultural property to cooperation or collectivism, finally, the foreign policy of the worker’s state – are so many matters on which the various layers of the class can have different opinions and orientations during a whole period.

How can these questions be brought out and successfully resolved under the system of a single party which moreover excludes tendencies which are occasionally opposed to the line of the leadership, or under some sort of Front, which is not a unified front of distinct parties, but a single organization (also excluding tendencies organized on a national scale and which are occasionally opposed to the line of the leadership)?

The theory of the Yugoslavs is all the more indefensible and in reality hypocritical because it is combined not only with a declaration of the “withering away” of the state, which according to them! is taking place almost “at a gallop,” but also with an entirely different practice.

The “withering away” of the state is a political process which cannot pass over the stages ‘determined by the effective withering away of the objective causes which give birth to the division of society into classes. In the final analysis it is a question of the effective suppression of economic inequalities by a superior development of the productive forces and finding the high road to abundance.

Can they really make anyone believe that Yugoslavia is in the remotest degree nearing such a stage and thereby justify in this only possible way the “withering away,” however rapid they want to make us believe, of the state? On the other hand, to the degree that the state begins to “wither away” in reality, this should be reflected in the political sphere by the expansion of political democracy and not by its contraction.

The evolution of the dictatorship of the proletariat takes place through the expansion of political democracy up to the complete withering away even of this form. Let us remain, however, at the stage of the expansion of democracy, wherein the withering away of the state is politically manifested. This can only mean increased freedom in all organs of the masses and the revolutionary party. The possibility for the class to promote and organize other parties if it so wishes, as well as for tendencies within the party to appear which are occasionally opposed to the line of the leadership, far from disappearing must become all the more complete.

Are we even remotely witnessing such a process in Yugoslavia? One must possess an unusual amount of ignorance, mental simplicity, or hypocrisy in order to assert this. The Yugoslav Party has become more “monolithic” than ever, more “bureaucratic” than ever to the degree that it only follows the policy of the leading group which controls and directs both it and all the other organizations of the country from the top. “Free” expression of opinion is allowed on local, practical questions concerning application of the line, but the expression and organization of national political tendencies is as strictly forbidden as in the USSR and its satellites.

The New Scope of the Problem Today

The “Jacobin” and subsequently beureaucratic deformation of the workers’ power which marked the first proletarian revolution was in a sense inevitable in the precise historical conditions of the time.

At present, after the Second World War, the liberation of a third of humanity from the capitalist system, the sharpened crisis of the later, and the trtemendous rise of the international revolution, the question appears in an entirely different light.

We must now start from the conviction that the objective course toward the world revolution has become practically irreversible and irresistible, and no temporary defeat here or there, even a temporary loss of power here or there, can be decisive internationally, and consequently, final locally; that the force of the revolution is immense, and that the proletarian power does not have to submit to any limitation in the expression of its real nature: that of being the widest democracy for the class. On the contrary, it is by giving full scope to this precise content that the dynamic of the revolution will be accelerated and its final and total triumph will be facilitated.

No justification therefore can be given to a bureaucratic regime which theorizes the political expropriation of the class.

The mechanism of proletarian democracy as we have described it is valid for the USSR today as well as for all the countries which have thrown off the yoke of capitalism. Let this constitute our program for all these countries, and let us declare this very loudly and with greater assurance than ever. Let the Trotskyists inscribe it in their program for the political revolution which they are urging in the USSR and in its satellites, as well as in Yugoslavia. Let this be the orientation of the Chinese Revolution and the proletarian revolution in all countries.

March 2, 1953


1. Th. Dan, The Russian Socialists and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Lecture at Brussels, December 1932.

2. Ibid.

3. R. Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (Workers Age Publishers, New York 1940).

4. It has the greater chance of playing this role the more it maintains a healthy internal regime capable of containing tendencies occasionally opposed to the line of the leadership. On the other hand, since there can be no question of transforming the party into an arena of permanent discussion paralyzing its activity, every faction which asserts the impossibility of coexistence in the same party, will have the possibility to constitute itself as a separate party. The verdict of the class will decide its viability.

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