Workers Hammer No. 220

Autumn 2012


Marxists and democracy

Quote of the issue

The aspiration of the masses for democracy frequently gives rise to mass protests, particularly against dictatorial regimes. Under capitalism, the proletariat must utilise all the democratic institutions available to it against the bourgeoisie with a view to preparing the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. Writing during the imperialist carnage of World War I, Lenin explained that the struggle for democracy must culminate, not in reforms, but in the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Capitalism in general, imperialism in particular, transforms democracy into an illusion — and at the same time capitalism generates democratic tendencies among the masses, creates democratic institutions, accentuates the antagonism between imperialism, which repudiates democracy, and the masses which strive toward democracy. Capitalism and imperialism cannot be overthrown through any reforms — not even the most ‘ideal’ democratic reforms — but only through an economic overturn. But the proletariat which has not been educated in a struggle for democracy is incapable of accomplishing an economic overturn. Capitalism cannot be defeated without a seizure of banks, without abolishing private ownership of the means of production. These revolutionary measures, however, cannot be realized without the organization by the entire people of a democratic administration of the means of production which have been confiscated from the bourgeoisie, without attracting the entire mass of the working people — the proletarians, the semiproletarians, and the petty peasants — to a democratic organization of their ranks, their forces, their participation in the state government. The imperialist war is, we may say, a threefold repudiation of democracy ([a] every war replaces ‘rights’ with violence; [b] imperialism as such is a repudiation of democracy; [c] the imperialist war completely eradicates differences between republics and monarchies); but the awakening and the growth of the socialist insurrection against imperialism are inseparably bound up with the growth of democratic opposition and of revolt. Socialism leads toward the dying off of every state, consequently of every democracy; but socialism cannot be realized except through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which combines force against the bourgeoisie — the minority of the population — and a complete development of democracy — a really general participation, with equal rights, of the entire mass of the population in all the state affairs and in all complicated problems of liquidating capitalism.

— VI Lenin, “Reply to P. Kievsky (Piatakov)”, August-September 1916, in The Bolsheviks and the World War, Gankin and Fisher (1940)