Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialism and Democracy

Socialism and Democracy

Democracy is bound-up with the establishment of socialism where democratic practices and procedures attain their fullest and most developed expression in the administration and affairs of men and women. Democracy will be the framework in which social and individual needs are met and developed. In particular, there will be the democratic control, under common ownership, of the means of the production and distribution of social wealth by all of society.

From a socialist perspective “democracy”, as defined by supporters of capitalism, is severely restricted and limited to the political not economic spheres of social life. Nevertheless, “political democracy” is useful to socialists in as much as it allows discussion and dissemination of socialist ideas and for the ability of workers to organise into a principled socialist political party. True democracy within capitalism is only to be found, though, in the actions of the Socialist Party of Great Britain whose constitution and day-to-day working procedures foreshadows the democratic society it wishes to see established.

How can capitalism be “democratic” when seen from the position of the workers whose votes politicians need to legitimise and maintain class rule and exploitation? Due to the private ownership of the means of production and distribution workers are forced to produce, within the productive process they are exploited producing more wealth than they receive in wages and salaries, what they produce is taken away from them and they and their families are denied direct access to products necessary to lead creative and worthwhile lives.

And political theorists, in their championing of “democracy” uncritically take for granted the principle features of capitalist politics; political leadership, the squabble over questions of taxation and trade through competing capitalist political parties, and the exercise of government, either in the interest of sections of the capitalist class or the capitalist class as a whole. All these features are either harmful or of no interest to the working class. And during war defence of “political democracy” has meant the coercion of workers through conscription under pain of imprisonment or death to kill and die for the interest of the employing class.

There is a belief held by some groups, like the so-called “neo-conservatives”, that “political democracy” is a superior form of government arrangement to be exported throughout the world particularly to countries currently living under various forms of dictatorship. The utopian fantasy behind this belief is that if all countries adopted the New World Order of the US there would be peace, prosperity and social harmony. Afghanistan and Iraq were two recent experiments in this type of thinking and so too was the support given to the “Arab Spring” against feudal despots all of which subsequently collapsed into the winter of an Isis Caliphate, terrorism, the rise of religious fundamentalism and military coups.

Capitalism and Democracy

Socialists are very sceptical to the point of disbelief about those who claim to be for “democracy”. Socialists do not unite with non-socialist organisations who claim to be democratic in their struggle to replace dictatorships and establish “democracy”, neither do socialists minimise the importance of democracy for the working class or the socialist movement; it is simply that we are convinced democracy cannot be defended or established in such a manner. “Democratic movements” supported by Western capitalism are not interested in establishing socialism only with replacing dictatorships and establishing a multi-party system within the framework of commodity production and exchange for profit. Why should socialists align themselves with political groups hostile to the interest of the working class?

And when “democracy” goes against the interest of foreign powers they quickly ignore democratic practice in order to get their own way. For years the US and Britain claimed that they had bought “democracy” to Iraq by deposing Saddam Hussain and had embraced the elected government as a model for the rest of the region to follow; training its military, supplying it with arms while at the same time coveting its oil. At the end of August 2014, in conjunction with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the US and the UK supported a silent coup against Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s democratically elected premier.

And as for the “neo-conservatives” with their utopian global vision of free trade, free markets and multi-party politics across the six continents of the world their action betray them we only have to consider the case of Tony Blair, one of the architects of the Iraq war which was supposed to bring “democracy” to the region. Instead of committing himself to the neo-conservative vision he signed up to when Prime Minister, he now receives large fees from oil-rich dictators. Blair’s company recently received an undisclosed sum for advising President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to portray the dictator in a good light after his government massacred unarmed demonstrators protesting against his autocratic rule (DAILY TELEGRAPH 23rd August 2014).

The “democratic West” also backed the overthrow by an unelected putsch of Ukraine’s elected President Yanukovych and in Egypt backed a military coup against the elected President Yoshiro Mori; so much for the principle of “democracy”. The West and its politicians are not interested in democracy as understood by socialists, only in other countries doing as they are told when oil and other strategic interests are threatened.

And the US and the UK have previous form. In 1953, the CIA worked with the UK government to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh’s “offence” was to attempt to nationalise Iran’s oil industry, thereby threatening the profits of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the oil interests of the US and UK governments.

Socialists have no time for the gangster politics of the Putin government, with its land-grab of the Crimea and its recent incursion into the Ukraine in support of Russian separatists in an attempt to form a land-corridor from the Crimea to Russia. The land corridor will end a dispute over the Kerch Strait and secure exclusive access for Gazprom to energy deposits in the Sea of Azov (What the Russian Troops would do once they get over the Ukrainian border, FOREIGN POLICY, 14 04.14). Nor do we lose much sleep over the demise of the former President, Viktor Yanukovych who was backed by billionaire oligarchs who seized and privatised companies after the collapse of the Soviet Union and who funded opposition politicians and protestors at the same time. Many of these oligarchs have moved themselves and their money to the new regime (GUARDIAN 29th January 2014).

Yet, the current Ukrainian government was helped into power by seasoned fascists like the political group Svobodo, whose platform was shared recently by a delegation of politicians from the US. And it appears that some of the Kiev street demonstrators were in the pay of the United States government and the EU whose end game is NATO patrolling the Ukrainian border with Russia, (

And there was no criticism in the West of the election of Turkey’s President Erdogan, who is more oppressive than Putin and who once, remarked “Democracy is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination then you step off” (FOREIGN AFFAIRS, 3. 8.13). Now that Erdogan has arrived at his political destination as President of Turkey, his election, no doubt, will be a catalyst for future demonstrations by those who fear his drift into political dictatorship with subsequent tear gas, rubber bullets, police batons, political prisoners, torture and general repression of anyone who opposes Erdogan and his radical Islamic agenda. The red carpet will still be unrolled on his visits to Washington, London and Luxembourg.

Democracy begins with the establishment of socialism

Of course, from a Socialist perspective the “democratic West” is in fact no such thing at all. Capitalism is defined by the private ownership of the means of production and distribution for profit to the exclusion of the rest of society; hardly democratic when what people need to live worthwhile lives is severely restricted and denied by the class-bound rationing of the wages system. Under capitalism production does not take place to directly meet human need. And what workers produce is taken away from them by the employers as private property to be bought and sold on the market for a profit.

Economic decisions within capitalism are not democratic. Commercial advertising undermines free and open debate, preventing the dissemination of transparent information by which to make informed decisions. As Orwell once remarked; advertising is merely “the stick that beats the bucket of swill”. The political decisions made by leaders acting as the “executive of the bourgeoisie” is mirrored in business where economic decisions are taken by boards of directors primarily looking after the interest of shareholders. Capitalism denies the majority in society from collectively deciding what to produce, under what conditions and for whom. What is produced under capitalism is structured within the imperatives of the market and profitability not in meeting human need.

Another fundamental departure from the politics of capitalism is the democratic use by socialists of delegation. Socialists long ago rejected “representative democracy” as being in a conservative tradition dating back to Edmund Burke. Socialists see delegation as a useful democratic mechanism within the organisation of a socialist party. The principle of delegation will also apply when a socialist majority begins to form within capitalism and when socialist delegates are sent by this majority to parliament to secure the machinery of government in order to abolish capitalism and establish socialism. And delegation will also apply to the way in which a future socialist society will conduct its social affairs. There will be no leadership, no cliques making unaccountable decisions, no underhand compromises and horse-trading behind closed doors and no stage-managed conferences making uninstructed policy which are then imposed on the rest of society.

Nor do socialists see “democracy” as just the protection by governments of minorities, a view advanced by writers like J. A. Schumpeter and Karl Popper who believe the unrestrained will of a majority has the potential for the establishment of a “dictatorship of the majority”. Behind this sentiment is the realisation that a socialist majority can and will use Parliament and the machinery of government to end class ownership of the means of production and distribution and there is nothing a capitalist minority and their supporters will be able to do about it. A socialist majority using the vote and socialist delegates in a revolutionary way will democratically end capitalism and the privilege of the minority capitalist class.

However, minority dissent will not be prevented from being heard in a socialist world. Different views in either solving problems or taking a particular course of action would be actively encouraged. After all, socialism will be defined by guiding principles; “the free development of each is the free development of all”, “from each according to ability to each according to need” and “the administration of things not people”. Everyone in socialism will have the access to clear and open information in order to make reaonable and informed decisions just as they will have the opportunity, either directly or through delegates, to comment and vote on issues around production and distribution. However a majority decision must prevail for anything to be done at all so long as such decision-making is in harmony with the principles that will define and inform a socialist society.

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