Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Democracy Under Socialism

                                                                                                                                Dhruba Chowdhary

Democracy Under Socialism
Dhruba Chowdhary
Globalisation has been completed in one aspect. Throughout the world the imperialist forces and their well-groomed intelligentia have been successful in creating an atmosphere that communism has failed and capitalism is the end of civilisation. They are successful in the sense Jean Paul Sartre in his famous introduction to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth observed that the intelligensia in the colonies and semi colonies echo the words taught by their masters. Sartre in a sarcastic manner said that when the metropolis cries "Parthenon", echo reverberates in the colonies and semicolonies "...thenon". Now after the failure of socialism in the USSR and China, imperialist powers have been professing socialism is dead. They are thundering with great joy that socialism meant dictatership, that there was no democracy in the socialist states. The intelligensia, the state sponsored intelligensia, in colonies and semicolonies have been repeating the same.
But the problem is not the propaganda of the imperialists. They have been demonising and acting with great impunity to destroy socialism and socialist states from the inception. The problem is that Marxist-Leninists in many countries getting overwhelmed by the imperialist propaganda and the failure of socialism in the USSR and China have also started believing that if not a dictatorship of Hitler type fascism, socialist states also lacked democracy, which was some sort of dictatorship. Being Marxist-Leninists they know that communists disdain to conceal their aims and communists had always been defining socialism as dictatorship of the proletariat, but they argue that even proletariat and people did not have democracy. It was a dictatorship of the communist party in the name of the proletariat or the people. Their problem is that they do not take recourse to analyse the real practice of socialism and develop a scientific outlook of where were the real problems that finally developed into the failure. They start of the Utopean idea of withering away of the state". Some of them develop an anarchist theory of development, and some of them reach a self contradictory position of arguing for a ‘multiparty democracy’ which in no way have any coherrence with their own position of ‘withering away of state’ from the beginning. This is not to say or prove that everything was all right in the practice of socialism in the USSR or China, but to assert that we will have to find out in a scientific manner where did it actually ignored the background that should have to be taken into cognizance. It will not be out of context to quote J.B.S. Halden this scientific outlook. Haiden said - "We study some thing or some process in isolation, we produce a theory and we find the theory is unsatisfactory because we have ignored the background. Now afterwards it is very easy for any critic to say, "well, your original theory was just a piece of absurdity. Anyone could tell that it was not going to work!. Unfortunately, in practice we find that until we had produced a theory which worked up to a point and then broke down, we could not tell what elemenets we have ignored and should not have ignored."
One scientific example can be given here. Newton started the corpuscular theory of light and Laplace after establishing the corpuscles of light travelling in straight line declared that he has banished God from system of nature. But within a century while observing distant light through Maslin or passing light through minute parallel obstacles that theory was discarded and Huyghen came out with the wave theory. But at the end of nineteenth century it was proved that light has mass and which acts on reflector. After the discovery of Plants constant and Einstein’s theory, quantum theory of light has been established.
Does that mean Laplace’s theory was absurd or his assertion of banishing God from the system of nature was absurd? Any scientific critic will assertively declare that it was nothing like that, rather it was a revolutionary step forward, though certain aspects were not, may be was not possible till then to be, taken into consideration. At the same time only persons having no scientific understanding but bragging to pass themselves as scientists, will still claim that whatever laplace said was the final in the theory of light.
Similarly while trying to findout the reasons of failure of socialism, we will have to find the objective background where socialism was practised and also find out what were the objective reasons which were not or could not be considered in the practice of development of socialism. At the same time claiming that everything was allright and just because the death of Stalin or Mao, socialism failed in the USSR or China repectively is nothing but attempt of posing oneself as scientific Marxist-Leninists which the person is not.
With this introduction let us attempt to find out the developments of the USSR, how far democratic was the socialism practised there, was there any lacking at any point of development, if so then what were reasons, why was that not corrected, where were the lacunal in the theory of practice of socialism and so on. Our discussion will be concentrated on the developments of the USSR for brevity’s sake, but at times references to socialist China will also be there. We shall try to limit ourselves on the democracy practised in the USSR, not the other aspects like economic developments under socialism, development of science, planning, transport and communication and so on. We shall also not delve into the development of education, culture, languages under socialism. Except in cases of necessity foreign relation and relations with fraternal parties will also not be discussed. It is true that all these from development of industry and agriculture to development of foreign relations have connection with the internal democracy of a society, yet going into details of them may abfuscate the focus of discussion, so unless in extreme necessity those will not be touched.
1917 October (November) Revolution and Constituent Assembly
Lenin’s April Thesis and developments after that is known to all. While putting forward his thesis for a revolution in a backward capitalist country where bourgeois democracy could not find its root after overthrowing tsarist autocracy Lenin characterised the situation existing in April 1917 as- "The peculiar feature of the present situation in Russia is the transition at a dizzy speed from the first method (method of violent oppression practised by Nicholas Romanov I and Nicholas II) to the second (The mehod of deception flattery, fine phrases, promises by the million, petty sops, and concessions of the unessential while retaining the essential), from violent oppression of the people to flattering and decieving the people by promises" [Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, selected works, vol-2, P-43). The basic call was to overthrow the bourgeois rule carried on by the provisional government by "all power to soviets", From April to October, there was a turmoil in Russia, - First world war was going on, people were starving, soldiers were dissenting, workers were restless, the goverment was acting at the behest of capitalists. Bolsheviks had to patiently work to rally the workers, soldiers, agricultural workers for assuming power through the soviets. Those who question the democratic nature of the Russian revolution (democratic in the sense, active pupular support) forget that for the preparation of the insurrection as the Bolsheviks had been fighting against so called ‘social democrats’ (mensheviks) and socialist revolutionaries, they have been fighting against the wavers within the party. Yet the leadership patiently and perseveringly tried to convince the opposition why it was the only progressive step forward in the Russian society. One may recall that just on the eve of 25 October, on October 10, the central committee of the Bolsheviks decided to prepare for an insurrection on the basis of a majority vote and appointed a ‘political bureau’ to carryout the decision. In that political bureau of seven persons (Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Stalin, Sokolnikov and Bubnov) two (Zinoviev and Kamenev) voted against the resolution. On 16 December a military-revolutionary centre consisting of Sverdlov, Stalin, Bubnov, Uritsky and Dzerzhinsky was formed. Kamenev resigned from the Central Committee and on 18 October published a letter by him as well as Zinoviev, in a non-party Left journal, Novaya Zhizn against the decision. It was not only a breach of party discipline but also betrayal. True, at that time "in the state of disorganisation and impotence into which the Provisional Government had fallen the disclosure of preparations for an insurrection against it was perhaps likely to intensify panic as to provoke effective counter-measures" [E.H. Carr, History of Soviet Russia, Bolshevik Revolution I, P 107]. Even after that they were not expelled from the party, although Lenin wanted them to be expelled and Kamenev’s resignation from Central Committee was accepted and both were warned. Moreover both of them were present when the Central Committee gave final touches to the insurrectionary move. On 25 October/7 November 1917, power was seized by almost a bloodless insurrection by the Bolsheviks, but very soon the Bolsheviks started an open negotiation with the Mensheviks and S.Rs for a coalition government of all parties represented in the soviets.
One of the first acts of the Sovnarkom (Soviet Narodnykh Komissarov, Counsil of People’s Commisions) was to hold the election for the constituent Assembly in which of the 707 members 410 were SR’s, 175 were Bolsheviks, ‘national groups’ had 84 of which Ukrainins were largest) Kadets, the bourgeois party won 17, and Mensheviks only 16. But S.R’s were not a homogenous group. Left S.Rs who represented the poor peasantry and agricultural workers supported the Bolsheviks and joined Sovnarkom. This created a most contradictory situation in the Consituent Assembly. The ratio of representatives in the constituent Assembly was 370 Right SRs to only 40 left SRs. The SRs fought the election as a party with a single list of candidates. The manifesto was prepared before the revolution, so it did not present a definite attitude towards revolution. Now after the election larger section had split away to form a coalition with the Bolsheviks while a smaller section was bitterly fighting not only the Bolsheviks but were conspiring for a counter-revolution. According to E.H.Carr, "The proportion between right and left SRs in the constituent assembly was fortuitous. It was entirely different from the corresponding proportion in the membership of the peasant’s congress and did not necessarily represent the views of electors on a vital point which had not been before them" [Ibid, P121] Lenin described the situation as- ‘The people voted for a party which no longer existed.’ [Quoted by E.H. Carr, Ibid P121]
After the constituent Assembly elections, the reactionary forces getting encouraged by the result, started open counter-revolutionary moves. Kadets started acting as ‘legal cover’ for the Kadet-Kaledin counter revolutionary insurrections. At that point sovnarcom, not the Bolsheviks alone, declared Kadet’s a party of enemies of the people. Even though the Right SRs and many Mensheviks had been supporting the Kadets, no measures were taken against them. The Russian capitalists aided by the British and French imperialists dreamt of return to power utilising the Constituent Assembly though the party representing them, Kadets, was a miniscule minority. They relied on the support of the petty bourgeois waveres like Right SRs and Mensheviks. Sovnarkom’s effort was to win over these latter forces.
The question to be answered was whether "all power to the soviets" will be recognised by the Constituent Assembly. If it conceded that point, it would mean abdication of its position as the governing body of the state, which the bourgeoisie wanted to force as democracy. While the real representatives of the people- workers, soldiers and peasants’ deputies- will lose power, bourgeoisie will be back into power. Mensheviks thought it was proper because a prolonged bourgeois democracy was a necessary condition. With this theory they started opposing the rule of the soviets. Yet efforts were made to avoid dissolution of the constituent Assembly. On January 18, 1918, All Russian Central Executive Committee drafted a Declaration of Rights of the Toiling and Exploited people which announced:
(1) "Russia is declared a Republic of soviets of workers" Soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies. All power in the centre and local belong to these soviets.
(2) The Russian Soviet Republic is established on the basis of a free union of free nations, as a federation of national soviet republics"
The ARCEC sent this declaration along with a resolution to be accepted by the Constituent Assembly. The resolution read- "Being elected on the basis of party lists compiled before the October Revoluton when the people could not yet rise in its masses against the exploiters and, not having yet experienced the full force of the resistance of the exploiters in defence of their class privileges, had not yet undertaken the practical form of building a socialist society, the Constituent Assembly would think it fundamentally incorrect, even from formed standpoint, to set itself against the soviet power....
"Supportting the soviet power and the decrees of the council of People’s Commissars, the Constituent Assembly recognises that its tasks are confined to the general working out of the fundamental principles of the socialist reconstruction of society."
Thus the question was whether the constituent Assembly would act as an agent of the Soviet power or the Soviet power would abdicate itself of the tasks of revolution and hand over power to counter-revolution.
The Constituent Assembly with its majority with the Right SRs and Mensheviks went on evading the question and unabated speech making went on for nearly twelve hours ignoring the soviet declaration. Then through a majority decision (237-138) The constituent Assembly rejected to discuss the declaration in favour of a motion of Right SRs to discuss current questions of policy. Even then debate continued, but the more the debate went on more unmasked was the counter-revolutionary position of the majority in the constituent Assembly. Then first the Bolshevik representatives, then Left SRs left. Finally the Assembly was closed because "the guard was tired" That was the end of Contituent Assembly.
From then on till today the imperialist world has been talking about the undermocratic dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. Their Class interest was to undo the seizure of power by the soviets and return of the capitalist rule through the Constituent Assembly. But when today Marxist-Leninist almost echo the same sentiment in the name of ‘democracy’, in the name of "multi-party democracy" based on adult suffrage, it is difficult to understand what they really mean? Do they feel that the seeds of future failure of socialism in the USSR was sown in the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly? If so, then do they really stand for the October Revolution with is call for "all power to the soviets" Do they mean the Constituent Assembly was more democratic than the elected representation or deputies of the Soviets?
Here we must add that the historical account given above is almost a summary even to the point of plagianism of E.H. Carr’s account of the situation. We may quote his observation on the dissolution also- ".... the act of dissolution passed almost without protest" [Ibid, P130]. So those who claim that Bolsheviks usurped state power in the name of the people are grossly ill-informed about the situation at that time.
At that situation Lenin’s comment was the real democratic as well as marxist voice, it was the voice of the people. Lenin said- "Every direct or indirect attempt to consider the question of the Constituent Assembly from a formal, legal point of view, within the framework of ordinary bourgeois democracy and disregarding class struggle and civil war, would be a betrayal of the proletariat’s cause, and adoption of bourgeois standpoint" [Lenin, Thesis on the Constituent Assembly, .......]

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