Excerpts from the Classics: Democracy, Fascism and the State

November 12, 2002

3. Democracy, Fascism and the State

This section begins with Engels and Lenin discussing the role of the state and democracy, as a form of the state and its class characteristics. Lenin then discusses the importance of democracy and the fight for it under capitalism. A class approach to freedom, equality and democracy is discussed. There follows a discussion of democracy under socialism, the initial advances in democracy, problems of its implementation and Lenin’s attitude toward solving those problems, including his attempt to remove Stalin shortly before his death. There is also a brief quote from Lenin indicating how he then saw the relationship between the Communist Party and the state.

Since fascism developed primarily after Lenin, the subject of this form of the capitalist state, its nature and how to fight the fascist danger is dealt with through excerpts from the Report of Georgi Dimitrov to the 7th World Congress of the Communist International (CI) in 1935. Dimitrov, the leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party, was the General Secretary of the CI. He had experienced fascism first hand in his famous trial by the Nazis who had framed him for burning down the Reichstag. A world-wide campaign and his own brilliant court-room defense had freed him. “The highest form of the state, the democratic republic, which under our modern conditions of society is more and more becoming an inevitable necessity, and is the form of the state in which alone the last decisive struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie can be fought out – the democratic republic officially knows nothing any more of property distinctions. In it wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely…the possessing class rules directly through the medium of universal suffrage. As long as the oppressed class, in our case, therefore, the proletariat is not yet ripe to emancipate itself, it will in its majority regard the existing order of society as the only one possible and, politically, will form the tail of the capitalist class, its extreme Left wing. To the extent, however, that this class matures for its self-emancipation, it constitutes itself as its own party and elects its own representatives, and not those of the capitalists. Thus, universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the present-day state; but that is sufficient…

“The state, then, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state and state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity owing to this split. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes not only will have ceased to be a necessity, but will become a positive hindrance to production. They will fall as inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage. Along with them the state will inevitably fall. Society which will reorganize production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will put the whole machinery of state where it will then belong: into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning-wheel and the bronze axe.”

Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property & the State, May 1884, MECW, Vol.26, pp.271-72; IP 1972 Ed, pp.231-32

“…when we founded a big newspaper in Germany, our banner was determined as a matter of course. It could only be that of democracy, but that of democracy which everywhere emphasized in every point to specific proletarian character which it could not yet inscribe once for all on its banner. If we did not want to do that, if we did not want to take up the movement, adhere to its already existing, most advanced, actually proletarian side and to push it further, then there was nothing left for us to do but to preach communism in a little provincial sheet and to found a tiny sect instead of a great party of action.”

Engels, Marx & the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, March 1884, MESW, Vol.3, pp.165; MECW, Vol.26, p.122

“Political liberty will not at once deliver the working people from poverty, but it will give the workers a weapon with which to fight poverty. There is no other means and there can be no other means of fighting poverty except the unity of the workers themselves. But millions of people can not unite unless there is political liberty.”

Lenin, To the Rural Poor, March 1903, CW, Vol.6, p.369

“To the proletariat the struggle for political liberty and a democratic republic in a bourgeois society is only one of the necessary stages in the struggle for the social revolution which will overthrow the bourgeois system. Strictly differentiating between stages that are essentially different, soberly examining the conditions under which they manifest themselves, does not at all mean indefinitely postponing one’s ultimate aim, or slowing down one’s progress in advance. On the contrary, it is for the purpose of accelerating the advance and of achieving the ultimate aim as quickly and securely as possible that it is necessary to understand the relation of classes in modern society. Nothing but disillusionment and unending vacillation await those who shun the allegedly one-sided class point of view, who would be socialists, yet are afraid openly to call the impending revolution in Russia – the revolution that has begun in Russia – a bourgeois revolution.”

Lenin, The Autocracy & the Proletariat, Jan.4, 1905, CW, Vol.8, pp.23-24

“Whosoever wants to reach socialism by any other path than that of political democracy, will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and political sense” Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution,

June-July 1905, SW, p.60, CW, Vol.9, p.29

“The very position of the proletariat as a class compels it to be consistently democratic. The bourgeoisie looks backward in fear of democratic rights which threaten to strengthen the proletariat. The proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains, and with the aid of democratism it has the whole world to win.”

Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, June-July 1905, SW, p.78, CW, Vol.9, p.51

“The proletariat takes advantage of every breach, every weakness of the regime, every concession and sop in order to wage a more extensive, more determined, more intense and more mass struggle; the bourgeoisie uses them to cause the struggle gradually to calm down, weaken and die out, to curtail its aims and moderate its forms.”

Lenin, The Fight for Power & the ‘Fight’ for Sops, June 14, 1906, CW, Vol.11, p.28

“All ‘democracy’ consists in the proclamation and realization of ‘rights’ which under capitalism are realizable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible.”

Lenin, A Caricature of Marxism & Imperialist Economism, Aug.-Oct. 1916, CW, Vol.23, pp.72-74

“The bourgeois republic, parliament, universal suffrage – all represent great progress from the standpoint of the world development of society. Mankind moved towards capitalism, and it was capitalism alone which, thanks to urban culture, enabled the oppressed proletarian class to become conscious of itself and to create the world working class movement, the millions of workers organized all over the world in parties – the socialist parties which are consciously leading the struggle of the masses. Without parliamentarism, without an electoral system, this development of the working class would have been impossible.”

Lenin, The State, July 11, 1919, CW, Vol.29, pp.484-86

“To develop democracy to the utmost, to find the forms for this development, to test them by practice, and so forth – all this is one of the component tasks of the struggle for the social revolution. Taken separately, no kind of democracy will bring socialism. But in actual life democracy will never be ‘taken separately;’ it will be ‘taken together’ with other things, it will exert its influence on economic life as well, will stimulate its transformation; and in its turn it will be influenced by economic development and so on. This is the dialectics of living history.”

Lenin, State & Revolution, Aug-Sept 1917, SW, p.297, CW, Vol.25, p.452-53
Lenin, The State & Revolution, 1917 (Excerpt)

“Democracy is of enormous importance to the working class in its struggle against the capitalists for its emancipation. But democracy is by no means a boundary not to be overstepped; it is only one of the stages on the road from feudalism to capitalism, and from capitalism to communism.

“Democracy means equality. The great significance of the proletariat’s struggle for equality and of equality as a slogan will be clear if we correctly interpret it as meaning the abolition of classes. But democracy means only formal equality. And as soon as equality is achieved for all members of society in relation to ownership of the means of production, that is, equality of labor and wages, humanity will inevitably be confronted with the question of advancing farther, from formal equality to actual equality, i.e., to the operation of the rule ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ By what stages, by means of what practical measures humanity will proceed to this supreme aim we do not and cannot know. But it is important to realize how infinitely mendacious is the ordinary bourgeois conception of socialism as something lifeless, rigid, fixed once and for all, whereas in reality only socialism will be the beginning of a rapid, genuine, truly mass forward movement, embracing first the majority and then the whole of the population, in all spheres of public and private life.

“Democracy is a form of the state, one of its varieties. Consequently, like every state, it represents on the one hand, the organized, systematic use of force against persons; but, on the other hand, it signifies the formal recognition of equality of citizens, the equal right of all to determine the structure of, and to administer, the state. This, in turn, results in the fact that, at a certain stage in the development of democracy, it first welds together the class that wages a revolutionary struggle against capitalism – the proletariat, and enables it to crush, smash to atoms, wipe off the face of the earth the bourgeois, even the republican-bourgeois, state machine, the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy and to substitute for them a more democratic state machine, but a state machine nevertheless, in the shape of the armed workers who proceed to form a militia involving the entire population…

“From the moment all members of society, or at least the vast majority, have learned to administer the state themselves, have taken this work into their own hands, have organized control over the insignificant capitalist minority, over the gentry who wish to preserve their capitalist habits and over the workers who have been thoroughly corrupted by capitalism – from this moment the need for government of any kind begins to disappear altogether. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it becomes unnecessary. The more democratic the ‘state’ which consists of the armed workers, and which is ‘no longer a state in the proper sense of the word’, the more rapidly every form begins to wither away… “Under socialism much of ‘primitive’ democracy will inevitably be revived, since, for the first time in the history of civilized society, the mass of the population will rise to taking an independent part, not only in voting and elections, but also in the every day administration of the state. Under socialism all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing.”

Lenin, The State & Revolution, 1917, CW, Vol.25, pp.492-93 Democracy Under Socialism

“Our aim is to draw the whole of the poor into the practical work of administration, and all steps are taken in this direction – the more varied they are, the better – should be carefully recorded, studied, systematized, tested by wider experience and embodied in law. Our aim is to ensure that every toiler, having finished his eight hours’ ‘task’ in productive labor, shall perform state duties without pay, the transition to this is particularly difficult but this transition alone can guarantee the final consolidation of socialism.”

Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, April 1918, CW, Vol.27, pp.272-75

“The combination of the proletarian dictatorship with the new democracy for the working people – of civil war with the widest participation of the people in politics – such a combination can not be brought about at one stroke, nor does it fit in with the outworn modes of routine parliamentary democracy…It is not surprising that this [new socialist] world does not come into being ready-made…The old bourgeois-democratic constitutions waxed eloquent about formal equality and right of assembly; but our proletarian and peasant Soviet Constitution casts aside the hypocrisy of formal equality…’Freedom of assembly’ for workers and peasants is not worth a farthing when the best buildings belong to the bourgeois. Our Soviets have confiscated all the good buildings in town and country from the right and have transferred all of them to the workers and peasants for their unions and meetings. This is our freedom of assembly for the working people.”

Lenin, Letter to American Workers, Aug.20, 1918, CW, Vol.28, pp.72- 73

“It is precisely in making the benefits of culture, civilization and democracy really available to the working and exploited people that Soviet power sees its most important work which it must continue unswervingly in the future.”

Lenin, Draft Programme of the RCP(B), Feb.23, 1919, CW, Vol.29, p.105

“General talk about freedom, equality and democracy is in fact but a blind repetition of concepts shaped by relations of commodity production. To attempt to solve the concrete problems of the dictatorship of the proletariat by such generalities is tantamount to accepting the theories and principles of the bourgeoisie in their entirety. From the point of view of the proletariat, the question can be put only in the following way — freedom from oppression by which class? equality of which class with which? democracy based on private property, or on struggle for the abolition of private property? – and so forth.

“Long ago Engels in his ‘Anti-Duhring’ explained that the concept ‘equality’ is molded from the relations of commodity production; equality becomes a prejudice if it is not understood to mean the abolition of classes.”

Lenin, Economics & Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Oct.30, 1919, CW, Vol. 30, pp.116-17

“Vital and pressing issue is that of the organization and administration of the state. It is not enough to preach democracy, not enough to proclaim it and decree it, not enough to entrust the people’s representatives in representative institutions with its implementation. Democracy must be built at once, from below through the initiative of the masses themselves, through their effective participation in all fields of state activity, without ‘supervision’ from above, without the bureaucracy…

“The more initiative, variety, daring and creativeness the masses contribute to this, the better…

“To teach the people, down to the very bottom, the art of government not only in theory but in practice, by beginning to make immediate use everywhere of the experience of the masses.”

Lenin, Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, April 16, 1917, CW, Vol.24, pp.169-170

“Because the system of proportional representation is more democratic than the majority system, it demands more complex measures for the exercise of the right of recall, that is, the actual subordination of the elected to the people.”

Lenin, Draft Decree on the Right of Recall, Nov.19, 1919, CW, Vol.26, p.336

“No important political or organizational question is decided by any state institution in our republic without the guidance of the Party’s Central Committee.”

Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder, May 1920, CW, Vol.31, p.23
Lenin, Letter to 12th Congress CPSU, Dec. 24, 1922 (Excerpt)

“…I have in mind stability as a guarantee against a split in the immediate future, and I intend to deal here with a few ideas concerning personal qualities.

“I think that from this standpoint the prime factors in the question of stability are such members of the Central Committee as Stalin and Trotsky. I think relations between them make up the greater part of the danger of a split, which could be avoided, and this purpose, in my opinion, would be served among other things, by increasing the number of C.C. members to 50 or 100.

“Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary-General, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution. Comrade Trotsky, on the other hand, as his struggle against the C.C. on the question of the People’s Commissariat for Communications has already proved, is distinguished not only by outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present C.C., but he has displayed excessive self-assurance and shown excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of the work.”These two qualities of the two outstanding leaders of the present C.C. can inadvertently lead to a split, and if our Party does not take steps to avert this, the split may come unexpectedly. “I shall not give any further appraisals of the personal qualities of other members of the C.C. I shall just recall that the October episode with Zinoviev and Kamenev was, of course, no accident, but neither can the blame for it be laid upon them personally, any more than non-Bolshevism can upon Trotsky.

“Speaking of the young C.C. members, I wish to say a few words about Bukharin and Pyatakov. They are, in my opinion, the most outstanding figures (among the youngest ones), and the following must be borne in mind about them: Bukharin is not only a most valuable and major theorist of the Party; he is also rightly considered the favorite of the whole Party, but his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him (he has never made a study of dialectics, and, I think, never fully understood it). December 25. “As for Pyatakov, he is unquestionably a man of outstanding will and outstanding ability, but shows too much zeal for administrating and the administrative side of the work to be relied upon in a serious political matter.

“Both of these remarks, of course, are made only for the present, on the assumption that both those outstanding and devoted Party workers fail to find an occasion to enhance their knowledge and amend their one-sidedness.

Lenin, Letter to 12th Congress CPSU, Dec.24, 1922, CW, Vol.35, p.593-604
Addition to the Letter of Dec.24, 1922

“Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a Secretary-General. That is why I suggest that the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Comrade Stalin in having only one advantage, namely that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc. This circumstance may appear to be a negligible detail. But I think that from the standpoint of safeguards against a split and from the standpoint of what I wrote about the relationship between Stalin and Trotsky, it is not a detail, or it is a detail which can assume decisive importance. (Taken down by L.F., Jan. 4, 1923)

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