Socialism and the battle for democracy: our democracy and theirs

BY:Chris Butters| May 14, 2024
Socialism and the battle for democracy: our democracy and theirs


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

Today democratic rights for working people, and much else, are under attack. In this election cycle, in addition to raising our socialist program, we organize in the streets and at the ballot box to repulse the program and power grab of the far right, backed by the fascists.

When I campaign door-to-door, I sometimes say, defending “our democracy”, mindful of the blood, sweat and tears our multinational working class has shed in the fight for the democratic rights currently embodied in the constitution.

And yet we know as long as “democracy” exists under capitalism, “democracy” is not really the property of working people. As we mobilize to defend democracy, what does working class democracy look like? What is the road to get there?

Capitalism gives working people the limited tools of bourgeois democracy to express our views, fight for our rights and needs. At the same time the argument “we have elections” is not persuasive to some voters, suffering from deeply undemocratic decisions made by a tiny ruling class, as the rich grow richer, the poor grow poorer and everyone else is squeezed.

As we seek to “block” the right, we know we must “build” (a DC YCL contribution) the economic and political alternative to the neoliberal policies that feed it. Lenin advocated a radical expansion of democracy, going hand in hand with struggles for economic democracy: the ultimately sharp break from what he called bourgeois democracy: workers’ democracy.

Lenin tells us the road to worker’s democracy is through the struggle for socialism. If today we seek to block the right, we also build by fighting for democratic reforms like the Pro Act, community control of police, the fight for civil rights and affirmative action; women’s control of their reproductive rights; tenants unions and other people’s alternative institutions that fight back against monopoly real estate, and public control of utilities and infrastructure.

As our working class movement goes from pressuring to demanding, to developing the strength to take what we need, working class democracy includes mass action committees, neighborhood assemblies,cross-union solidarity networks, labor-community coalitions, workers councils, a mass labor-led “third” party, etc.

We see labor action regarding the Palestinian trade union call to end military aid to the Israeli state and for a ceasefire. Unions have begun to provide concrete support to student solidarity encampments. Some are refusing to manufacture or handle weapons bound for Israeli state genocide,

We see seeds in the increasingly coordinated “people’s assemblies” and “people’s universities” recently formed at student encampments. Many of us are reminded of the Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and Atlanta “Cop City” encampments.

These forms sit uneasily alongside forms of capitalist democracy., challenging as they do private property interests.

The transition from capitalism to socialism has long been the subject of debate among Marxists, from “eurocommunists” to communists, from “democratic” socialists to Lenininsts. There are currently debates within the left about the applicability of Lenin’s teachings regarding the road to socialism in advanced industrial countries with bourgeois democracy.

Our Party holds that socialism is not compatible with capitalism and a capitalist state. This distinguishes us from social democracy.

Following the Communist Manifesto, our party says the road to socialism in the U.S. lies in winning “the battle of democracy.” This necessitates working in mass organizations, enabling us to work effectively on the issues. This distinguishes us from other parties we term ultra left.

We seek to build unity in united and popular fronts. Our program makes clear the unity we seek is a special kind of unity, under a working class leadership that knows who to ally with and who to struggle against.

When our Brooklyn Club tables with our Bill of Rights Socialism pamphlet, some otherwise interested express concern that our “Bill of Rights Socialism” concept has reformist implications. I do understand how Bill of Rights Socialism can lead to confusion. In fact, our Road to Socialism program says very little about that complex of institutions, especially those “bodies of armed men” that Lenin identified as the heart of capitalist rule.

Why is socialist democracy — what Marx called a dictatorship of the proletariat — more democratic than capitalist “democracy”? Lenin says it is because the workers’ state empowers collective rights of the working class majority, even as it abolishes the collective right to exploit workers and the environment of the capitalist few. As our program says, It is important to make the dialectical connection between unity and separation. The more unity we can build under a working class leadership, the less wrenching will be the transition to real democracy.

The bourgeoisie use today a classless “democracy” to preserve their class rule. They will howl tomorrow that revolution is a betrayal of their “democracy”. They howl today regarding the advances of Cuba, Vietnam, China.

The difference between communists and liberals is not disagreement about the need for “human rights,” “democracy,” and other rallying cries of the French Revolution. The difference is we communists actually take these things seriously enough to fight for them in the 21st century through working class means.

Our fight for real democracy today involves organizing to repulse the power grab of the far right, backed by the fascists. As communists, we must also stand for measures to expand democracy, and social programs answering people’s needs, not funding the imperialist war machine. Given our electoral work, it becomes more important, not less, to also educate our membership about the role of the capitalist state.

Whether we call it a workers’ state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, or Bill of Rights Socialism — one thing is certain. It will not be a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie!

The result will be a socialist economy, influenced by our own U.S. political and cultural traditions, fundamentally in common with other countries undertaking socialist construction in the 21st century. “Bill of Rights Socialism” will finally be achieved by a new workers’ state, characterized by workers’ democracy, with a socialist bill of rights.


    Chris Butters is an activist for peace and justice in Brooklyn, NY.

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