Marxist-Leninist Parties And Democracy

by Jim Sacouman

Over the last year, People’s Voice readers have had ample access not only to stories and analyses of capitalism in crisis and of severe problems in the revolutionary struggle for a socialist globe. Careful readers of the Voice have been presented with substantial evidence from around the world of what thoroughgoing renewal can and should entail from a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist perspective and taking into account different historical-material circumstances.

Why is it that those Communist Parties that have most successfully been working out the meaning of the socialist debacle in Eastern and Central Europe have been Parties which have taken up, most completely, the banner of full democracy? What allowed those Parties to reassert readily their continuing commitment to Marxism-Leninism at the recent International Seminar on the Contemporary World Situation and the Validity of Marxism in Calcutta? Were they, perhaps, being right opportunists or left deviationists? Or were they expressing the central core of creative Marxism and Leninism?

The South African CP has, of course, for many decades played a leading role, autonomously and through the ANC, unions and other social movements, in the struggle against apartheid and for democracy for all South Africans. The Party supports formal-legal political democracy; it also centrally proclaims the necessity of moving towards economic, social and cultural democracy through the massively conscious efforts of workers and all oppressed.

Full support for economic, political, social and cultural democracy was made central to the Portuguese CP’s programme at the very same time that the Party militantly reaffirmed its commitment to enhancing democratic centralism in its internal workings. The Portuguese CP, of course, has led the struggle for a democratic Portugal since the successful fight against the dictatorial Salazar regime of twenty years ago. The Party is strongest and most popular precisely in those regions where the struggle has been most prolonged and harsh. In alliance with the Greens, the Party is regularly elected at the municipal and regional levels. It has attracted many of the best of the youth, of women, and of cultural workers.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has embedded itself in huge areas of the country. Where it is strongest it has consistently enhanced local and regional forms of political, economic, social and cultural democracy, despite conditions of immense impoverishment. As an expression of its continuing commitment to Marxism-Leninism and a socialist globe, the CPI(M), of course, organized the above-mentioned International Seminar.

The Cuban CP’s rectification process began years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the collapse, that process has intensified and deepened despite/because of the increased economic hardships caused most directly by US imperialism. Central to the rectification process has been a reassertion of the importance of creating ‘the new human being’ through intensifying economic democracy at workplaces, social democracy in communities and public works, cultural democracy in forms of expression, and political democracy at the local, provincial, and internal Party levels. Internally the Party has moved rapidly to incorporate young people, women and Blacks.

In Canada, too, our Party’s strength has been its ability to take up, collectively and in concert, democratic struggles – be those struggles for the economic and social rights of the unemployed, our internationalist contribution to the fight against fascism in Spain in the 1930s, or the most recent battle for democracy in our own Party against the liquidationist misleaders who were dictatorially going against the expressed will of more than 85% of the membership.

Now, what links the positive examples from Communist Parties in South Africa, Portugal, India, Cuba to our Party in Canada is certainly not similar historical-material conditions and circumstances. What these Parties regularly demonstrate for us is a common commitment to Marxism-Leninism, on the one hand, and an expressed and popularly perceived leadership in the struggle for profoundly democratic socialism, on the other hand. What these Parties have correctly confirmed is that full democracy was absolutely central to both Marx’s and Lenin’s critiques of capitalism and to their proposals for transformation towards socialism and, eventually, communism.

One of the very few themes that weaves together the entirety of Marx’s work was his central focus on the necessity and possibility of the revolutionary transformation of capitalist alienation/exploitation through the massive and massively conscious efforts of workers and their allies. ‘Workers of the world’ could unite in their own parties and organizations to begin, consciously and democratically, to defeat capitalism and build socialism and ultimately communism. In this sense the bourgeoisie’s battered principles of liberty, equality and solidarity can be made real for all.

One of the most central (and centrally ignored) arguments of Lenin’s writings, especially during the period of both Imperialism and State and Revolution, was his emphasis on the importance of soviets in workplaces and communities to begin the profoundly democratic task of building socialism. In that context, a vanguard party of militants committed to profound transformation was seen by Lenin as crucial given the immensity of the task and the vicious nature of imperialist capitalism. ‘Workers of all countries and all nationalities’ could thus democratically transform the highest stage of capitalist exploitation and oppression into the beginnings of a socialist globe.

For excellent reasons, both Marx and Lenin and all the Parties mentioned previously have been highly critical of right opportunists mouthing democracy for their own bourgeois or petty bourgeois interests. From at least 1988 to 1992, our own Party experienced the self-proclaimed democratic spew of a misleadership that used entirely anti-democratic, bureaucratic manoeuvres within the Party to finance out of Party funds its own joint ownership and control of a ‘left movement press’ that pretends to be merely a mouthpiece for ‘the movements’ but which has no democratic means of either editorial or membership control.

Again for excellent reasons, both Marx and Lenin also argued against anarchist ultra-leftism that would move overnight from capitalist alienation/exploitation/oppression to a communist utopia of complete workers’ control of workplaces, communities, households, and bodies. The Cuban CP in particular has had to constantly be aware of this anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist, seemingly leftist trend in order to sustain its revolutionary process through the current imperialist capitalist onslaught.

The point is that never did Marx, Lenin, or any of the current Leninist parties react to the real threats from the right and the ‘left’ by denying that full democracy is what socialism makes possible and that full democracy within socialism is what the parties are committed to. Indeed, many current Leninist parties have, at least arguably, incorporated the fullest programmes of economic, social, cultural and political democracy available; they are increasingly recognized among workers and all oppressed in their own countries as steadfastly upholding these programmes.

As we move towards our next convention, our Party should also resolutely examine both its constitution and its programme to debate and change those sections which do not yet facilitate internal democracy and democratic-centralist decision-making within the Party and which do not set the Party on the path of playing a leading role in the struggle for a fully democratic socialist Canada. Out of utter necessity, we have made defensive changes in our Constitution that have brought the leadership back under the control of the membership. But much more has to be done positively to project ourselves as leading the struggle for full democracy at all levels.

By our creative development of Marxist-Leninist theory, by our rigorous commitment to replace that economic, political, social and cultural system of alienation, exploitation and oppression known as capitalism with full socialist democracy, and by our developing practice of taking on the democratic struggles of all the alienated, exploited and oppressed from our internationalist, workers’ perspective, our Party can become uniquely situated to attract the most militant battlers for a new world. No other party or organization-movement has our vantage and advantages. No other party or organization-movement has our complete disdain for capitalism and our commitment to profound transformation in a step-by-step and, therefore, meaningful, consciously concerted fashion.

Spark! #2, pg. 3-6