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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

On Marxist elections and Marxist democracy

By សតិវ​អតុ
I constantly get arguments from right-wing people that Marxist governments always lead to dictatorship and the abuse of power. Many Marxist have accepted the idea that Marxism is accomplished by a one party state. On the right side of politics many bourgeois politicians insist that Marxism is the antithesis of democracy. They say that Marxist never have democratic governments and their systems always lead to an undemocratic dictatorship. They point to Fidel Castro of Cuba. There are other leaders, such as Enver Hoxha of Albania and the Soviet Union itself.
But history is actually full of democratic Marxist revolutionary governments. They are usually over looked. The bourgeoisie pundits and politicians don't want to acknowledge such governments. But they are there in history.
If we go far enough back in time the Spanish Republican was a government with a coalition of political parties of the left, including Trotskyites, anarchists, democratic socialists and a communist party, in what was called the Popular Front. That government lasted for some time before it was taken over by right-wing Francisco Franco and his fascist Falange army. Also at one point Joseph Stalin tried to interfere and encouraged their own party to fight off the others. That was a mistake and probably contributed to the Republic's downfall.
So this article is to refute that Marxism always leads to dictatorship. There actually have been examples of Marxist utilizing democracy of various types, bourgeois and others. Salvador Allende is probably the best known for using the bourgeois democracy of Chile to bring about his version of Marxist socialism.[1] Some have argued that his socialist government was mostly reformist rather than revolutionary. But as far as being a democracy Allende completely respected all democratic institutions. He was a very benevolent ruler. He didn't shoot anyone and he didn't use oppressive tactics that Marxists are often accused of using.
Contrast that to Augusto Pinochet, the free market military leader who ousted Allende. He banned all political parties and elections. And the US under Richard Nixon, as predictable, backed the fascist Pinochet. As proven over and over, the US likes democracy, but only when it accompanies free enterprise and capitalism. Free enterprise and capitalism are the main objectives of the US—not democracy. When people vote out free enterprise and capitalism the US goes on the attack as it did against Allende.
Another example of Marxists making use of a bourgeois type system was the regime of Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, in 1967. His government allowed other political parties to operate. He pushed for reforms called "socialism with a human face." As with Allende he tried to be a more benevolent ruler.  The Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev, as with Nixon, decided he didn't like democracy that threatened Soviet orthodoxy so he intervened and removed Dubcek.[2] The Dubcek government seemed to be moving to a more mixed economy than straight socialism. But this does not mean that it was not possible to democratize a completely socialist economy.
The Sandinistas created a western style democracy. They allowed a full range of political parties to run against them in contested elections. They followed other western traits of democracy, such as freedom of speech. They had full freedom of religion. A faction of the Catholic Church actually took part in the Sandinista Party.[3] They did have some censorship, based mostly on stopping the kind of speech that was used to topple Allende in Chile. They had outlawed executions. Their party had won in their first two elections. They finally lost out to a CIA financed UNO coalition, a coalition of mostly right-wing parties that opposed the Sandinistas and their government. The CIA had helpe00d their opponents win the election, especially giving funds from the US to interfere in the elections.
While they were in power for the first eight years, they initiated a Marxist revolution. They created an education system designed to end illiteracy. They created a national health care system and they promoted Marxist culture. By the time the Sandinista Party, under Daniel Ortega, came back into power they had traded their Marxist ideas for Democratic Socialism. Since the Soviet Union dissolved, small Marxist regimes such as the Sandinistas, those in Angola and Mozambique have made that trade so they could ally themselves with the democratic socialist parties in Europe.
In Africa, political revolutions were more similar to the Sandinistas than they were to the old hard-line Marxist governments, such as in the Soviet Union. In Mozambique they had a revolution, under the leadership of Samora Machel, and a one party state. But that party also had contested elections within that state. This government was also less in for censorship and other forms of repressive measures. There was also the revolution in Grenada, under the leadership of Maurice Bishop, who was also moving away from the hard-line Marxist style soviet states.
In Zimbabwe, the  Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) Party led by Robert Mugabe, led to a coalition government and western style democracy. To end election violence, the two major parties, ZANU and Zimbabwe African People's Union, (ZAPU), headed by Joshua Nkomo were combined into one party. Although Zimbabwe is still a one party state there some other legal parties. Zimbabwe still has some parts of western style democracy. It still has independent newspapers. The people there still have a lot of democratic rights.
Mugabe has been denounced by the left for not implementing the kind of change we would expect from a Marxist leader. After his popularity began to sag in 2000 he instituted land reform, taking land from rich white land owners and giving it to landless black citizens. After that the Western press started calling him the "Pol Pot of Africa" and a "ruthless dictator." Before the changes he was described as an example of peaceful change from white rule to black rule in Africa. His example was used by the Western Press as suggested change for South Africa, from white rule to black rule. Here we see the hypocrisy of the West. Democracy is good, as long as it protects the national bourgeoisie. Anytime there is a redistribution of wealth, these governments are always described as repressive dictatorships. Mugabe has won several elections. His country is an example of a democracy run by a Marxist and a Marxist party. Over the last few years, Mugabe's rule has been erratic, indicating that he may not really be fit to rule any longer. But the country is still an example of Marxism coexisting with bourgeois democracy.
A lot of people may not realize that China under Mao had some democracy and some of that resembled the Western kind. The party had two factions in it and it often acted as a two party system. It was Deng Xiaoping who wiped out the left-wing faction. So even though it was a one party state, there were two distinct factions. At one point Mao Zedong wanted contested elections on almost all levels of government. That idea was rejected by upper party officials. There were some institutions that had elections for officers, such as commune leaders.[4]

There were also independent newspapers from time to time. They usually didn't last long, but they were tolerated for a time. People also had the option of putting up character posters on walls. People in China have had some opportunities to chose leaders over them and they had the opportunity to express themselves through political speech.  

About the start of the Cultural Revolution, there was a "Shanghai commune." That system had elections similar to the Paris Commune of 1871. China was not the stagnant one party state as it was pictured here in the West by most politicians and pundits. Even today, their are eight minor political parties that are legal. On elections Mao said:

"This is how a free and democratic New China will be. All governments at various levels all the way to the central government will be elected through popular, fair and anonymous voting. They will be responsible to the people that elected them. It will be a fulfillment of Sun Yat-Sen's Three Principles of the People, of Lincoln's idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people; and Roosevelt's Four Freedoms. This will guarantee the independence, solidarity and unity of the nation, as well as its cooperation with the democratic nations of the world."

Most communist governments are gone now, whether they are democratic or not. It is the hope of most modern day communists that future attempts at communist governments include some kinds of democratic institutions. Whether they have inter-party elections or multi-party elections we don't need the kind of all powerful undemocratic parties as we saw in the Soviet Union. On the other hand we don't have to tolerate right-wing parties who are masters at manipulating political institutions to steal away people's democracy for the benefit of a few wealthy elites or aristocrats. We saw that happen in Nicaragua and here in the US we just watched as Donald Trump used the electoral collage to take the presidency without ever winning a majority of the popular vote. There is no need for us to tolerate such deception. We can allow only leftist or Marxist parties to run candidates for office and to hold office.  
All of this proves that a left-wing government with full socialism can also be democratic. We don't have to chose between capitalism/ with democracy vs. socialism/ without democracy. We can have it all and we should.

[1] Salvador Allende, Salvador Allende Reader, (Ocean Press, New York) 2000, pp. 114-115.
[2] It is interesting to note that Dubcek never gave up his visions of a more democratic form of communism even though he was treated as a hero by anti-communist crowds who were overthrowing the pro-Soviet communist government in 1989. According to Wikipedia- "He disappointed the crowd somewhat by calling the revolution a chance to continue the work he had started 20 years earlier, and prune out what was wrong with Communism.
By that time, the demonstrators in Prague wanted nothing to do with Communism of any sort, even the humane version represented by Dubček."
[3] Tomάs Borge, Carlos Fonseca, Daniel Ortega, Humberto Ortega, and Jaime Wheelock, Sandinistas Speak, (Pathfinder Press, New York), 1982.

[4]See Li Shuangshuang, Endymion Wilkinson, translataion, Gino Nebido, introduction, The People’s Comic Book, (Anchor Press, Garden City, NY) 1973, pp. 87 – 134. In this comic the woman character is elected team leader in a small village, p. 109. In this story we see local democracy in Maoist China.

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