Dict. of prol. = democracy

Grover Furr (furrg@alpha.montclair.edu)
Mon, 22 Apr 1996 23:42:27 -0400

This is in response to Steve Denney's comment about the dictatorship
of the proletariat.

It was the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement that started me,
and many thousands of others, thinking about just what "democracy"
means. With the help of non-Marxists such as G. William Domhoff --
another product of the '60s activism, a psychologist who became, in
effect, a sociologist studying the US ruling class -- as well as
reading Marx and Lenin for the first time, I was introduced to the
concept -- not a new one, but new _to me_ -- that the US was not in
fact a "democracy" at all, but a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, or
capitalist class.

Reading the history of the American labor movement, then US
history in general, I saw that this concept helped explain a lot more
than any facile concept of democracy does. But what mainly
taught me that the US is a dictatorship of the ruling class were the
Vietnam War and Jim Crow system, both incompatible with any notion of
democracy that means anything.

Lenin's idea made a lot of sense to me then, and still does: as
long as you have classes, with one class in power over another, you
have a class dictatorship. The idea that you can have "democracy"
without communism -- i.e. a classless society -- is either naivete or
outright deception. This seems to me to be true, and the truth of it
burst upon me in the late '60s with great force, as it has done over
this century to millions of others.

Lenin disdained to be demagogic and claim that democracy could be
installed after a revolution, or that democracy HAD EVER been
installed after ANY revolution. Therefore he -- following Marx, in a
famous letter of the 1860s -- defended the idea of the "dictatorship
of the proletariat", something Marx had also said was one of his own
_most important_ contributions.

While growing up in Canada as an American kid, I was sometimes
teased by my teachers, who told me that Canada was "twice as
democratic as the US." At that time Canada had _four_ major political
parties (Libs, Prog-Conservs, Social Credit, CCF) on the national
scene and, in many places, four candidates for any given seat. The US
had only two major parties. Ergo, Canada was twice as democratic as
the US!

When I told my transplant-American parents, they were disturbed
-- they'd been raised in small Southern towns where "the US is the
greatest" was simply taken for granted, despite the evidence of
fascism and poverty all around them -- but had no answer that made any
sense to me.

Well, in college (Montreal), my political science professor
pointed out that Belgium had (I think) _sixteen_ political parties. So
Belgium was, by this reasoning, FOUR times as democratic as Canada,
and EIGHT times more democratic than the US!

Reading Marx and Lenin -- and Domhoff, and Gabriel Kolko, _Wealth
and Power in America_, another watershed book of the '60s for me and
for thousands of others -- got me thinking past this nonsense.

Democracy has NOTHING -- zero -- to do with the "number of

It has _something_ to do with voting, but it is not the same
thing as voting -- because there was voting in the USSR, voting in the
US, voting in every petty dictatorship -- and not democracy.

Democracy has to have something pretty important to do with
OUTCOMES, not just "inputs." If workers seized a factory and voted
"democratically" to pay black workers less than whites, that would be
undemocratic REGARDLESS of the fact that they had all "voted", even

We used to complain, in the anti-war movement, that we had "never
been allowed to vote on the Vietnam War." This was a mistake on our
part, I came to see. Because, even if _everybody_ in the US had had a
chance to vote on whether or not to make war on Vietnam, and had voted
FOR making war, that would NOT be democracy.

First, because the Vietnamese had not had the chance to vote on
it, and they would certainly be affected by the result! Second -- and
even more profoundly -- because _there can be no democracy where there
is class dictatorship_, where the mass media, the educational system,
and all other means of indoctrination are controlled by the capitalist
class (or any class), and where money buys votes.

Democracy, as Lenin set it forth, can't exist without a classless
society -- communism. Under any other circumstances, one class will
dominate and have control over the means of persuasion, compulsion,
and the state. The "dice will be loaded." Let's call this by its
proper name -- a class dictatorship.

But a class dictatorship can be many times MORE democratic than
the most "democratic" capitalist state, Lenin argued. Well, that
"sounded good," I thought, but wondered. It grated against my
upbringing, full of lies and illusions though it was.

Rather than go on developing this idea, I will throw it open to
others. Discussing what democracy is, or should be, is a good
discussion to have! Most of us "think we know," but there's much
confused thinking about this.

One final point: this is where I part company with the
self-proclaimed "democratic socialists." Whatever their motives --
good on the part of many of them, NOT good on the part of some of the
leaders (Rustin, Thomas and M. Harrington among them, real creeps) --
it hides a basic deception, a capitalist notion of "democracy" that is
just a front for class dictatorship. I correspond with a good friend
in Denmark (a Dane, BTW), where this is far clearer, since the "demo.
socs" have ruled for most of the time since the war. I think
"democratic socialism" is really reformed, welfare-state capitalism --
which means it is STILL CAPITALISM, still exploitation, racism,
sexism, imperialism, still all the horrors we saw in full bloom in the
'60s and which live on today.

Grover Furr