23 Mar 2015
Karl Marx is widely thought of as the modern pioneer of the SocialistÂ movement. His theory of radical socialÂ change through upheaval and classÂ struggle has undoubtedly left its mark on the history of the world. CountriesÂ such as Russia, Yugoslavia, Albania and Cambodia have all attempted to use hisÂ model of Socialism. There areÂ some present states such as Cuba, China and NorthÂ Korea that would still be considered Communist. TheÂ question of whether or notÂ Marxism is compatible with democracy is in effect two questions.Â Â First whetherÂ Marxism can be broughtÂ about within a pre-existing democratic framework and secondly whether democracyÂ canÂ endure and thrive within a Marxist regime. AsÂ a starting point, it should be noted that there are a number of differentÂ models of Marxism, including manyÂ formulated since the death of Marx.Â Â I will initially focus on the model asÂ formulated by Marx himself, discussingÂ some of the context in which he wroteÂ and then I will then consider different critiques of the models that followedÂ Marx's writing.
The term democracy is made up of the two Latin words 'Kratos'Â (which means 'rule') and 'demos' (which meansÂ 'by the people'). Democracy isÂ widely defined by five key features: participation through elections, open andÂ fairÂ competition for power, avoiding tyranny of either the rulers or theÂ majority, ensuring accountability of governmentÂ and providing a forum forÂ discussion of political issues.Â Whilst there are many different forms of democracy, MarxÂ wrote extensively on his critique of liberal democracyÂ and of the menace of CapitalismÂ inÂ The Communist Manifesto. MarxÂ refers to the abolition of the state throughÂ radical change and socialÂ upheaval. This change is needed because Marx contends that laws are made forÂ andÂ serve in the interest of the bourgeoisie. He writes 'the executive of theÂ modern state is but a committee forÂ managing the common affairs of the wholeÂ bourgeoisie'and thatÂ 'the first step in the revolution by the workingÂ class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class to winÂ the battle of democracy'.
As a starting point for aÂ critique of Marxism's compatibility within a pre-existing democratic framework, it is clear that, for Marx,Â winning 'theÂ battle of democracy' is not about playing within the rules ofÂ democracy. TheÂ radical uprising andÂ social upheaval heÂ talks of inÂ TheÂ Communist ManifestoÂ involves power being seized by the workers fromÂ the ruling classes byÂ revolutionary and non-democratic means. Whilst theÂ Marxist- Leninists of the early 20thÂ century would say thatÂ thisÂ would be the lesser of two evils and that social harmony would be reached inÂ the end, the road by whichÂ they achieved this would be undemocratic.
Marx talks at length inÂ The Communist ManifestoÂ about the meansÂ in which the proletariat would seize theÂ power. He explains that they wouldÂ abolish all private property, income tax, inheritance rights and ultimately theÂ class system. An aspect of Marx's vision that one could argue is democratic isÂ the way that he critiquesÂ Capitalism in terms of the way the individual isÂ suppressed by the employer. He holds that in a truly democraticÂ society peopleÂ would be able to createÂ what ever they wanted andÂ that through the abolition of social classesÂ people would become individuals,Â creative and free. 'In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes andÂ class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free developmentÂ of each is the condition for theÂ free development of all.'Â Carol Pearce writes that the desirability of MarxismÂ lies inÂ Â 'the freedom of theÂ individual to express their own tastes and personality, explore her ownÂ interests, and thus develop her humanÂ potential'.Â Whilst there are other positive aspects of the MarxistÂ utopian vision that our modern society wouldÂ advocate, such as the abolition ofÂ child labour, the growth of individual freedom and (for some) the state controlÂ of the transport networks, there are many aspects of the Marxist utopian visionÂ that do not coincide with a trulyÂ democratic society.
The question at hand also seeks to discover if democracy canÂ thrive in a Marxist regime, thus questioning itsÂ compatibility with democracy.Â Norman Geras (1987) asserts, 'it is an axiom thatÂ Socialism should be democratic'Â , butÂ this assertion is not necessarily true.Â It has been argued that Lenin's and then Stalin's interpretation of theÂ Marxist vision distortedÂ the original ideals of Marxism. Stephen BonerÂ (1990) explains in the chapterÂ LeninismÂ and BeyondÂ that at the time of the Bolshevik October revolution in 1917 theÂ Bolsheviks believed 'that democracyÂ would become the price for a "premature"Â seizure of power under conditions of underdevelopment'.Â HoweverÂ Gramsci, an Italian Marxist theorist, primarily saw these events as, 'aÂ revolution against Marx'sÂ CapitalÂ '.Â ThisÂ is because of the fact that under Lenin there was to be a 'short cut'Â on the road to Socialism. In an ideal socialÂ revolution, Marx explained inÂ Capital,Â there would be gradual changes in order to reach true social democracyÂ but thisÂ was not the case in terms of the October Revolution and critics of Lenin's brandÂ of Communism haveÂ affirmed that there are no short cuts to achieving a trueÂ Marxist society.
Lenin's successor StalinÂ is also interesting to look at when discussing the democratic accountability ofÂ theÂ Russian Socialist state in the years that followed. Stalin's dictatorshipÂ is well known for the cult of personality,Â his collectivisation policies, theÂ mass death (from the famines that followed this policy) and the large-scaleÂ work camps for prisoners (the gulag system) that he created. Whilst StalinistsÂ would have claimed that thisÂ was being done in the interest of the policy theyÂ called Socialism in one country, which would in the endÂ strengthen the SovietÂ position in the world (with the aim that that the ideals of Socialism wouldÂ ultimatelyÂ spread), there are clearly many aspects deeply flawed with Stalin'sÂ interpretation of Marxism on aÂ humanitarian level and the consequences that followed.
When considering the humanitarian implications of MarxismÂ it is worthwhile to compare the different forms ofÂ Communism that have emergedÂ up in the 21stÂ century. While Lenin focused on the needs of theÂ working class asÂ the ruling class - the dictatorship of the proletariat - Mao in Communist China was concerned with the needs of theÂ peasantry.Â Bernard-Henri Lévy, a French "NewÂ Philosopher", who became despondent with Marxism (he hadÂ been a Maoist)Â said there is: 'No socialism without camps, no classless society without itsÂ terrorist truth.'
Ultimately one could argueÂ that all forms of Communism leads to the same place, namely that when the political state isÂ abolished via revolutionary activity and non-democratic means ultimately thisÂ is followed by death, destruction of the people or that of their politicalÂ freedoms. Max Weber explains this notion:
'no ethics in the world canÂ dodge the fact that in numerous instances the attainment of 'good' ends isÂ bound toÂ the fact that one must be willing to pay the price of using morallyÂ dubious means or at least dangerous ones -Â and facing the possibility of evilÂ ramification'Â 
One of the main reasons one could argue that democracy is notÂ compatible within a Marxist framework isÂ because Marxism has never successfullyÂ coexisted with democracy on a large scale. The federation ofÂ communes that MarxÂ describes in his ideal social democracy is an institution, which under everyoneÂ makesÂ decisions together - a direct democracy. In this collective everyoneÂ would have a say, however it could beÂ argued that in order for a society toÂ work you need people with expertise in certain fields or there would be socialÂ chaos and nothing would be achieved.Â
One of the key events that influenced Marx's politicalÂ writings was the French Revolution.Â Â Marx wrote near theÂ end of the 19thÂ century and it could beÂ suggested that it was the events of the hundred years before him thatÂ shapedÂ many of his ideas. He had been born into time just after 'an age of democraticÂ revolution'.Â TheÂ American, English and French Revolutions had taken place in these years andÂ the democratic world seemed toÂ be a plethora of unrest and rebellion. Marx sawÂ and commented on what had happened at this time. He writes inÂ The Civil War in FranceÂ -part IIIÂ (1871) the features by term heÂ understands democracy. He wrote that the ParisÂ Commune that took place from 18thÂ March to 28thÂ May 1871 where the workers took control was a goodÂ modelÂ of democracy. Anarchists and Marxists are well known to celebrate thisÂ form of direct democracy.
One might argue that one of the only truly democratic modelsÂ where Marxism has been known to work in the world was within theÂ Kibbutz in Israel. The KibbutzÂ is - or at least was - a form of Communism in which there are small communitiesÂ inÂ which the people work together for equal pay and for equal share of theÂ land. Originally these communes wereÂ set up by the Russian refugees in theÂ early 20thÂ century many of which who were escaping persecution fromÂ theÂ Russian Tsarist regime. They set up these communities that were basedÂ around agriculture and with the strictÂ view that each person would receive a shareÂ of whatever work they put into the community, a lot like Marxism. ThisÂ model,Â although not entirely Marxist, is based on Marx's ideals of collectiveÂ responsibility and is thought of to beÂ one of the only known models of MarxismÂ that has successfully incorporated a democratic element, perhapsÂ because it is onÂ a small scale.
Another way that one canÂ approach the question of Marxism's compatibility with democracy is to consider theÂ ways in which Marxism, as a form of social democracy designed by and for theÂ people, falls short of success.Â Schumpter (1965) refers to the idea thatÂ democracy is not an end in itself. The bookÂ CanÂ Democracy BeÂ Designed?Â looks at the transitions to democracy from different societies and theÂ intuitional choices that areÂ made . Stable democratic societiesÂ areÂ usually the product of natural democratic evolution. In the 1830's theÂ Peel-Â and Pitt-ites who were anti revolutionary would have called it the 'organic'Â system of government andÂ society that works best and that is the mostÂ stable.Â Â Professor Mayo writes thatÂ democratic societies areÂ economically advanced where 'the emphasis is on theÂ rights of the citizen and on freedom and tolerance.Â Democracy of this kind hasÂ evolved slowly and is the result of long historical struggles'.Â Â This means that because democracy comes about through slow development, that the violent change and class struggle that is associated with Marx is incompatible with the idea of democracy or it existing after a Marxist revolution.
Marxism emphasises the need to restructure the economicÂ order and the way in which the workers' relationshipÂ with the employer is takenÂ advantage of.Â Â The inconsistencyÂ with democracy therefore lies in terms of taking theÂ power from the ruling classÂ and then everything naturally failing into place with democracy after suchÂ radicalÂ social change. This would seem to beÂ one of the majorÂ problems with democracy and Marxism's compatibility.Â Critics of MarxismÂ have said that the key incompatibility lies in terms when used together.Â Â Joseph V.Â FemiaÂ writes, 'aren't the two terms in the title mutually contradictory? Is MarxistÂ democracy not an oxymoron?'Â AÂ Marxian democracy if one were to exist would simply be a 'dictatorship of theÂ proletariat'as Marx called it.Â Â He explains that once the masses have taken control from theÂ bourgeois parliamentary government that 'theÂ dictatorship of the proletariatÂ has to be cruel, stern, bloody and painful'Â and that in terms of Lenin's legacy 'itÂ is difficultÂ to treat him as a philosopher of freedom'
WriterÂ Francis FukuyamaÂ (1992)Â posits thatÂ liberalÂ democracyÂ has continually confirmed to be a more successfulÂ structure than any other system and that the world has entered the final stage of sociological development. He writes, 'The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into aÂ paroxysm ofÂ ideological violence' which amounted in the Cold War to ,'finally an updatedÂ Marxism that threatenedÂ to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war.'Â Perhaps the conceptÂ that liberal democracies are the finalised and best-developed models of world thanÂ that of Marx is true an extent but his theory falls short in other ways.Â Fukuyama'sÂ The End of History and Last of ManÂ states that the societies are in its final stage of development and that other models that have come before such as Marxism, the World has progressed past. Fukuyama states that ultimately society has reached the end of its development democratically with the end product being what we have today. However one can argue that his suggestions are parochial in the sense that in every society people would have assumed that their understanding and development would be the final knowledge of the world as they knew it.
To say that we may have progressed passed Marxism would be one assertion because perhaps due to what we have learnt from the dangers of Communism we have indeed developed past it. However to say that this is the end of history and that we have no more knowledge that will developed from democracies in the world is a narrow perspective no one can ever know what will happen next. This is even more so the case if we look according to what has happened in the world thus far. Usually it is out of the Capitalist or liberal democracies that comes the most revolutionary regimes in society such as Marxism. We can never know what will come next. Since the fall of theÂ Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War it seems there is a growing importance surroundingÂ the notion of democratic peace theory.Â Democratic peace theory aims to explainÂ how and whyÂ in the liberal democracies, states that are democratic generally 'doÂ not fight each other'.Â However neo-Marxists such asÂ Immanuel Wallerstein who isÂ a world systems theorist would say that it due to there being aÂ collectiveÂ interest for peace within these countries that world wars and rebellions do not break out. He also says that this is not supposedly toÂ do with the triumphs of liberal democracy but the fact that it is not in the economic interests of the most powerful countries to be at war.
In essence theÂ question whether Marxism can be brought about and work within a pre-existingÂ democratic frameworkÂ Â andÂ if democracy can endure and thriveÂ within a Marxist regime is one that clashes because the two notions in both cases are incompatible. I think one of the fundamental argumentsÂ in terms ofÂ the apparentÂ 'eclipse of socialism' is that Socialism has been superseded by other forms of government and ones that are more humanitarian, stable and that have worked for a longer time. Whilst it may be nice in some cases for a there to be direct democracy where people could vote on every issue they wanted to and for and some aspects of Marxism to be applied today, features of it would be impractical. If there were to be a referendum and monthly, weekly or daily commune I doubt this would work very well. Not only would decisions take a long time to be counted, but perhaps you need people in society with certain expertise like the men in parliament who we entrust our civil liberties with. Not only can the failures of Marxism been seen and the impracticalities of a purely Socialist democracy , but also Marxism can be perceived as outdated. Aspects of the Capitalist world such as the competition that is created in the markets could be argued to be compatible with democracy as there is a genuine choice people face whether or not they enter into this competitive race. Democracy in terms of economics is something that Marx focuses heavily on, whilst seemingly failing to handle the social problems that inevitably arise from radicalism. His utopian vision is one that I believe is inherently incompatible with democracy.
Â Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1888)Â The Communist Manifesto, Chapter 1, ed David Mc Lellan,Â OxfordÂ World's Classics
Â ibid Chapter 2
Â ibid Chapter 2
Â Carole Pearce (1991) A Critique of Marxism-Leninism as Theory andÂ Praxis,Â Review of AfricanÂ PoliticalÂ Economy,Â No. 50, Africa in a New World Order, pp.102-114, Taylor andÂ Francis LtdÂ
Â Norman Geras,(1987) 'Post Marxism?',Â The New Left ReviewÂ 163, May-June 1987
Â Stephen Eric Boner ,(1990)Â Socialism UnboundÂ ,pg.87, Routledge: NewÂ York
Â Antonio Gramsci, " The Revolution Against 'Capital' " inÂ Selections from Political WritingsÂ 1910-1920,Â ed. Quinton Hoare, trans. John Mathews (New York, 1977), pp.34ff
Â Stephen Eric Boner ,(1990)Â Socialism UnboundÂ ,pg.87, Routledge, NewÂ York
Â Karl Marx (1867)Â CapitalÂ Vol. 1
Â Bernard-Henry Levy (1979)Â Barbarism with a Human Face,Â 1st edÂ ,New York:Â Harper &Â Row, pp.155
Â Max Weber (1964) , 'Politics as a Vocation', inÂ From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology,Â edÂ H.H.Gerth and C.W.Mills, New York, 1964 p.121
Â R.R Palmer, (1969)Â Age of the Democratic Revolution,Â The: A Political History of EuropeÂ andÂ America, 1760-1800: v. 1: Challenge,Â Princeton: Princeton University Press
Â Can Democracy Be Desgined?Â (2003),,Â Ed .Sunil Bastian and Robin Luckham,Â Zed Books, London
Â H. B. Mayo; Walter Bedell Smith (1957)Â Democracy and MarxismÂ byÂ TheÂ Philosophical ReviewÃ¢â‚¬Â¨Vol.Â 66, No. 2 (Apr., 1957), pp. 268-271
Â Joseph V. Femia (1993)Â MarxismÂ and democracy,Ã¢â‚¬Â¬Â Oxford University Press: Oxford p.1
Â Marx (1852),Â Letter to Weydemeyer
Â MarxÂ AndrzejÂ WalickiÂ Â (1995)Â Marxism and the LeapÂ to the Kingdom of FreedomÂ The Rise and FallÂ of the Communist Utopia,Â Standford UniverstiyÂ Press: Chicago pp.280
Â ibidÂ Â pp.332
Â Fukuyama, FrancisÂ (1992).Â TheÂ End of History and the Last Man. London: Penguin.
Â DanieleÂ Archibugi(2008)Â The Global Commonwealth of Citizens.Â Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy,Â Princeton University Press: Princeton
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