Democracy, as of common consensus, as a concept, was formally conceived by the ancient Greeks. The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words being: people (demos), and rule (kratos). By popular definition, democracy is a method of rule wherein the populace have common power, as in the people have an active role within the steering and guidance of the state. Contrary to common conception, “democracy” is not a system within itself, but a basis upon which political organizations and structures are formed. Democracy became the method of rule within Athens, a part of the superstructure, so to speak, however within the bounds of the material base. In slave societies, the only people eligible to participate were so-called “free men”, which did not include women, children, and slaves, who made up the majority of the population.
Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for slave owners.
Democracy in modernity has been split into many categories and has been countlessly interpreted and, at times, vulgarized by bourgeois thinkers. It may be noted that “democracy”, in all of its forms, are indeed a progressive force comparatively to the political systems proceeding it. Even the simplest liberal democracy serving the interests of the ruling class, is still superior to a direct dictatorship by class interests.
In practice, bourgeois democracies, or capitalist democracies, are a form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Capitalists and landlords control 90% of newspapers and meeting halls and prevent workers from controlling the state through bourgeois property laws.
Deng Xiaoping argued that bourgeois democracy was,
'...no more than a system of multiparty elections, separation of judicial, executive and legislative powers, and a bicameral legislature.'
He argued that rather than having a bourgeois democracy in China, there was a people's democracy.
Lenin in Chapter 5 of State and Revolution declares,
Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich--that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the machinery of capitalist democracy, we see everywhere, in the “petty”--supposedly petty--details of the suffrage (residential qualifications, exclusion of women, etc.), in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for “paupers”!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc.,--we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself and has never been in close contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine out of 10, if not 99 out of 100, bourgeois publicists and politicians come under this category); but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy.
This minority rule of the tiny unelected group, the capitalist class in politics mirrors the daily work life of workers throughout the world. Why is the workplace decisions of what to produce, where to produce and how to produce are left to the undemocratic and short-sighted profit-seeking of capitalists? The individual enterprise is the smallest cell of capitalist democracies. With capitalists organizing together along class lines to run the political system made up of all these workplaces. Democracy for the 1%.
In essential terms, what Lenin declares remains that democracy, especially in a republic may seem to be complete from the outside, but if the true nature and origins of the said republic (or if need be, a modern day constitutional monarchy) remains capitalist, the laws of democracy will always be set against the majority, which is the working class and only benefiting the minority and the absolutely rich. This in itself is already detrimental to the political participation of the working class as due to the conditions of the capitalist exploitations in wages, the working class would be far more concerned about their material existence (poverty and survival) that they “they cannot be bothered with democracy” and “they cannot be bothered with politics”, hindering them from democratic participation.
In keeping with the Marxist understanding of democracy, Lenin declares that true democracy for the majority cannot be realised without first organising them into the ruling class. Once this has occurred, there will be an expansion of democracy as it will finally be a democracy for the poor and for the people, and not for the moneybags. Lenin makes it exceedingly clear as well that there is an absolute need for the proletariat to heavily impose restrictions on the rights of the oppressors, that is to say, the rights of the exploiters, oppressors and capitalists must be curtailed. Lenin justifies by stating that in transitioning from a capitalist society into a communist society, it is necessary to suppress them in order to free humanity from wage slavery, and that any resistance from them must be crushed by force.
Democracy for the vast majority of people, and suppression by force, i.e. exclusion from democracy of the exploiters and oppressors of the people—this is the change democracy undergoes during the transition from capitalism to Communism.
Lenin remains resolute in his understanding of what constitutes democracy. The necessity of the proletariat as the ruling class and the suppression of the bourgeoisie are necessary for the pathway towards the withering of the state. Once the capitalists and any resistance they may put up be crushed and when there is no more distinction towards class, true democracy can be realised. After that, only can democracy as well start to wither away.
Communism alone is capable of giving really complete democracy, and the more complete it is the more quickly will it become unnecessary and wither away of itself.
- Vladimir Lenin (1918). “Democracy” and Dictatorship.
- Xi Jinping (2022). The Governance of China, vol. IV (习近平谈治国理政). Beijing: Foreign Language Press Co. Ltd.
- Vladimir Lenin (1917). The State & Revolution: 'Chapter V - The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State'.