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Part 6: "The Withering Away of Democracy"

From "On Proletarian Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship: A Radically Different View of Leading Society"

This series by Bob Avakian is excerpted from a previously unpublished talk titled "Getting Over the Two Great Humps: Further Thoughts on Conquering the World."  The series was published 2003-04.

Related to this point, on a more general level, is the question of the withering away of democracy, which was spoken to in the conclusion of Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? The principle that I want to stress here is that the withering away of democracy should not be conceived of as if under socialism for the people there would be less and less democracy until eventually democracy withers away. That would be a caricature of our position. And, in fact, the point is more or less the opposite.

Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? draws from Lenin's analysis on this question of the withering away of democracy. Lenin specifically said that, together with the advance toward the elimination of the material basis of class divisions, the exercise of political rule by the masses of people in society, their role as the masters of society, will become so well established and so "natural" that it will no longer require the same kind of institutionalization. In that sense, it will become so much a matter of habit of the masses to resolve contradictions in this way that eventually the formal structures of democracy can wither away. But he didn't present it as if the extension of democracy among the masses were unimportant. In fact, he argued, and very correctly (and this is cited in Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?),that socialist society is, as he put it, a million times more democratic for the masses than bourgeois society.

Together with the overcoming of class divisions and their material basis in socialist society, and the overall advance of the world proletarian revolution, there is a way in which the acquiring by the masses of the habit, if you will, of resolving contradictions among themselves and contradictions in society generally through what could be characterized as democratic means among the people will become so established that in fact the formal structures and aspects of this can wither away. This is what Lenin actually meant.

Going back to what was said earlier in opposition to K. Venu,* it is not the case that the essential way in which the advance from socialism to communism will be carried out is through some sort of linear extension of democracy among the people, but rather it is the continuation and carrying forward of the class struggle in socialist society in the context of and as a subordinate part of the world proletarian revolution. Under socialism there is nonetheless the further development of democracy among the people, in a qualitatively different and greater way than is possible in bourgeois society (or any other society ruled by exploiting classes). And, as I spoke to earlier,** the "spreading out" of the functions of administering society and responsibility for the various spheres of society will in fact be a major factor in the achievement of the situation where the state, and with it democracy as a formal structure, can wither away. (In other words, the way the contradiction between leadership and led, and specifically between the vanguard Party and the masses, will be resolved is not just that in socialist society—and as the socialist transition is carried out toward the goal of communism—increasingly larger numbers of masses will join the Party but at the same time functions that are carried out by the Party, and the ways in which the Party will have a disproportionate influence on decision-making, especially in the early stages of socialist society, will also be overcome by developing different means and forms through which such functions will more and more be exercised by the masses themselves and representatives chosen by the masses.)

So, this is the way we have to conceive of the resolution of this contradiction, and not the caricature where we are going to have less and less democracy and eventually democracy will wither away in that sense, to be replaced by I don't know what—it obviously would have to be some sort of class dictatorship of an exploitative type. Not only is that caricature clearly wrong, but more generally there is a need for the extension and development of the various means, including formal structures, in which the masses of people can take increasing responsibility for the functioning of society and its institutions. And this, while subordinate to the overall continuation and advance of the class struggle, is still an important part of, and is dialectically related to, the overall class struggle and the advance to communism, worldwide, and the withering away of the state—and, in that way, the withering away of democracy. This is how we have to understand and to apply this principle.


* "Democracy: More than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That," A World To Win , No. 17, 1992. [Return to article]

** See Part 4 of this series, "Overcoming the Contradiction Between the Leadership and the Led," RW #1217 (October 26, 2003). [Return to article]