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From Atash/Fire #147, journal of the Communist Party of Iran, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist

The Reality of Communism

Revisionist Democracy: 
Socialism in Name, Capitalism in Essence


Editors’ note: The article below is posted in Farsi in Atash/Fire journal #147, February 2024 at It was translated into English by volunteers. Bracketed words/phrases, and some of the footnotes, are added by translators for clarification. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 were previously posted at

In Part 4 we wrote about social democracy and the welfare state, the dominant form of bourgeois democracy in the capitalist-imperialist countries of Northern Europe. Alongside these, we must include “revisionist democracy,” which was the form of rule in countries where there had been communist revolutions and socialism — which were later reversed, and capitalism restored. Two prominent examples are the form of ruling state in the Soviet Union between the restoration of capitalism in 1956 and its collapse in 1991, and the form of ruling state in China from the restoration of capitalism in 1976 until now.1 

Before the restoration of capitalism and their transformation into capitalist-imperialist countries, both had a history of socialist rule (proletarian dictatorship/democracy). Once they became capitalist countries, the class content of the state and its form [of rule] changed. But because of their socialist histories, they repurposed some of the features of the socialist era into the new capitalist system and the necessity that it faced. This is why “revisionist democracy” is the most fitting name for this model. 

Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?


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These revisionist democracies, much like the social democracies, try to portray themselves as different from bourgeois democracies of the type that prevails in the U.S. And in fact, [they do] have some differences. But what makes it important to examine this model is not just the experience of the Soviet Union and China. This is the model aspired to by “left” trends around the world, in Iran, and even by some parties that have the word “communist” in their name — some of which will be discussed below. In this article, we examine the differences between revisionist democracy and other types of bourgeois democracy, and finally what they share in how they exercise bourgeois dictatorship.

Revisionist democracy, which at one time was seen mainly in the theory and practice of defenders of Soviet social imperialism (after 1956) is promoted today by the defenders of capitalist-imperialist China as “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics.” These revisionist democracies have obvious differences with the U.S. model. For example, Soviet revisionist democracy lacked any institutionalized decision-making by the masses, such as the [sham] U.S. elections. In China today, mass expressions of discontent over civil liberties are much less likely than in Europe and the United States, despite the fact that in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (Article 35), citizens’ freedom of expression, press, assembly, marches and demonstrations are officially recognized. 

Pointing to these differences, opponents rule these [revisionist democracies] out-of-bounds, beyond the scope of democracy. Meanwhile, to the contrary, their proponents view them as far more democratic than the “Western” democracies. Both sides fail to get to the essence of these [revisionist Soviet and Chinese] states and their democracies. By “essence” we mean that, before its collapse in 1990, the Soviet Union had the characteristics of an imperialist capitalist state, and after the collapse it simply discarded its “socialist” mask. Today, Russia is the principal heir of that capitalist-imperialist country. And, despite the fact that China’s form of state differs from those in imperialist capitalist countries such as the U.S. and Western Europe, its “essence” is that of a capitalist-imperialist country. 

It should be noted that the reasons for these differences are both the fact that the Western capitalist-imperialist countries have a more massive share of plunder from the Third Word, and thus greater “freedom” to grant more rights to their citizens, as well as historical differences (the path that produced bourgeois democratic institutions such as elections and civil society in Europe and the United States differs from historical developments in Russia and China). Revisionist democracies advertise their superiority, saying that workers and the masses are drawn into participation in administration of social and economic life to a much more extensive degree than are workers and the masses in the West. This, they say, is because “in China, electoral democracy goes hand in hand with council democracy.” When the Chinese imperialists refer to “electoral democracy,” they mean their national elections — where one billion people have a direct vote to elect nearly 2.6 million delegates for the “National People's Congress,” or legislative assembly, and “council democracy” refers to the institution of the “Conference of Chinese People’s Councils.” 

It is also claimed that along with these elections, there is a “democratic meritocracy.” According to Daniel A. Bell, in his book The China Model,2 this model doesn’t suffer from the weaknesses of “everyone has a vote” democracy, which makes it morally preferable and politically more stable! He then elaborates on the much more “democratic” process of electing, for example, the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (which should be read as the “Communist Party of Imperialist Capitalists Disguised as Communists” in China), which consists of several steps: a vote [on candidates] by lower officials, a publicly supervised written exam on questions of political economy and political philosophy, an oral exam in the presence of the secretary-general’s cadres and staff members and inspection of that candidate’s record for any sign of corruption. The final decision is made by vote of a committee of 12 ministers. According to Bell, all this ensures that those who are democratically elected are worthy of elected office, but in Western democracies — which consider themselves to be the democratic antithesis of autocratic Russia and China — such a process does not exist. Of course, this claim is also untrue. In the imperialist states of the West, just as in all bourgeois dictatorships/democracies, individuals who enter the state, security and military apparatus at the local and national levels must work their way through training and testing channels for years. Upon reaching a certain level, if they were to act contrary to the fundamental principles and functioning of the capitalist system, the system would give them the boot. 

Thus, the class content of both forms — bourgeois democracy and revisionist democracy — is bourgeois dictatorship. The Chinese people work under appalling conditions of wage slavery, to enrich Chinese capitalists and their international partners. China's economic infrastructure is exploitative, not only in the general sense (capitalist appropriation of surplus-value). The “super-exploitative” conditions [e.g., sweatshops] that are characteristic of “Third World” countries exist on a wide scale in China. Moreover, China is an imperialist capitalist country which carries out brutal exploitation and plunder across three continents (Asia, Africa, and Latin America), from Indonesia and Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan... to Nigeria, Congo, Venezuela, Colombia, etc. 

Chinese democracy, like all imperialist democracies, is democracy for the capitalist class, and dictatorship against those who the capitalist class oppresses and exploits. What is different about China’s democracy is that its rulers cloak its essential character in the mantle of China's socialist past. But, its true nature is quite clear in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, Article 13, which says: a citizen’s legal right to own private property cannot be violated.

Thus, contrary to popular belief, the Chinese bourgeoisie does believe in democracy, no more and no less than its counterparts and rivals in the West. But due to their specific necessity and histories, they employ a specific form of democracy which makes it more possible for them to exercise capitalist class dictatorship (the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie) in their specific conditions.

In the Soviet Union after the restoration of capitalism (1956), the imperialist bourgeoisie was unable to grant Russian workers the same wage level as their counterparts in the U.S. and the imperialist countries in the West, as much leeway to stray from the official line, or as much laissez faire for small businesses. Instead, they emphasized lifetime employment, healthcare, meeting the basic living requirements, and “involvement” of the masses of people in the functioning of economic and social life, especially through the trade union apparatus, which itself functioned as part of the state machinery, keeping the workers in line. Also, there was autonomy for the governments of the Asian republics [within the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)], etc. All of these differences were, and are, used by the defenders of Soviet social-imperialism as proof of the superiority of revisionist democracy over bourgeois democracy. In Iran specifically, this includes [both non-revolutionary] Tudeh Party and Fedayeen Khalq (Majority) and their spinoff groups and individuals.

In examining the Soviet model of revisionist democracy, Bob Avakian looked at one of the major Soviet research works called the Political Economy of Revolution, and its chapter on democracy. The author of this research, K. Zarodov, writes, “Bourgeois ideologists claim that socialist reconstruction is nothing more than the antithesis to democracy. By fair means and foul, they belittle and even discount the role played by the revolutionary forces of the working class, the Communists’ fight to exert and extend the peoples’ democratic rights and freedoms.”3 (Emphasis by Atash.

For this author — like revisionist Soviet theorists generally — democracy under socialism is simply the full assertion and extension of democracy under capitalism. Instead of demonstrating the historical limits of bourgeois democracy and its ideals (as discussed in previous articles), they want to act as the true champions of these ideals and to make them last forever.

The “Left” Party in Iran — composed of the union of the Fedayeen Khalq (Majority), the United People's Fedayeen Organization in Iran,4 and other left activists — reflects exactly this attitude in its documents. The [“Left”] Party writes that “socialism is intertwined with democracy,” so it considers its duty to be “deepening and expanding participation in representative democracy and various forms of direct democracy, including self-governance and self-management.” In the documents of this [“Left”] Party, we see that socialism has been reduced to a series of “socialist values,” and those values are nothing more than those that are packaged into the capitalist system: “including peace, freedom, equality, social justice, solidarity, democracy, equality of rights for women and me, ... and other values upholding human rights, democratic redistribution, etc.” The bourgeois opposition parties of the Islamic Republic, including the [pro-U.S. Reza] Pahlavi trend, paste together more or less of these words as their “alternative” goals, without saying what mode of production will form the underlying infrastructure: the capitalist or the socialist mode of production.

And where they do talk about economics, like all bourgeois theorists, they talk about shapes and formats without clarifying the class content of that economy. For example, the “Left” Party writes: “Mixed economy — the state, the cooperative and the private — is the appropriate form to organize the country's economic system.”5 But a mixture of all these forms already exist in all imperialist capitalist and dependent capitalist countries, such as Iran, Turkey, etc. 

All these sleights of hand are meant to signify that, in order to be formally recognized, we will stay within capitalism, and recognize equal rights under the banner of “democratic socialism” on the basis of exploitation — which is at the heart of the deep and pervasive inequality in today’s societies, and inevitably generates deep social inequalities. This is phony socialism! 

Real socialism is the result of a revolution that overthrows the capitalist state in all its forms (liberal democracy, social democracy, revisionist democracy, Islamic democracy, etc.), and establishes a state whose existential necessity is the abolition of class distinctions, the abolition of the relations of production that produce these distinctions, the abolition of all social relations that correspond to capitalist production relations, and the abolition of all the ideas which serve the rule of the exploiting classes [“4 Alls”], in order to open the way for all humanity to move towards the international communist society, and to finally relegate the state itself (democracy/dictatorship) to the Museum of History.

Socialist democracy exists to serve this orientation, namely the abolition of the above-mentioned “4 Alls,” and to achieve these ends it will exercise dictatorship against the process of restoration of capitalist dictatorship. In this way, the socialist state, like the capitalist state, is both a democracy and a class dictatorship. And it is precisely this orientation that is decisive for the preservation of the socialist character of society, not the “more complete exercise and extension of rights and democracy,” as claimed by the “Left” Party and godfather of the process as theory, K. Zarodov.

Zarodov and the many other defenders of revisionist democracy are trying to merge two things that are in fact locked in struggle with each other. [Revolutionary leader] Bob Avakian explains that there is a unity between the socialist democracy/dictatorship and the advance to communism (where there will be no class rule and no democracy/dictatorship). There is a unity, but it is a unity of opposites. And in the final analysis, the most important aspect of this relationship is the struggle between them, socialism must move towards the establishment of communism (which can only be realized on a world scale) and the “withering away” of the state (even the socialist state). And this requires eradicating all the material, political and ideological conditions that make exploitation and class division possible in the world as well as the existence of states (both bourgeois and socialist). 

It is clear that no need for any state also means no need for democracy, and that the eradication of all conditions for the division of society into classes will lead to the “withering away” of democracy itself. This is not an objective that can be achieved by “democratizing working conditions” or by expanding democratic rights.



1. The Soviet Union was a real socialist society from 1917 when Lenin led the first communist revolution, and China was a true socialist country from 1949 when Mao led the communist revolution there. For more, see the Interview with Raymond Lotta at, “You Don't Know What You Think You ‘Know’ About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future. [back]

2. The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, Daniel A. Bell, 2016 [back]

3. K. Zarodov, The Political Economy of Revolution (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981)as quoted by Bob Avakian in Democracy, Can’t We Do Better Than That? (Banner Press, 1986, pages 155-157).  [back]

4. The United People's Fedayeen Organization in Iran is another of many factions of the original “Organization of Iranian People's Fadai Guerrillas” which existed from 1971 until 1980. [back]

5. Charter of the Left Party of Iran (Fadaiyan Khalq) [back]

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