[Marxism] What form should soviet democracy take?

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Tue Jan 9 07:54:03 MST 2007

> What is the justification for what David Walters has describes as
> the "hierarchical voting structure" in the original Soviet system as
> opposed to direct elections for all officials, including those in
> the "central executive committee"?  Why should the dictatorship of
> the proletariat take this form?

The term "dictatorship of the proletariat" implies the existence of
class contradictions. That is, the Soviet system was understood to be
only a transitional phase moving toward classless society, at which
point there would communism and no longer a dictatorship of the

As long as contradictory classes do exist, the polity that is open to
these classes can have no coherent policy, and it always reduces to
the interest of one class or another. In the case of a dictatorship of
the proletariat, it reduces to the working class. Therefore, short of
communism, political decisions at the top cannot reflect or be
permitted to reflect the will of the people in general.

A traditional approach would be to limit suffrage to just the members
of a particular class. Bourgeois democracy started out with a property
qualification to vote, and I suppose one could just as well institute
a propertyless qualification for suffrage in a soviet system.

However, there are reasons why this might not be practical. The
revolution may be based on a class alliance, such as workers and
peasants or workers and a national bourgeoisie, and a suffrage that
excludes one's revolutionary allies would be difficult. Another
difficulty is when the level of consciousness, even among the
proletariat, is insufficient to support direct democracy, such as when
the industrial economy is rapidly developing and the proletariat are
mostly new recruits drawn from the peasantry. Also, the Soviet system
was on a wartime footing, both in terms of its relations with outside
powers and with hostile class forces within the country, and a system
of direct democracy by the working class would have been
impractical. In times of crisis or rapid transformation, decisions
have to be made quickly and for reasons that most people would find
difficult to understand. A hierarchical system seems one way to
reconcile a degree of democracy with the need for some independence at
the top.

It is interesting that the sociology of bureaucracy suggests that
bureaucracies operate this way. Although authority is concentrated at
the top, in practice pressures from below do exert significant
influence on decisions made at the top. However, bureaucracy does not
seem a good model for democracy, for while ordinary people's needs may
indeed influence decisions at the top, the system does not develop
people's sense of being in charge, their social being and social
consciousness, or a commitment to their class agenda. The USSR may
have suffered from this limitation.
Even under peaceful and non-contradictory circumstances, there are
decisions for which it is difficult to engage everyone's interest or
competence. One approach is to make matters of local concern the
responsibility of local councils in which there is direct democracy,
and have those councils then choose representatives to higher-level
councils that address issues that are not of local concern and are
beyond the competence of most people.

Haines Brown 

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