Friends of Socialist China was honoured to be invited by the International Department of the Communist Party of China to participate in a virtual meeting of Marxist parties in Europe, North America and Oceania, entitled ‘Democracy, Justice, Development and Progress: The Pursuit of Marxist Political Parties’ on 15 December 2021. This meeting brought together over 20 Marxist political parties and organisations to discuss and share insights on these themes, as well as to compare notes on innovation in Marxist theory and practice.
The keynote speech was given by Song Tao, head of the CPC’s International Department. He began by recalling internationalist comrades such as Norman Bethune who had assisted the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people. Locating the failure of the Paris Commune in the lack of a strong leadership core and guiding ideology, he noted that Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era was a new breakthrough in adapting Marxism to Chinese conditions, thereby creating a brand new image of socialism in the world, positively impacting the global balance of forces between socialism and capitalism, and thereby promoting the emancipation of all humanity.
Comrade Song’s speech was followed by those from the leaders of the Communist Party of Australia, Hungarian Worker’s Party, Italian Communist Party, Communist Party of Canada, Communist Party of Britain, Communist Party of Denmark, Communist Party of Finland, Communist Party of Spain and the Communist Party of the USA.
Closing the meeting, Qian Hongshan, Deputy Head of the CPC International Department, again underlined that the emancipation of all humanity was the strategic goal of all Marxist parties throughout the world.
Friends of Socialist China co-editors Keith Bennett and Carlos Martinez submitted written speeches to the meeting on invitation. The following is the contribution prepared by Carlos Martinez.
Dear comrades and friends,
The themes of today’s event are democracy, justice, development and progress. These are concepts that capitalism has long tried to exercise a monopoly over. The capitalist world, led by the US, has sought to portray itself as the central force for democracy and progress globally. Conversely it has sought to portray the socialist world as the enemy of democracy and progress; as a force of authoritarianism and backwardness. This was a core pillar of the propaganda connected with the Cold War, and is now central to the New Cold War.
In recent years, the idea of the socialist countries being ‘backward’ or ‘undeveloped’ has started to lose any of the resonance it once had, even among people in the West. The People’s Republic of China in particular has emerged as a powerhouse in science and technology; it is among the world leaders in 5G, in artificial intelligence, in quantum computing, in nanotechnology, in space research, and more. China’s successful campaigns to suppress Covid-19 and to eliminate extreme poverty have caught the world’s attention, and the ‘backward’ label just does not stick.
As a result, the propaganda campaign against socialism has had to shift somewhat. Its emphasis has moved away from questions of development and progress, and towards questions of democracy and justice. This is consistent with the Biden administration’s attempts to differentiate itself from Donald Trump, who had a negative impact on the US’s image as the upholder of ‘liberal democratic’ values.
This is the reason Biden hosted a ‘Summit for Democracy’ last week: to attempt to consolidate an alliance of imperialist countries and their hangers-on; to reaffirm the US’s position at the centre of that alliance; and to remind the world that ‘democracy’ is defined in Washington DC.
In the broadest sense, democracy simply refers to the exercise of power – direct or indirect – by the people. However, it has become synonymous with the system of ‘liberal democracy’, characterised by a multi-party parliament, universal suffrage, the separation of powers, and a strong emphasis on the protection of private property.
This narrow definition of democracy is widely considered in the West as a universal and absolute truth. Indeed, in the dominant narrative, adherence to the principles of liberal democracy constitutes the fundamental dividing line in global politics. On one side there is a group of ‘democracies’ (including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe, Japan, India and South Korea) and on the other side a group of ‘non-democracies’ or ‘authoritarian regimes’ (including China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, Bolivia , Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria, Iran, Russia, Belarus, Eritrea, Algeria and Zimbabwe, among others).
The correlation between this definition of democracy and the 500-year old system of racism and imperialism can be easily understood when one sees that, of Africa’s 54 countries, less than a third were invited to Biden’s Summit for Democracy, whereas practically all the countries of Europe, North America and Australasia were invited.
As Marxists, we can immediately recognise the fundamental weakness and inadequacy of this concept of liberal democracy, as it makes no reference to social class. It presents democracy as a purely procedural phenomenon and masks the underlying political and economic content. In contrast, Mao Zedong considered that the particulars of governance in any given society reflect nothing more than “the form in which one social class or another chooses to arrange its apparatus of political power to oppose its enemies and protect itself”. The important question therefore, wholly obscured in Western discourse, is which social class dominates political power? Which class is the ruling class?
On closer inspection, it becomes clear that ‘liberal democracy’ is simply a euphemism for capitalist democracy, the democratic limits of which are strictly defined by the need to reinforce capitalist production relations. Such a system allows people to vote for one or another capitalist party, but it does not allow for substantive changes to the economic system. It is possible for the working classes to win certain concessions and improve their situation; the immovable red line, however, is the position of the capitalist class as ruling class. As Lenin wrote:
“Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slaveowners. Owing to the conditions of capitalist exploitation the modern wage slaves are so crushed by want and poverty that ‘they cannot be bothered with democracy’, ‘they cannot be bothered with politics’; in the ordinary peaceful course of events the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life.”
Indeed, the limits of the Western democratic model are becoming increasingly plain for people to see; more and more people are recognising that, while they can vote for a personality and a political party, they can’t vote for the type of economic and political change they need. They participate in elections – “spectacular and meaningless duels between two bourgeois parties” – but they end up with a democracy “for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich.”
As Xi Jinping observed recently:
“If the people are awakened only at voting time and dormant afterward; if the people hear big slogans during elections but have no say after; if the people are favoured during canvassing but are left out after elections, this is not true democracy.”
Poverty is rising in the advanced capitalist countries. The number of homeless increases year after year. Life expectancy in the US decreased by one year in 2020 – and for African-Americans it decreased by three years. Infrastructure is collapsing. The Biden administration has signed off on a military budget of 750 billion dollars for a single year, while tens of millions languish in poverty. The number of deaths caused by Covid-19 in the US and Britain is close to one million, even according to official figures. To what extent does all this reflect the will of the people? And as such, what does it say about the limitations of capitalist democracy?
The US has by far the largest prison population in the world. And African-Americans are several times more likely to be incarcerated than European-Americans. Black, Latino and indigenous people suffer significantly lower life expectancy, lower income, higher infant mortality. For ethnic minorities in many of the advanced capitalist countries, democracy is significantly curtailed. Not to mention the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yugoslavia among others, to whom ‘democracy’ has been delivered in the form of wholesale death and destruction.
The Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara once remarked, “we should not allow the word ‘democracy’ to be utilised to represent the dictatorship of the exploiting classes.” More and more people are coming to understand the reality of capitalist democracy. Meanwhile, socialist democracy is making tremendous advances.
In fact, the day after Biden’s ‘Summit for Democracy’, Friends of Socialist China and the International Manifesto Group held a successful online ‘Summit for Socialist Democracy’, with speakers from several countries including China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela. One of the key topics discussed was China’s whole-process people’s democracy, which is proving to be far more responsive to the needs of the people than capitalist democracy.
Among other things, the participants noted that the priorities of the Chinese government are highly consistent with the priorities of the majority of the Chinese people: improving living standards, tackling poverty, suppressing the pandemic, reducing pollution, protecting the environment, cracking down on corruption, improving the education and healthcare systems, working towards social harmony.
Why don’t the governments of Western Europe and North America share the priorities of their populations? Why don’t they end homelessness? Why don’t they do what China has done and employ tens of thousands of people to go into poor neighbourhoods and work with families and communities to help lift them out of poverty? Why don’t they put a huge priority on containing the pandemic and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people?
Because capitalist governments must prioritise the interests of the capitalist class first and foremost. What this boils down to is protecting profits above all other considerations. This is why socialist democracy is in essence more democratic than capitalist democracy; because it applies to the vast majority of the people – the 99 percent rather than the 1 percent.
The West’s dominance in the realms of media and academia has been leveraged to universalise capitalist democracy, “to conceal from the people the bourgeois character of modern democracy; to picture it as democracy in general or ‘pure democracy’”, as Lenin wrote in 1918.
However, this monopoly on democracy is falling apart. Just as it is no longer possible to paint the socialist world as backward, the progress of China and the other socialist countries is smashing the myth of socialism as undemocratic. China’s whole-process people’s democracy is a highly inclusive and effective system of governance that constitutes a valuable addition to Marxist theory and practice in the 21st century.