Marxism and democracy

Hillel Ticktin' was the speaker at the fringe meeting hosted jointly by Campaign for a Marxist Party and the CPGB. Nick Rogers reports

Comrade Ticktin's speech fell into two parts. In the first he outlined his thesis that Stalinism had stabilised capitalism and made it impossible to build a workers' party that could carry through a socialist revolution. Now for the first time in many decades (with the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with Stalinism and social democracy) it was objectively possible for the working class to emancipate itself.

Comrade Ticktin went on to discuss the basis on which a Marxist party should be built and specifically its programme. He took issue with the CPGB's emphasis on the importance of democratic demands. He argued that the bourgeoisie has made democracy part of their political programme and that most of the working class had seen that democracy under capitalism did nothing to serve their interests. Marxists should make it clear that, while we are aiming for maximum rule from below, this cannot be achieved under capitalism. Our objective is not formal democracy, but the overthrow of the market. Indeed, in a society without a state there would be no democracy as such, because people would manage themselves. There would rarely be a vote involving a majority imposing its will on a minority.

Comrade Ticktin also challenged the argument supposedly advanced within the CPGB that an increasing lack of democracy within the Bolshevik Party after the 1917 revolution had led to Stalinism. He did not believe the Bolsheviks could have organised themselves any differently. During the civil war the red terror was not on the same scale as the white terror. It was the destruction of the working class during the civil war that meant that another social group inevitably took over. If democratic forms had survived, the only difference would have been that the Soviet Union would have gone capitalist rather than Stalinist.

A wide-ranging discussion followed. John Bridge, Mark Fischer and other CPGB comrades argued that the capitalists were not a democratic class. It was the struggle by the working class that had forced democratic concessions. The working class needed to reclaim the programme of democracy. Phil Kent emphasised that democracy involved rights for minorities to argue their case.

Nick Rogers questioned comrade Ticktin's belief that the military sector of the economy had stabilised capitalism during the cold war and that an attempt to achieve the same effect helped explain the Iraq war (although James Turley of Communist Students thought the role of the military sector provided a useful explanation for the long post-war boom). Comrade Rogers went on to argue that democratic demands gave the working class the opportunity to directly challenge the way in which the capitalist class ruled the state. Only by forcing the capitalist class into a political crisis could the working class take power.

Like comrade Ticktin, Jim Smith and Gerry Downing were sceptical about the CPGB's emphasis on democracy. Toby Abse thought a transitional programme should include democratic demands. All three thought the Bolsheviks were left with little option in the way they conducted a desperate struggle for survival. If the counterrevolution had won, the slaughter would have far exceeded the massacres that followed the defeat of the Paris commune.

In reply comrade Ticktin defended his thesis about the importance of the military sector in capitalist economies. He reiterated his view that the objective of Marxism was to overcome democracy.