National Sections of the L5I:

Democratic rights

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The fact that capitalist democracy is a dictatorship of the rich does not mean that democratic rights are useless. After all, it was the working class that forced the big capitalists to grant democratic rights in the first place. Recurrent crises in the history of capitalism have driven the ruling class to attack the democratic rights won by the workers.

Over the last hundred years, there have been repeated attempts to replace democracy with military or fascist dictatorships. Very few semi-colonial countries have escaped extended periods of dictatorship. In Argentina and Chile in the 1970s, tens of thousands of working class militants perished or were tortured, imprisoned or exiled. Europe witnessed fascist dictatorships of unparalleled brutality, starting in the 1920s and continuing in southern Europe into the 1970s.

In the Anglo-Saxon countries, the ruling class pride themselves on “an unbroken tradition of democracy”. At the same time, they strip away democratic rights through anti-union laws, the curtailment of freedom of speech, the strengthening of the executive against the legislature, the extension of the repressive apparatus. The “war on terrorism” has led to an unprecedented assault on civil liberties within capitalist democracies.

Revolutionaries fight to defend democratic rights because, in doing so, we are defending the very existence of the workers’ movement and its ability to wage the class struggle. We defend the right to strike, freedom of speech, of assembly, of political and trade union organisation, the freedom to publish and broadcast. We demand the removal of all undemocratic elements in capitalist constitutions – monarchies, second chambers, executive presidents, unelected judiciaries and emergency powers.

After the downfall of a dictatorial regime, when the capitalists try to reconstruct a democracy, we should do all we can to prevent them reasserting control. For this reason, we should call for a constituent assembly – an institution more democratic than the capitalists will be prepared to concede. We call on the workers’ movement to ensure that the deputies to it are not only elected in the most democratic manner but are also kept under the control of their electors – that they are recallable by them.

In the struggle to win, defend or restore democratic rights, the working class must never sacrifice its class independence, nor postpone the socialist revolution in the name of unity with a supposedly “progressive” or “democratic” section of the bourgeoisie. Wherever it has done so – in Spain and France in the 1930s, in Chile in the 1970s – it has lost both democracy and a real opportunity for socialism.

Every “democracy” is a state based on the rule of a class. There has never been, and can never be, a “classless” democracy, a state that defends the interests of all the people. The working class needs to come to the head of the fight for democratic rights as a means to an end – the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of working class democracy and socialism.