It is often said by the proponents of communism that democracy vs. communism dichotomy is an incorrect one, because democracy is a form of government as opposed to totalitarianism or authoritarianism, and communism is a socioeconomic ideology, as opposed to capitalism. Their basic principles, they continue, are more or less the same and can be boiled down to the expression “power to the people” – therefore, they state that any truly communist state is by definition a completely democratic one.
This, however, is pure sophistry which becomes clear to anyone who has any knowledge of history. “Democracy vs. communism” dichotomy is quite real for the sheer reason that these two ideologies follow two completely different philosophies which are incompatible within one system. In other words, the inherent qualities of these two systems make it impossible for them to co-exist within one state.
This research is aimed at explaining the similarities and differences between communism and democracy, as well as answering the question of whether these two concepts can co-exist within a single state.
A Brief History of Communism
In the early stages of development, primitive communism, on the basis of common property, was the only form of human society. During the primitive communal system, it was characteristic that all members of society were in the same position in relation to the means of production, and accordingly, the method of obtaining the share of the social product was the same for all.
Modern bourgeois and communist ideologies are the work of Europeans. Communist ideas were protracted in Europe not only in ideological wars with the help of Western politicians but also in bloody armed battles of revolutions when the bourgeoisie and the communists (proletarians) of the European continent waged a fierce fight with each other for power in European states.
A Brief History of Democracy
Democratic forms of organization are rooted in a deep, even pre-state past – in the clan system. All adult men and women of the clan had an equal right to vote when choosing and displacing their top leaders.
The first classical form of a democratic state was the Athenian Republic. Ancient Greek democracy was primarily a system of direct government, in which all the people exercised legislative authority and in which the system of representation was not known. The states functioning on the principles of direct democracy existed in Ancient Rome, Ancient Novgorod, in Florence and a number of other cities-republics.
In the Middle Ages, the rule of authoritarian, mostly monarchical forms of government was established throughout the world. The dominant view of the state structure was the perception of society as a single, complex, hierarchically organized organism, where each social group must perform a certain social function and submit to authority. The word “democracy” itself disappeared from the European political lexicon for almost two thousand years, and if it was sometimes used, it was only in the negative, Aristotle meaning of the wrong, perverted form of government.
Characteristics of Communism and Democracy: A Comparison Chart
There are four main signs of democracy:
- People’s sovereignty;
These characteristics are common to all types of democracies, both ancient and modern. However, modern democratic regimes are also characterized by such signs that were not and could not be in ancient democracies. These are the principles of liberalism that were established in European countries in the New Time during the course of bourgeois revolutions and which became integral features of modern democratic societies.
In turn, the classics of the communist ideology, Marx and Engels described a picture of the future, in which there would be a triumph of justice, and each person would be involved in governing the state and redistributing income at a fair equalizing beginning.
They identified the following signs of an ideal communist state:
- All forms and types of property are in common use;
The main difference is that democracy is a form of government, and communism is an ideology. The main common feature is that democracy can coexist along with communism on a social democratic basis.
Social Democratic Approach as an Attempt to Combine the Best Features of Communism and Democracy
The socialism idea developed by German theorists (K. Kautsky, A. Babel, E. Bernstein) was one of the most viable in practice. By positively interpreting the role of the state (democratic republic) in social transformations and affirming the priority of peaceful, evolutionary means of achieving goals, they marked the beginning of social democratic ideology.
The Social-Democratic ideology tries to combine the ideas of the society of social justice with a number of liberal ideas, proceeds from the priority of social justice and equality of citizens, regardless of their social status with the principle of preservation of civil peace.
The “Power to the People” Principle
In democracies, this goal is achieved by giving all citizens the right to vote and take part in electing the people and political parties that are going to rule the country for a period of time, and these people and parties are responsible for what they do before their voters – if they don’t live up to the expectations, they are going to lose the next elections. While the system is not ideal and potentially susceptible to abuse, in longer-standing democracies it has been tried and tested enough to work stably for hundreds of years.
Communist states, however, may or may not have elections, but even if they are present, they play purely ornamental function – there is only one party, organized opposition is non-existent, mass media are subject to strict politically-dictated censorship. While formally power belongs to the people, in reality, it rests on a single individual supported by officials belonging to the ruling party, and the aforementioned people have no say in deciding which people are ruling them and how they do it. In other words, in the case of communism “power to the people” is nothing but a declarative slogan that justifies the totalitarian nature of the state.
The reason why communist states are always totalitarian is simple – as a socioeconomic ideology, communism is based on the idea of big government, of governmental control over all spheres of human existence. The main area of control is an economic one: private property and enterprise are prohibited, and all citizens are more or fewer employees of the state. Prices, production, and distribution of goods and economy, in general, are under the strict control of the governmental officials. And although communism per se is nothing but an economic system that states that means of production should not belong to individuals, the very nature of big government is that it cannot stop from getting bigger – it will always strive to control more and more aspects of life.
What people should read and watch, what they should think and believe, where they should live and work – a communist state aims at controlling all this and more. As a result, a communist state can hardly be called a system that practices what it preaches. While a democratic state strives to exist for the sake of its citizens (sometimes more, sometimes less effectively, but it does so), a communist state is by definition a state that exists for its own sake and uses its citizens as means of amassing even more power.
So, the dichotomy of democracy vs. communism is by no means faulty. They may not belong to the same set of concepts, but there is nothing wrong with putting them into opposition to one another, as they are incompatible.