The Importance and Consequences of Vanguardism for Democracy

An element of distrust is an integral component of liberal democracy, which is based on the doctrine of constitutional law of separation of powers, under which, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government are kept separate.

This is the system of checks-and-balances, where each branch is granted certain authority- judicial review, executive or congressional powers – to check potential power excesses by the other branches.

Therefore, democracy is about limitation of power to protect rights.

The photo depicts a Soviet soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in May 1945. This photo came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of World War II, as well as a symbol of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany..
Credits: Koryotours,

The aim of my blog, however, is to argue that the imposition of socialist ‘democracy’ in the Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe played rather an abstract role, as, in reality, it was just drowned in ideological nonsense with a clear aim of deceiving the masses and legitimizing dictatorship and poverty.

Socialism, Vanguardism and Democracy

The photograph of Karl Heinrich Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) sitting on a chair and looking at the camera.
Karl Heinrich Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883). He was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist and socialist revolutionary. His critical theories, collectively understood as Marxism, hold that human societies develop through class conflict. He believed that in the capitalist mode of production, this manifests itself in the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which would undeniably lead to capitalist self-destruction and its replacement by a new socialist system after the organized proletarian revolution aimed at bringing about socio-economic emancipation of the working class and the establishment of a classless, communist society. Credits: Wikipedia

There was no clear definition of socialism in the constitutions of the Soviet Union or its Eastern European satellites.[1]

Soviet history reveals that those who exercised ‘democratic centralism’ exploited the vagueness of the concept of socialism in order to fabricate the real meaning of democracy.[2]

The scientific inevitability of the proletarian revolution, which was predicted by Karl Marx in his social evolution theory, did not materialize during Marx’s lifetime, and the 1905 Russian Revolution was a failure. The masses started to doubt his scientific laws, which a priori could not be called scientific, unless materialized.

However, devout Marxists believed that the ideology was not at fault: it was, rather, “the inability of a majority whose attitudes [had] been ‘warped’ by a ‘debased’ society to realize in thought or deed their full human potential.”[3]

The photograph of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (22 April 1870 – 21 January 1924) seriously looking at the camera.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (better known as Lenin) (22 April 1870 – 21 January 1924). He was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the first and founding head of the government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the USSR from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, the Soviet Union became a one-party socialist state governed by the Soviet Communist Party. He also developed a variant of Marxism, known as Leninism- a political ideology that proposes the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat led by a communist vanguard party, prior to the establishment of full communism. The main role of the Leninist vanguard party was to provide the working classes with the political consciousness and revolutionary leadership necessary to destroy capitalism.
Credits: Wikipedia,

Thus, despite the classical Marxist definition of the socialist consciousness’ formation as a natural and organic product which had to arise from the proletarian involvement in the class struggle, Vladimir Lenin concluded that those who had been ‘infected’ by capitalism could not have been morally revived except by a vanguard-led revolution.[4]

Vanguard was to determine what needed to be done in order to lead the masses’ liberation away from their sufferings caused by the Industrial Revolution and capitalism.


Why, however, should the rule by an enlightened vanguard have been considered democratic?

It should be noted that Marxists viewed the community as a corporate entity, and not as a random assemblage of independent individuals.[5] They believed that in a classless post-revolutionary society it was necessary to create a unified popular consciousness which could have transcended the actual thoughts of mere individuals.[6]

The image of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) and his famous quote that reads: "The political body, therefore, is also a moral being has a will; and this general will, which tends always to the preservation and well-being of the whole and of each part of it... is, for all members of the state .... the rule of what is just or unjust... The general will is always right.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe, aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic, and educational thought.

This belief is reminiscent of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s conception of the ‘general will’, which maintained that the diversity of opinion arose “only when individuals lost sight of the public good and followed their own private interests.”[7]

Rousseau distinguished between

  • the ‘general will’, which is constant and pure,
  • and the ‘will of all’, which is no more than a sum of ‘particular’, selfish wills.[8]


The former exists regardless of one’s wish and it denotes the true state of events: “it is the ‘real’, moral will of the individual, in contrast to his or her arbitrary (selfish) will.”[9]

It follows, that by submitting to the ‘general will’, one liberates his/herself by attaining a ‘higher self’.

Thus, per Rousseau, freedom and compliance converge in the selfless attainment of the common good. And in case if an individual resists the submission to the ‘general will’, then he may be rightfully ‘forced to be free’ by a ‘superior intelligence’ and bound to comply with his pure and natural self.[10]


Leninist Contribution to Marxist Thought

Alike Rousseau, Lenin was a moralist who aimed to liberate the masses from their selfish natures and the harmful effects of their disruptive social environments.[11]

The vanguard, alike Rousseau’s ‘superior intelligence’, was thus to determine the ‘true’ (as opposed to the selfish) will of the people.

This notion might seem deeply undemocratic.

How does the vanguard know what is the ‘true’ will of the people to forcibly impose it upon them?

The image portrays a schema of Marx's Theory of History (Dialectical Materialism), which, starting from the era of primitive communism and a conflict between unorganized society and private property/ tribal interests, leads to the undeniable destruction of the era of capitalism by proletarian rule, and the eventual development of a democratic, communist utopia.
Credits: Quora,

For Marxists, history was an answer, since it provided its own objective recommendations, progressive solutions and unified “‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’.”[12]

The Marxist laws thus inscribed socialism in the historical process- the scientific inevitability of the proletarian revolution, which was to spark in response to the long-term capitalist exploitation.

Thus, socialism was an objective necessity, and as such, it signified unquestionable truth and how people should have lived.

Marxist laws thus legitimized Lenin’s notion that the vanguard could have assumed the workers’ ‘objective’ interests without actually inquiring their opinion.[13]

The image of the 'true' communist vanguards: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
Credits: Amazon,

Since the validity of a scientific theory is free from the notion of how many people actually accept it, it stipulated Lenin to wonder as to why revolutionaries had to pay attention to the spontaneous perceptions of ordinary people. For instance, on a passenger airliner, no one argues that the pilot should surrender navigational issues to the passengers’ democratic critique, for these are technical concerns which require the appropriate knowledge.[14]

Like pilots on passenger airliners, revolutionary scientists (Marxist-Leninisten) possessed the technical knowledge of the solution to proletarian sufferings.

Thus, they were the arbiters of ‘objective truth’ and so it was up to them to discover people’s ‘real’ interests and hence their ‘real’ will.

Lenin believed, if proletarians were perfectly ‘rational’ and not ‘infected’ by capitalist tendencies, then they would have understood Marxism as the most natural or suitable to their material situation.[15] But since capitalism downgraded them to “ventriloquist’s dummies, lacking a genuine voice of their own”[16], the freedom had to be imposed upon them.

Therefore, while the Western interpretation of democracy is based on the rule of the majority, the Russian view was grounded in the interests of the majority: “Not the government by the people, but government for the people”[17], which did not necessitate their consent.


The Consequences of Vanguardism

Lenin and his followers, however, have clearly overexploited their duties as vanguards of communism.

The core liberal democratic principles, such as competitive elections, freedom of speech and majority rule now seemed of no value if people’s interests could be defined by revolutionary scientists, ordained by ‘history’.

However, what was seen in the West as a clear abandonment of democracy, Marxist-Leninisten portrayed as a higher form of democracy – that is, a democracy, which was above the “venal and rotten parliamentarism.”[18]

It should be noted, however, that Karl Marx opposed the imposition of constitutional restraints on collective action.[19] He did not ask for ‘revolution from above’, and by speaking of activists who were to impart a scientific understanding of the historical process to proletarians, he did not imply the establishment of vanguardism.[20]

He proclaimed: “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule.”[21]

Therefore, he did not envision a post-revolutionary dictatorship by a minority that ruled in the name of the proletariat.

The reality, however, has turned into the tampering of Marxist intellectual elitism by Marxist-Leninist populism. The latter’s populist strategic goal was to ensure regime endurance “by preserving civic apathy, inhibiting mobilization, and legitimizing the ‘scientific’ approach towards governance by the communist nomenklatura.”[22]


The Communist Party As a New Vanguard

The image of Lenin and the hammer and sickle- a symbol created to represent proletarian solidarity. Underneath a symbol, Lenin's quote reads: "A party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely to reflect the average political level of the masses.
Credits: Deviant Art,

In the post-1917 revolutionary period, the communist party became “the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming power and leading the whole people to socialism […], of being the teacher, the guide, the leader”[23] of the proletariat.

This was a key feature that distinguished communist from socialist parties.[24]


The photograph of the front cover of the Constitution of the USSR. It reads: "Constitution (Basic Law) of the USSR. Constitutions (Basic Laws) of the United Soviet Socialist Republics".
Constitution (Basic Law) of the USSR. There were three versions of the constitution of the Soviet Union in effect from 31 January 1924 to 26 December 1991.On the surface, the Soviet constitutions resembled those adopted in the West, but differences between the two have greatly overshadowed their similarities. “Soviet constitutions mainly served as a means to legalize and justify the one-party state and totalitarian rule of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The latter two Soviet constitutions declared the “leading role” of the CPSU in government and society. Many constitutional rights were not respected and the CPSU openly violated them due to the widespread political repression and purges in the USSR. Citizens had no legal remedy to pursue if the state failed to respect their rights because Soviet law emphasized economic and social rights over civil and political rights. Legally, the CPSU repressed constitutional rights by designing laws to suit their needs, or rendering them null and void by contradicting with other Soviet laws. The Constitution of the Soviet Union was effectively repealed upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 26 December 1991.”(Wikipedia)
Credits: Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library,

As a vanguard, the party assumed complete control over everything, even human rights.

The rights were not upheld, even despite the fact that the basic rights and freedoms of citizens were highlighted in all the Soviet constitutions, and despite Stalin’s proclamation that the Soviet Constitution did not only proclaim equality of rights for people, “but also ensured it by giving legislative embodiment to the fact that the regime of exploitation [had] been abolished, to the fact that the citizens [had] been emancipated from all exploitation.”[25]

Under Soviet law, it was impossible to appeal to any judicial agency in order to uphold one’s rights by referring only to the norms of the Constitution: in order to have such a lawsuit even accepted for review, it was required to refer to specific legislative acts.[26]  If such acts were absent, the constitutional rights became mere decorations.[27]

It was believed that since proletarian democracy was for the majority of the population and “the necessary suppression of the exploiters”[28] was to be forcibly ‘crushed’, there was no need for civil liberties or human rights. Besides, “as the ‘general will’ is the ‘real’ will of every individual, there [was] no sense in the notion that individuals should [have] [been] protected from it through constitutional limitations.”[29]

The masses were thus taught that while the capitalist government defined the freedom of each individual “as a guarantee for the freedom of all, the socialist government guaranteed the freedom of everyone as a guarantee for the freedom of each individual.”[30] Therefore, the rights rested with the Party and not with the people, and communist leaders were ‘granting’ rights instead of recognizing them.


Democracy was further constrained by the Marxist notion of the homogeneity of a classless society: since there would have been no separate class of the wealthy bourgeoisie, which exploited the working class, all people would have developed the sameness of interests throughout society.[31]

Per Marxists, the parties always represented the antagonistic interests of social classes, and, thus, in the homogeneous post-revolutionary society there was no need for multiparty systems.[32] Therefore, the popular will was to be embedded within a single, unchallenged party. The party became ‘polymorphic’, since it assumed many shapes, including ‘the state’, which became inseparable from it.[33]


The Organization of Communist Parties

The image of the pyramid of the communist system. The top of the pyramid is headed by the head of the Party (Stalin), right below him there is a representation of kings (aka the Politburo) that reads "We rule you". Right underneath the Politburo, there is a representation of priests (aka the Propaganda machine) titled "We fool you". Next in line is the image of warriors (aka Commissars/Secret Police) titled "We shoot at you". Below, is the image of the elites (aka the Members of the Party) titled "We eat for you". At the very bottom of the pyramid, holding the whole structure in place, are proletarians. The slogan next to them reads: "We work for all", "We feed all".
Credits: Azmytheconomics,

All communist parties were organized on the basis of democratic centralism, which was defined by the collective leadership, periodic elections of all central party organs, strict party discipline and “the absolute binding force of the decisions of the higher organs for the lower organs and the members.”[34]

Parties were structured in a pyramid fashion, where the lower levels (primary/base party organizations) were organized in work-places, while the higher levels were structured on a geographical basis- in the villages, towns or regions.[35]

The party had five general functions: goal-setting, goal-attainment, socialization, recruitment and linkage.[36]


1) The Goal-Setting Function

The photograph of the building of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (or Politburo).
The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (or Politburo) was the highest policy-making authority within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was founded in October 1917 and was known as the Presidium from 1952 to 1966. The existence of the Politburo ended in 1991 upon the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Credits: Wikipedia,

The party’s goal-setting function was the maintenance of its aforementioned vanguard role by not only telling the masses “where they [were] going, but also what route they [were] to take”[37] through the establishment of general guidelines.

The impetus for such goal-setting was delivered by the Politburo and approved by the Central Committee and the Congress.


2) The Socialization Function

The image depicts a Soviet propaganda poster that portrays a child with a book next to Lenin who looks at him and smiles, as the main propaganda newspaper lays in front of him at the table. At the bottom of the poster an inscription reads: "People's Dreams Have Come to Life." .
A Child with Lenin. “Vladimir Lenin was the first leader of the Soviet Communist Party, the architect of the revolution, and the first head of state of the Soviet Socialist Republics. This early Bolshevist hero was one of the most revered people in the Soviet Union. It is therefore unsurprising that Lenin’s “cult of personality” endured following his death.
As with Stalin, Lenin was held up as an exemplar of everything communism and the revolution stood for. Posters like this one held two purposes: to help instil the cult of personality in the minds of schoolchildren, and to encourage values which the state wished their students to hold – like obedience to the government and hard work at school.”
Credits: Top Education Degrees,

The party’s socialization function was the inculcation of Marxist-Leninist ideas[38]– that is, the promotion of various indoctrination campaigns aimed at generating “unquestionable conformity to official values.”[39]

For instance, the students were encouraged to be more conscious of the collective by reprimanding each other for misbehaviour, as well as forced to learn facts rather than to question.[40]

  • Besides the compulsory study of Marxism-Leninism, even the apolitical subjects such as mathematics or life sciences were taught in a way intended to bring those subjects closer to the official culture.[41]
The photograph depicts a child and two elderly people wearing headsets and listening to the radio.
Radio was used as one of the most central propaganda tools to gain the support of the illiterate. Radio receivers were placed in communal places where the poor and illiterate could gather to hear news.
Credits: Parcast,
The photograph depicts a Soviet soldier reading a main propaganda newspaper of the USSR, unironically titled "The Truth".
The Communist Party suppressed all newspapers that opposed it as well as kept unfavorable events occurring in the USSR, such as crimes against humanity i.e. massacres, famines and nuclear disasters, from being published.
Credits: Parcast,

Furthermore, the media was also highly censured by the party, with far less sensationalist news broadcasts, which mainly depicted domestic events in the positive light intended at portraying how well the party was doing, whereas alternative sources of information, such as Western newspapers, were extremely hard to obtain.[42]

It should not be surprising that socialization campaigns were even more strict against party members, since it was expected that vanguardists were to display much greater knowledge of and commitment to Marxism-Leninism.


3) The Linkage Function

The party’s linkage function was to introduce changes in order to retain the support of those who had favored it as well as to obtain the support of younger generations.[43]

In fact, communist leaders could not have just ignored the Marxist goal of “workers ruling themselves through mass participation in the daily business of politics.”[44] Moreover, as the more time had passed, the more people wondered when all their sacrifices to the party were to pay off to them as consumers.

Thus, the party started to function more in a bi- than in its previous uni-directional manner by not just conveying populist slogans from the leadership to the people, but also by demonstrating a greater willingness to listen to people and to discover what made them dissatisfied with the regime.[45]

  • In fact, the mere act of listening to people’s complaints tended to make those people more favourably disposed towards the regime. Besides, responding to those complaints reassured communist officials “in their belief that they enjoyed a spiritual communion with the masses.”[46]

Participation in communist systems thus encompassed two principal forms: direct involvement and voting in elections.[47]

The group photograph of the deputies of the first soviet (workers' council), 1905. .
Deputies of the first soviet (workers’ council), 1905. The first workers’ council  formed in May 1905 in Ivanovo, Russia, during the 1905 Russian Revolution. “In 1905, as the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) increased the strain on Russian industrial production, the workers began to strike and rebel. The soviets represented an autonomous workers’ movement, one that broke free from the government’s oversight of workers’ unions and played a major role in the 1905 Russian Revolution. Soviets sprang up throughout the industrial centers of Russia, usually organizing meetings at the factory level. They disappeared after the revolution of 1905, but re-emerged under socialist leadership after the revolution of 1917. The soviets emerged as inclusive bodies to lead workers, organize strikes and to politically and militarily fight the government of the Russian Empire mainly through direct action, with the primary actors being non-totalitarian leftists, including socialist revolutionaries and anarchists.”
Credits: Wikipedia,
  • For instance, village meetings and workers’ councils allowed ordinary citizens to vocalize their opinions regarding the efficiency of local administrations.[48]
    • To be sure, communist parties sought out popular complaints and suggestions only as long as they did not challenge the official policies.[49]
      The image portrays an angry ball-shaped Soviet flag that proclaims "NO!!!" as it looks at the ballot box titled "Vote" and a piece of paper (the voting list) with a variety of candidates stuck in it.
      Credits: dreamstime,

  • Moreover, elections were never used to oppose the communist elites and thus, voters had to elect an officially supported list comprised of one candidate per seat.[50]
    • Despite the fact that voters could have voted against that list, only a small fraction of the population (less than one percent) had enough courage to do it.[51]
      • Ironically, this “unquestioned communist hegemony made fundamental opposition to the party programme unthinkable.”[52]
    • Generally, elections reinforced ‘verticality’, since they had no effect on policies or on important questions of who should have been elected. Instead, they served three main purposes:
      1. the provision of public show of the legitimacy of the regime,
      2. crucial educational and propaganda tool, “affording a golden opportunity to stress the wisdom and achievements of the Party”[53],
      3. and the proof of the unaffectedness of the system of control.[54]
    • Therefore, whereas Western elections were designed to guarantee the government from below, communist elections reinforced the government from the top: not participation in the policy formulation, but in its implementation and celebration.


4) The Recruitment Function

The party’s recruitment function was the enlistment into the party itself and to all important posts in society.[55]

The image portrays the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)'s emblem. It depicts Lenin's head, hammer and sickle, and a star. Below Lenin's head, Russian letters read: "CPSU".
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)(or the Soviet Communist Party (SCP)), was the founding and ruling political party of the Soviet Union. The CPSU was the sole governing party of the Soviet Union from 1917 until 1990, when the Congress of People’s Deputies modified Article 6 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution, which had previously granted the CPSU a monopoly over the political system.
Credits: Wikipedia,

To join a communist party, the application, accompanied by recommendations from three party members of at least two to five years standing, had to be submitted to the primary/base level party organization.[56]

  • If the base organization approved the application, then it went to the committee at the next party level for ratification,
    The photograph depicts the Communist Party of the USSR membership card. Its front page includes member's number, first and last names, date of birth, date when he joined the party, and the name of the organization that granted him the card with a signature and a date.
    The Communist Party of the USSR membership card.
    Credits: Wikimedia Commons,
    which, in case of further approval, guaranteed the applicant’s admission to the party.[57]
  • However, a new member did not attain full-membership rights, such as voting rights, since he was first carefully assessed during his probationary period to see whether he was paying his dues, attending meetings regularly and not indulging in excessive consumption of alcohol.[58]
  • Only after the candidate met all the aforementioned criteria, the ratification of full membership was completed by the base organization and the committee at the next level.[59]
  • The membership did not automatically extend for life, since the behaviour of party members was constantly scrutinized and less satisfactory members could not have been issued a new card or could have been reduced to candidate status again.[60]

The image depicts a graph of the aggregate effect of Stalin's Purges on Department Chiefs and Ambassadorial posts (100%=65). It shows that 20% were shot, 16.9% were relieved/recalled, 10.8% were arrested, 1.5% defected, 1.5% were found dead in office, 35.4% survived, while there is no information on the remaining 13.8%. 0
Aggregate effect of Stalin’s Purges on Department Chiefs and Ambassadorial posts (100%=65). Credits: Jstor,

It should be noted that most members were not self-motivated, since they were approached by the party.

  • For instance, in the 1960s and 1970s, most of the East European countries were calling for ‘reproletarization’ of the communist parties, since many leaders wanted to demonstrate that they were not becoming too remote from the masses as well as aimed to prevent the growing political power of the technical intelligentsia.[61]
  • Thus, by appearing to pursue a policy of encouraging more proletarians to join, the party maintained its populist agenda, while removing opposition.
    • It was clear that the reproletarization policy was more for show than a serious objective, since the party membership was likely to be guaranteed to those who were further up the social hierarchy, as the party was supposed to be composed of the ‘best’ members of society:
      • in the USSR, over 99 percent of industrial managers were party members, which was a far higher proportion than the working class’ party membership.[62]
    • What is more, “there was remarkably little of a genuinely proletarian aspect to the interwar appeals of communism in Eastern Europe”[63], as more and more communist parties started to be comprised of mostly middle class and disillusioned segments of national intelligentsias dedicated more to agitation against the predominant political elites/ideologies than to efficient leadership of a proletarian movement.[64]
    • As the opposition was systematically demolished, persuasion became less useful as opposed to naked coercion, paving the way to a new ‘purification’ era, reducing the communist parties to those blindly loyal and obedient who lacked critical thinking and imagination.[65] Thus, “instead of being purified in the sense of becoming truly proletarian, [the parties] had really been Stalinized.”[66]
    • The imposition of terror has truly played an important role, as past examples from history proved that communist parties, which were built on this model, instantly become vulnerable and can easily disintegrate once the curbs on the use of terror are employed.[67]
The image portrays the members of the Politburo Central Committee in 1986. .
Members of the Politburo Central Committee, Communist Party of the Soviet Union, USSR, 1986. They filled the basic nomenklatura posts.
Credits: Reddit,

The party was not only responsible for the selection and placing of top party cadres, but also ensured that every key state and social organizational position was held by the most suitable candidate through the nomenklatura system.[68]

  • Therefore, the party was responsible for the filling of all important posts in society: both, appointed and elected.
    • In fact, all candidates for election had to be first approved by the communist party, while the top national leaders had already reserved parliamentary seats and stood unopposed.[69]
  • At every party level, the committee had two lists of posts: the basic nomenklatura and ‘registration and supervision nomenklatura.[70]
    • The basic nomenklatura was a list of the most important posts, such as key party, state and education posts.[71]
      • Thus, those who wanted to climb up the career ladder had to be extremely reliable and politically loyal.
    • The registration and supervision nomenklatura was a list of lower-status posts, such as deputy-headteachers and directors of smaller factories.[72]
      • The party was not directly involved in appointing people to such lower-status posts, however, the departments of the party committee had to be informed of and approve the appointments made to these posts.
      • This list was thus a kind of reserve of cadres for the further promotion to basic nomenklatura.[73]


The image depicts a schema of the hierarchical structure of the Communist Party. It shows that less than 2% of the population were the inner party members , while the majority of party members were rank-and-file. Around 85% of the population were not party members. .
“Each position in the “pyramid of capitalism” was simply replaced by a communist equivalent. Kings were replaced by secretaries and chairmen, clergy replaced by propaganda ministers, and the bourgeois replaced by members of the party. Maintaining control over a government requires a flow of rewards to one’s followers. Those who support the regime get more than those who do not and then you are back to inequality. Creating equality through violence is self-defeating. The capacity for violence is not a disembodied force, it requires groups of people willing to wield it. They need to be motivated and controlled and that requires hierarchy.”
Credits: Azmytheconomics,

It should be pointed out that such complicated recruitment procedures have also produced a discussion in the West regarding the elitist nature of the communist parties.[74]

  • In fact, since the parties were so difficult to join, they became exclusive organizations.
  • Generally, party members had a higher average educational level as compared with the general population, and thus the white-collar workers were heavily over-represented.[75]
  • Ironically, populists themselves, who continued to use anti-elite pleas to delegitimize the opponents, were or could become the elite as “they have come to represent the very establishment they attacked.”[76]
    • Party members constituted an economic elite since their average income was way above the mean average income of the general population, and they used to enjoy a vast number of privileges, such as access to special shops and the right to travel abroad which were not available to the rest.[77]
    • As political elites, party members had far more power to influence the making of vital decisions than any other group, since the key decision-making bodies were filled by them.
      • It should also be noted that there was a hierarchical division within a party into full-time professional party functionaries (apparatchiki), who occupied the key positions within a party and thus had much more influence, and the ordinary party (rank-and-file) members.[78]
      • Apparatchiki thus were elite within the elite, since they enjoyed the most privileges and dominated the nomenklatura posts’ filling process.[79] These were the people who truly enjoyed a monopoly over the administration of party and state.[80]
    • Therefore, regardless of the actual constitutional provisions, communist elites (and especially apparatchiki) held real and exclusive powers.
    • However, there was a price to pay, as communist vanguards had to blindly submit to Soviet directives, they could never be considered to be in ‘real’ contact with the masses, while the “obedience, discipline, and the ritual discharge of bureaucratic tasks acquired an exceptional ”[81]
      • Moreover, to expand its ranks of experts, instead of recruiting the ablest graduates of the universities, the communist parties mainly drew from the communist youth organization bureaucracy, thus, prioritizing the politically reliable to the objectively more qualified people.[82]


5) The Goal-Attainment Function

Finally, as its goal-attainment function, the party even took over the formal function of the state machinery’s policy detail elaboration and implementation.[83]

In theory, however, the party had only to exercise kontrol (supervision) and thus it was not supposed to be directly engaged in policy implementation.

The division of labor between the party and the state was meant to guarantee that the party was responsible for general policy guidelines, kontrol and nomenklatura, while the state was responsible for legislation, which was based on the general party’s guidelines, as well as for administration of implementation.[84]

Thus, party and state were meant to complement each other.

Instead, party officials were widely criticized for trying to substitute state officials, since it led to blurred divisions and personnel overlap at all governmental levels.[85]

The image of the rubber stamp, used in the blog to symbolize the automatic approval/ratification of all laws by the Soviet legislature.
Credits: UI Download,

  • For instance, the head of the party was frequently the head of the state and, in some communist countries, the head of the party was also the head of the armed forces.[86]
  • Most communist legislatures have also become rubber-stamp bodies- simple tools for the automatic ratification of party policies.[87]
  • Moreover, the majority of state officials were also members of the communist party.
    • Therefore, it was argued that the state in its narrow sense- that is, distinguished from the party- was ‘withering away.’[88]


This statement was in conformity with classic Marxist prognosis that stipulated that there would no longer be a distinct state ‘caste’ standing above the general populace, since the state would have been subordinated to the people and thus no longer above them.[89]

In fact, classical Marxists argued that the contemporary Western state was a tool through which the ruling class oppressed the general population.[90] They claimed that in a classless post-revolutionary society government functions would have been converted into simple administrative functions, deputies would have been paid at workers’ wages and the army would have been replaced by people’s militia.[91]


The image depicts a propaganda poster that portrays an oligarch, who is a puppeteer, moving 3 puppets- that is, political candidates screaming "Vote Your Power into my Hands", "I'll Do Your Fighting For You", "Vote, And Be Saved", above the ballot box. The puppeeteer says "I Don't Think He's Wise To The Game Yet", as he is being approached by a man wearing a worker's robe titled "Class Conscious Worker". The poster is titled "Now He Understands The Game", since it can be seen how the worker came to 'fight the power' with his huge list of "Demands Legislated in the Union Hall" a
Credits: Reddit,

Despite some ambiguities over whether Marx actually claimed that the state would necessarily disappear, he was adamant that the oppressive state would disappear.[92]

Lenin, too, saw the state as an organ used by the elite to keep other classes suppressed.[93] However, he argued that in the early stages after the socialist revolution, “the vestiges of the bourgeois state machinery”[94] had to remain, but now under the control of the proletariat (‘dictatorship of the proletariat’).[95] Such a concept, in essence, meant an old state system run by the new and (temporary) elite.

Thus, the state in its narrow sense was indeed withering away, while in its broad sense (in conjunction with the party) ‘the state’ was strengthened.



Marxism had thus inevitably failed to produce a coherent and credible democratic solution.

While Marx himself clearly hoped for some aspects of participatory democracy, set free from the ‘parasitic’ politicians, with protected private sphere, personal independence and freedom of opinion, he also preferred a centrally planned, large-scale industrial economy.[96] His followers realized the impossibility of reconciling those two aspects together and thus developed a vanguard conception of democracy, which meant leading the working class away from their sufferings before they could have acquired the Marxist class consciousness to fight for themselves.

Close inspection, however, demonstrates that this socialist ‘democracy’ was a parody- a profound negation of everything that genuine democrats stand for.

The true inner despotic reality of totalitarian regimes was thus conceded by the appearance of the traditional democratic garb, such as elections, mass meetings and representative assemblies.

Therefore, socialist democracy was nothing more but a pseudo-democracy, “in which rituals associated with the democratic idea were preserved on the surface but given an authoritarian content.”[97]



  • Bass, Robert. “East European Communist Elites: Their Character and History.” Journal of International Affairs 20, no. 1 (1966): 106–17.
  • Bustikova, Lenka. “The State as a Firm: Understanding the Autocratic Roots of Technocratic Populism.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 33, no. 2 (May 2019): 302–30. https://journals-sagepub-com.
  • Chalidze, Valery. “Perestroika, Socialism, and the Constitution .” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 506 (November 1989): 98–108. https://www-jstor-org.
  • Femia, Joseph V. “Marxist Democracy?” In Marxism and Democracy, 68–142. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
  • Holmes, Leslie. “Political Culture and Socialization.” In Politics in the Communist World, 76–95. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
  • Holmes, Leslie. “The State and Elections.” In Politics in the Communist World, 148–76. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
  • Holmes, Leslie. “The Party.” In Politics in the Communist World, 119–47. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
  • Marx, Karl. “General Rules.” For The International Workingmen’s Association, 1864.
  • Stalin, Joseph V. “On the Draft Constitution of the U.S.S.R.” Report Delivered at the Extraordinary Eighth Congress of Soviets of the U.S.S.R., November 25, 1936.
  • Vaxberg, Arkady I. “Civil Rights in the Soviet Union.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 506 (November 1989): 109–14. https://search-proquest-com.


[1] Valery Chalidze, “Perestroika, Socialism, and the Constitution,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 506 (November 1989): p. 98-108, https://www-jstor-org, 103.

[2] Chalidze, Ibid, 103.

[3] Joseph V. Femia, “Marxist Democracy?,” in Marxism and Democracy (Oxford : Clarendon Press , 1993), pp. 68-142, 118.

[4] Femia, Ibid, 118.

[5] Femia, Ibid, 119.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Femia, Ibid, 120.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Femia, Ibid, 126.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Femia, Ibid, 127.

[15] Femia, Ibid, 121.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Femia, Ibid, 122.

[19] Femia, Ibid, 123.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Karl Marx, “General Rules,” for The International Workingmen’s Association, 1864,

[22] Lenka Bustikova, “The State as a Firm: Understanding the Autocratic Roots of Technocratic Populism,” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 33, no. 2 (May 2019): pp. 302-330, https://journals-sagepub-com, 305.

[23] Femia, Ibid, 122.

[24] Leslie Holmes, “The Party,” in Politics in the Communist World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 119-147, 130.

[25] Joseph V. Stalin, “On the Draft Constitution of the U.S.S.R,” Report Delivered at the Extraordinary Eighth Congress of Soviets of the U.S.S.R., November 25, 1936,

[26] Arkady I. Vaxberg, “Civil Rights in the Soviet Union,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 506 (November 1989): pp. 109-114, https://search-proquest-com, 111.

[27] Vaxberg, Ibid, 111.

[28] Femia, Ibid, 123.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Vaxberg, Ibid, 111.

[31] Femia, Ibid, 124.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 119.

[34] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 121.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 131.

[38] Holmes, “Political Culture and Socialization”, Ibid, 83.

[39] Holmes, “Political Culture and Socialization”, Ibid, 84.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Holmes, “Political Culture and Socialization”, Ibid, 83.

[42] Holmes, “Political Culture and Socialization”, Ibid, 84.

[43] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 140.

[44] Femia, Ibid, 130.

[45] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 140.

[46] Femia, Ibid, 134.

[47] Femia, Ibid, 130.

[48] Femia, Ibid, 131.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Femia, Ibid, 132.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Femia, Ibid, 133.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 131.

[56] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 132.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 133.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 134.

[63] Robert Bass, “East European Communist Elites: Their Character and History,” Journal of International Affairs 20, no. 1 (1966): pp. 106-117,, 108.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Bass, Ibid, 111.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 134.

[69] Femia, Ibid, 132.

[70] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 135.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 136.

[74] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 141.

[75] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 143.

[76] Bustikova, Ibid, 307.

[77] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 143.

[78] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 144.

[79] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 145.

[80] Bass, Ibid, 112.

[81] Bass, Ibid, 109.

[82] Bass, Ibid, 114.

[83] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 131.

[84] Holmes, “The State and Elections”, Ibid, 173.

[85] Holmes, “The Party”, Ibid, 131.

[86] Holmes, “The State and Elections”, Ibid, 174.

[87] Femia, Ibid, 132.

[88] Holmes, “The State and Elections”, Ibid, 175.

[89] Holmes, “The State and Elections”, Ibid, 149.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Holmes, “The State and Elections”, Ibid, 150.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Femia, Ibid, 141.

[97] Ibid.

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