The Reality of Communism Democracy and Freedom of Expression—The Economic Base Is the Decisive Factor!

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زمان مطالعه: ۱۰ دقیقه

The Reality of Communism 

Democracy and Freedom of Expression—The  Economic Base Is the Decisive Factor

Part 3 

December 6, 2023

Editors’ note: The article below is posted in Farsi in Atash/Fire journal #145, December 2023 at It was translated by volunteers. Bracketed words/phrases are added by translators for clarification. Part 1 and Part 2 were previously posted at

The main source of these series of articles is the book, Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? by Bob Avakian, and his other works on democracy/dictatorship. 

In the previous sections, we discussed how in essence, bourgeois democracy is bourgeois dictatorship. We also examined how the contradiction between the ideal of democracy and its reality is the source of many petty-bourgeois illusions and theories for reforming and expanding bourgeois democracy, and that the limits of any state and its overall superstructure, including a democracy, is determined by its economic base. In this section, we will discuss why and how the economic underpinnings of any social system determines the content and parameters of [its] “rights,” and in particular how it shapes “freedom of expression,”  which is one of the most celebrated and admired features of bourgeois democracy. Finally we will show that to get beyond the narrow horizon of  “bourgeois right,” there is no way other than the revolutionary overthrow of the ruling class, and building a radically different [kind of] dictatorship/democracy.


Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?

۲۰۱۴ edition
(originally published 1986)
by Bob Avakian
Price: $10.95
Format: Paperback
Order from:   RCP Publications
PO Box 804956, Chicago, IL 60680-4111
With an Introduction by Raymond Lotta:
“A Landmark Work of Heightened Relevance”

The most fundamental problem is that in every social system (e.g., the capitalist system or the socialist system), the political superstructure must serve its underlying economic base. This is not a mere theoretical abstraction, but has concrete meaning. That is, policies and actions that are against or undermine the economic infrastructure will lead to disorder, chaos and disruption of the entire system. If the laws (which are part of the political superstructure) conflict with fundamental property relations, the economic base will totally disintegrate, and society (regardless of whether the social system is capitalist or socialist) will not be able to function. 

Imagine, for example, that the basic necessities of life continue to be produced as they are now produced in capitalist society—that is, the vast majority are produced by workers who sell their labor power in exchange for wages in factories [or farmland] owned by capitalists, with the capitalists selling the products which they [privately] own and control. Then, imagine in those circumstances, passing a law that says no one has to pay for their necessities and everyone can take [whatever and] as much as they need from what is produced! The fact that this seems absurd, and absolutely cannot be implemented, is the expression of one fundamental reality: the production relations (i.e., economic infrastructure) of society [sets the basic terms for] the ideological and political superstructure, including its laws.

But not all theories that conflict with capitalism’s economic base are as clearly unrealistic as this example. For example, there are many theories of bourgeois democracy that envision a fair distribution of wealth, or even the equal distribution of the means of production [land, machines, factories, etc.]. They say, for example, that everyone can be given a piece of farmland to work, and if anybody starts getting way ahead of anybody else, the surplus can be taxed and redistributed equally again! But the problem is that commodity production and exchange will, on the basis of this very capitalist mode of production, inevitably lead to inequality and the polarization of society, even if you start working with an equal share of the means of production. In addition, there is the fact that equal farmland can never be absolutely equal, because some land is more fertile, or is closer to water, or has a better location, etc.—the products of these lands must be placed on the market in competition with other products, and [with] farmers from other countries. In this way, the law of value connects all these separate producers through the market, and imposes a certain standard of quality and efficiency on them. In the end, sooner or later, inequality will develop between these producers which, with government intervention to enforce equality [of ownership], will deepen divisions in society to the point where some will take up arms and rise up against the government that is preventing them from expanding production!

If a government wants to prevent this process from leading to inequality, it must stop production for the world market, which is again unrealistic and impractical within the framework of the capitalist system. So it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how much your policies and laws are made to promote equality. As long as you function within the framework of capitalist commodity production and exchange, and transform labor power into commodities, you will generate inequality.

That is why, in the “real world,” namely in capitalist society, it is perfectly legal for a company to refuse to hire people on the grounds that it would not be profitable to employ them, even if that would cause the hunger and homelessness for people who are unemployed (and perhaps for their families). If these unemployed and homeless people occupy some place, or take food and clothes from a store without paying, they will be punished by the state’s [enforcement] apparatus—because, they have acted counter to the workings of the economic infrastructure of capitalism. That is why it is legal to evict people who are unable to make their rent or their mortgage payments. A power or water or gas company can cut off your electricity and water and gas if you don’t pay the bills, and it’s perfectly legal.

These laws, which serve and conform to the principle of private property and the commodity exchange [in] production, are not just laws that relate to the financial and economic arena, nor do they directly reflect the mode of production. Rather, some laws are related to maintaining the political, cultural and military superstructure, and these, in turn, serve to protect and enhance the underlying relations of production. For example, the much-lauded freedom of expression in “democratic countries” is not in contradiction with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, but rather exists within and is limited by that framework, for two reasons. One is that the ruling class dominates and monopolizes the shaping of public opinion. For this reason, what Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto is more true than ever today: “the ruling ideas of every age, or every society, are ever the ideas of the ruling class.” Second, the ruling class dominates and controls the armed forces and uses them to crush ideas and practices that pose a serious threat to their system.

This is happening right before our eyes today. Israel’s war against Palestine has led to acute polarization around the world. Millions of people cannot remain indifferent to the massacre of more than 11,000 people in just 40 days, and the streets and universities have become places of protest. But the reaction of the “bourgeois democracies” has not been to recognize freedom of expression by supporters of Palestine, but bans—from slogans to rallies, from carrying a Palestinian flag to the wearing a keffiyeh۱—while the media and virtual networks widely distort or delete news and opinions of supporters of Palestine. They do this with such zeal, because Israel is an important ally for Western democracies, and not defending it means turning their backs to the fundamental interests of their system.

They call Hamas a “terrorist” group, but neither Israel nor anyone who serves the interests of U.S. imperialism is labeled a “terrorist.” Although the media’s silence has decreased, due to some extent to the polarization of society around the Palestinian issue and the intensification of divisions in the ruling class, the media has not yet been able to publicly address the question of whether the U.S. has a right to condemn “terrorism” at all, given the war crimes and brutal practices of the U.S. around the world. The control and management of the media by the ruling class, as we see in these examples, is an important aspect of the all-round exercise of dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in the superstructure of capitalist society. Liberty and equality for all do not exist, not in the sphere of political thought, nor in social relations, nor in the underlying economic relations. In all these areas, there is only class rule. Times like these reveal the bourgeois dictatorship concealed within the right to free speech.

Within the framework of bourgeois democracy/dictatorship, the concept of free speech itself is also influenced by the economic base, commodity production and exchange, and the concept of a “marketplace of ideas” is an expression of capitalist property relations. One of the theorists of bourgeois rights, John Stuart Milldefended freedom of speech for everyone, including for unpopular opinions, saying that the arguments of any theory should be heard—not only from its opponents, but also from the best defenders of that idea. This statement can be divided into two: on the one hand, what John Stuart Mill advocates is the right of individuals to own intellectual property.۲ Thomas Jefferson (the father of American democracy), regarded ownership of ideas and opinions as a form of private property, and the protection of property in any form as the most important duty of a government. 


Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy cover

Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy


by Bob Avakian

In the marketplace of ideas, freedom of speech means that everyone is the owner of their ideas. If they have a new idea, they must “register” it in a way that benefits themselves (such as patenting an invention) before going public with the idea, lest it be “stolen.” And after it is made public, it must “compete” with other ideas for the best price (even if this value is not directly financial). In this process, the only thing that doesn’t matter is whether the idea serves to get a better understanding of the truth, to better understand the world, and to change it for the benefit of the majority of people. This is how ideas become nothing more than the property of their owners, so that challenging them in any way by comparing it to objective reality is considered an attack on the creator of the idea, because what matters is not the truth, but “my idea.”۳

On the other hand, what John Stuart Mill defends as freedom of speech is also very important from the communist point of view, and is a vital part of the process of deeper understanding of truth by the people and by communists themselves. The truth, related to a level of material reality (whether in society or in nature), is constantly moving and developing, and is impossible to know without dialogue and debate over opposing ideas—and with the best defenders of those ideas. Contention of opposing ideas generates a great deal of energy in society for discovery of the truth, in which correct ideas can again prove themselves, or rectify their flaws. Yes, everyone must be free—from oppression and from the bondage of private ownership of thoughts and ideas—to express their opinions. But this is not freedom for just a few individuals. More than anything, the broad masses of people must be free, through this process, to arrive at the truth about things and about the world, in its varied and deeper aspects, and be empowered to seek scientific knowledge and discover truth. Only in such a way can people come to truly run and be leaders of society.

The other aspect of the problem is that the “unlimited freedom of expression” in John Stuart Mill’s theory never actually existed. Even if there is no policy to outlaw specific ideas, not all ideas and outlooks in the world can be reflected equally in the media and publications due to objective constraints on time and resources. In actuality, what happens in capitalist class society is that sets of ideas that are in accord with the interests of the ruling class compete, while it is claimed there is no leadership in this process. But the programme in socialist society, taking into account objective limitations, is to project a wide range of varied and contradictory ideas. This process is led in such a way as to serve arriving at the truth at the highest possible level, rather than in a way that at any particular juncture would benefit the state, or even the communist party. Whatever is true is ultimately in the interests of the proletariat.

Needless to say, although all laws and civil rights in bourgeois democracies are based on consolidating and stabilizing the dictatorship of the ruling class, the same laws are also interpreted, altered, and used against people by the police, the courts, and by the authorities in general. For example, it is not just in the Islamic Republic that “freedom of assembly” is recognized in the constitution۴ but trampled in practice. During the Jina uprising, hundreds of people were murdered or blinded, and thousands of others were arrested. In the U.S., the law recognizes the same right for a Black man to carry a weapon and use it in self-defense as for a white man. But, if a Black man with a gun comes face to face with a cop, he is very likely to lose his life, and his death-by-cop will most likely be considered “justifiable homicide.” Repression, whether in the form of suppressing ideas or in the form of [physical] suppression by security or military forces, demonstrates the existence of class dictatorship, and the backbone core of this class dictatorship is its army and military forces. For this reason, there can be no such thing as a “peaceful revolution.”

Revolution means the transformation of the economic base and the superstructure of society; this requires the replacement of the ruling class with another class. No era in history has seen a ruling class voluntarily “relinquish” its position to the class that wants to abolish it. Revolution means the replacement of one ruling class by another class. This is also necessary for the revolution of this era, the communist revolution. But the goal of a proletarian revolution, contrary to the goal of the bourgeois revolutions of 18th century, is to abolish all exploitative relations, all oppressive divisions of labor, and all political institutions and [traditional] ideas that represent the division of society into classes.۵

Despite all that has been exposed about the true nature of bourgeois democracy/dictatorship, the root of all the oppression, exploitation and war and genocide we experience today, is not separate from the material/underlying foundations of “democratic rights” and the horizons of bourgeois democracy. There is not and never has been anywhere, democracy for all, freedom of expression for all, and equality between the exploiters and the exploited. Within the system of capitalism-imperialism, we can never have a better world than what we have right now. But now, with a real revolution, it is possible to live in a totally different system. Yet to the majority of people in the world, revolution is still something alien, and many prefer to be busy fighting to achieve more and better “democratic rights,” even as climate change and the threat of nuclear war seriously threaten the existence of humanity.

In the next issue, we will discuss that, although we will have a much superior type of democracy/dictatorship in socialist society, and a qualitatively different type of freedom, it will not be an expansion of, or improvement on, bourgeois democracy/dictatorship.

Endnote from translators:

For a basic explanation of the following scientific terms in the text—۱) means of production 2) commodity production 3) law of value—please see “Commodities & Capitalism—and the Terrible Consequences of This System, A Basic Explanation,” by Bob Avakian.



۱. For example, in regards to the ban in France: [back]

۲. On intellectual property, Bob Avakian, 2008. Chapter on “Freedom of Conscience as Private Property, ‘The Free Market Place of Ideas’—and a Radically Different and Far More Unfettered Search for Truth.” [back]

۳. Ibid. [back]

۴. According to the 27th principle of Iran’s constitution, “The formation of gatherings and marches without carrying weapons is allowed, provided that it does not disturb the principles of Islam.” [back]

۵. Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? Bob Avakian, Banner Press, 1986. [back]