The Reality of Communism What Is Social Democracy and Why Is It a Capitalist Dictatorship?

به اشتراک گذاشتن
زمان مطالعه: ۱۲ دقیقه


The Reality of Communism 


Democracy and Freedom of Expression—The

Economic Base Is the Decisive Factor

Part 4 

January 8, 2024

Editors’ note: The article below is posted in Farsi in Atash/Fire journal #146, January 2024 at It was translated into English by volunteers. Bracketed words/phrases, and some of the footnotes, are added by translators for clarification. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 were previously posted at

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

In previous issues of this series, we discussed examples of bourgeois democracies. In this issue we will discuss social democracy. After World War II, social democracy, also known as the “welfare state,” prevailed in most Western European countries. Social democracies have tried to portray themselves as different from bourgeois democracy of the kind that prevails in the U.S. Although social democracies have some important differences from other types of bourgeois state dictatorships, their similarities are more fundamental: social democratic states are bourgeois dictatorships.


Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?


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”

In this article, through analyzing these similarities and differences and examining the views of the defenders of social democracy, we show how democracy/dictatorship under socialism is qualitatively different from these models and from any expansion or improvement of bourgeois democracy/dictatorship. At the end, we will take a look at Karl Popper’s social democratic theory.

Social Democracy

Today, defenders of social democracy as a desirable model for Iran’s future are an active force on the political scene, and this idea has great influence among intellectuals. These intellectuals completely separate the history of democracy in Iran from the larger historical context of Iran’s integration into the framework of global capitalism (capitalist imperialism). Like the other countries of the “global South,” Iran is a country “under the domination of imperialism.” It is subordinate to the requirements of capital accumulation in the “central” countries (the metropole) and, internally, its [development] is lopsided and fragmented.

The development of capitalism in Iran has gone through various turning points, each of which was dependent on major changes in the global capitalist system. (For further discussion refer to the chapter on economics of the Manifesto and Program of the Communist Revolution in Iran-2017.) The defenders of social democracy in Iran reject this decisive fact. As a result, their “solution” for Iranto “extend” to Iran the political superstructure that prevails in the imperialist capitalist countries of the Westis futile and impossible to implement in Iran.

Bob Avakian explains in his book Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?, the tendency of social democrats can be divided into two groups: one of these focuses on various reformist schemes to achieve “economic democracy” in Europe (the so-called social democrat defenders of the welfare state). Those in this first group, who became partners-in-power inside their own bourgeois states, emphasize that democracy is impossible without economic justice. Therefore, the distribution of imperialist plunder among wider sections of the population is at the center of their program. In relation to democracy, the practice and essential role of this group has been to defend and advocate for bourgeois society and its traditions in the West—against the challenge of Soviet social imperialism in the past, and now against genuine revolution and revolutionary communism.

The other group of social democrats tries to distinguish themselves from the usual cheerleaders for Western imperialism by presenting their views on democracy with a more radical, and even “Marxist,” formulation. But, in the final analysis, their attempts to make Marxism align with bourgeois democracy are futile, as well.

Let’s look at some of the views of Iranian supporters of social democracy. One of the most well-know names among these intellectuals is Mohammad Reza Nikfar. During the Jina uprising, he theorized and idealized how this type of democracy could counter theocratic and monarchic rule. “Ultimately, there are no more than two ways to deal with the current chaos and disarray: an integration [of the populist movement with the existing system] based on equality and participation, or consolidation based on authoritarian power, repression and control. This is a choice between the honor and dignity of [being] a citizen versus the historical degradation and indignity of [being] a peasant.”۱Apart from the fact that the historical conditions of degradation and subjugation of the Iranian people have not been so “selective” as all that, we must emphasize that Nikfar’s ideal of equality and citizen participation—the essence of the bourgeois democratic ideal—has already failed.

Because Nikfar ignores the larger context of Iran’s integration into the global capitalist system (though he is well aware of its history), he cannot factually and scientifically explain why all bourgeois-democratic efforts have failed in Iran, and continue to fail. There are two world-historical obstacles: first, in an imperialist world, bourgeois democracy cannot be extended to the countries it dominates (especially of the kind of “welfare state” specific to a handful of countries). To do so would require radical changes in the relationship between the countries of the “Global North” and the “Global South,” and any such attempt would disrupt the internal cohesion of the imperialist countries (aside from the fact that bourgeois democracy in these countries itself is today threatened by fascist forces).

What makes social democracy—and bourgeois democracy more generally—possible in those very few countries is their plunder of countries in the “Global South.” Dictatorial regimes [in the dominated countries] are synonymous with the relative prosperity and domestic political stability needed for the existence of bourgeois democracy in the imperialist countries.

Second, although a large part of what was considered the “communist movement” in Iran thinks that the era of bourgeois revolutions in the “Global South” is still ongoing, the reality is that the era of bourgeois revolutions has ended. This kind of thinking—that the bourgeois revolution has not yet been “exhausted” because it has yet to become “pure” in the “Global North” and because the “Global South” has not yet benefited from the many blessings it has conferred on the “Global North”—can be seen in the ideas formulated by the likes of Habermas,۲ and are fostered by many intellectuals of the “Global South.”

However, any problem that remained unresolved in the era of bourgeois revolutions can no longer be solved within that same framework, because in practice (and not in fantasy), that framework has become the globalized framework of capitalist imperialism. And today in particular, any attempt at bourgeois democracy turns into an outpost for imperialism, which ultimately contributes to the spread of the influence of Islamic fundamentalism (and elsewhere, Christian fundamentalism), as an alternative. Simply put, to solve all the “leftovers from the past,” such as the horrible return to dark-age ideology and more traditional social relations, requires the two radical ruptures that Marx emphasized, breaking with traditional property relations and breaking with traditional ideas.

In order to validate his political theory of social democracy, Nikfar turns an important fact upside down. He writes: “The duality of situations in the world result from discrimination which leads to the duality of position and to the conditions that are a result of exploitation. Discrimination precedes exploitation, from an analytical and logical standpoint, and also from a historical standpoint.۳ But in reality, unlike what exists in someone’s mind, the relation between discrimination and exploitation is the other way around. Not necessarily in a one-to-one way, but in a complex relationship, exploitation “ultimately” lays the foundation for a system that is an inseparable part of all forms of oppression and discrimination.

The relationship between discrimination and exploitation is multifaceted and multilayered. When Marx formulated the “۴ Alls,”۴ he explained their inner and dialectical relationships. He also clarified which is primary and their interval [what proceeds from what]. By turning this reality upside down (saying that discrimination precedes exploitation), Nikfar concludes that it is possible to solve the problem of discrimination within the framework of capitalism, and sees no need for a revolution with the aim of crushing the capitalist system and replacing it with a socialist system working to abolish the “۴ Alls.”

Other defenders of social democracy also see such a revolution as unrealistic. For example, Mehrdad Darvishpour, borrowing from Frederic Jamison,۵ writes that “defending the achievements of the welfare state—rather than romantic and unrealistic declarations about the abolition of classes and abolition of wage labor—is the important task of Left forces today.”۶ He considers the project of social democracy to be “integrating the defense of democracy with social justice, the defense of the environment, gender equality and the elimination of discrimination (including combating racism and ethnic discriminations)” that “has stood opposed to classical Left projects, such as the negative expropriation of private property and the establishment of state socialism.”

But expropriation of private ownership of the means of production and the establishment of socialism (proletarian democracy/dictatorship), which he calls a “classical” project, is a vital requirement for creating a material basis for social justice and for ending discrimination and protecting the environment. Because in reality, despite what anyone thinks, the source of these problems is the actual workings and dynamics of capitalism. Although it is a necessity for socialism, today and in the future, to rupture with the practices of early socialism in the Soviet Union and China (as Bob Avakian did by summing up the first wave of communist revolutions and laying the foundations of the new communism), this never was and never will be possible with a social democratic outlook. Expecting to achieve the “۴ Alls” within a bourgeois democracy, by something called “intertwining,” is not realistic, but utopian—something we revolutionary communists are accused of.

Of course, Darvishpour writes that his pet project, “both from the point of view of making progress and [to maintain] it in the long-term, is a far more effective way to simultaneously defend and expand the public welfare.”

Similarly, Faraj Sarkohi, in a program called “The Necessity of Social Democracy in Iran,”۷asserts that “the survival of society, its sustainable development, and even the growth of capital in it cannot be based on discrimination.” In his statements, we see a more honest example of social democracy and its purpose: to make capitalism rational! This project attempts to prove to the capitalist system and its uncontrollable driving force of “expand or die,” that it will be more effective and sustainable to take into account the rights of women, blacks, immigrants and the environment. He intends to use the capitalist mode of production based on the exploitation of labor power, but make profits “more fair,” and thereby reduce the oppression that is woven into this system.

Occasionally, he borrows sayings from Marxist literature, like “the final goal is to eliminate exploitation.” But how does he intend to achieve this goal? By “simultaneous emphasis on socialism and on democracy, and implementing them step by step, until the majority of the workers become conscious” (according to Faraj Sarkohi). This type of analysis and his proposals are examples of separating the political superstructure from society’s economic base.

One of the most important theorists of this kind of error is Agnes Heller.۸ In her collection of essays, she—like other theorists of the Budapest school—sought a democratic socialism that would be the opposite of what Bob Avakian calls the “mechanical and economist socialism” of the Soviet bloc. But instead of rupturing with it, she gets caught up in idealism. She misconstrues the relationship between society’s economic base and its political and ideological superstructure. This ultimately leads her to regard democracy as an ideal that can be grafted onto either a capitalist economic infrastructure or a socialist one!

Agnes Heller writes, “[T]he same democratic principles, to the extent that they are formal principles, can serve as fundamental principles in the constitution of either a capitalist or a socialist society,” and adds: “formal democracy, indeed, can be transformed into socialist democracy without undergoing the slightest modification. The principles of formal democracy prescribe how to proceed in dealing with the affairs of society, how to find solutions to problems, but in no way do they impose a limit on the content of various social aspirations.” (Emphasis added by Atash)

In contrast to the idealist fantasy of Agnes Heller, Avakian emphasizes:

….[D]emocracy, as a set of formal principles, cannot be made to service socialism as well as capitalism “without undergoing the slightest modification”…. to repeat the most basic point, democracy under socialism must undergo a qualitative, radical transformation from what it was under capitalism—it must be inverted—so that democracy is practiced among the ranks of the new ruling class, the proletariat, while dictatorship is exercised by the proletariat over the former ruling class, the bourgeoisie.

Without the two radical ruptures Marx and Engels spoke of as decisive… without the uphill battle that must be waged for it after socialism is first established… there is no socialism, let alone the ultimate achievement of communism. What are needed in the political realm are principles that reflect this and serve the struggle to overcome the resistance of the overthrown bourgeoisie (and newborn bourgeois class forces) and to enable the masses of people to become masters of society in every sphere…. what is needed is the application of democracy (and dictatorship) with an open, explicit, class content, and not the principles of formal democracy “without the slightest modification.”۹

Karl Popper

Another of the social democratic theorists is Karl Popper (a philosopher of Austrian descent). He laid out his theory, a critique of Marxism, in his well-known book The Open Society and Its Enemies.۱۰ Popper’s criticism of Marxism is that it takes an “essentialist” approach to capitalist exploitation and the state, because it doesn’t consider them to be reformable. In the 1990s, the reformist wing of the Islamic Republic zealously promoted Popper’s theory and this book. In fact, it became a major theoretical prop of their policy of “reforms” and was used to mobilize a section of the intellectual community around a belief in the “reformability of the Islamic Republic.”

According to Popper, the Marxist theory—that any form of state, without exception, represents the dictatorship of this or that class, and that even the most “democratic” of them is in fact a class dictatorship—is an “essentialist” theory. In his view, it is possible for a state to exist that is not a dictatorship. Popper sees democracy and dictatorship as two different planets, saying that where democracy is there is no dictatorship and vice versa. One of his important criteria for a state to be “democratic” and “non-dictatorial” is that people can “vote out” their political leaders. In a very important critique of Popper’s comments, Bob Avakian responds:

…the people can “dismiss” (vote out of office) particular politicians, they cannot by this means—or any means, other than revolution—”dismiss” the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) which in reality rules society, which exerts control over the electoral process itself, and which in any case dominates the political decision-making process, and, most essentially, exercises a monopoly of “legitimate” armed force… no serious—and certainly no genuinely scientific—analysis of the dynamics of political power and of the political decision-making process in “democratic” countries, such as the U.S., can lead to any other conclusion than that all this is, in reality, completely monopolized and dominated by the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists, and that others, besides this ruling class, are effectively excluded from the exercise of political power and meaningful political decision-making, notwithstanding the participation of the populace in elections.۱۱

Ultimately, Popper’s solution is this: instead of asking “what class is ruling,” Marxists should ask “how to contain it”! But there is no experience to show that the masses of people can “contain” the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which has a security and military apparatus. The existence of such illusions (which have always been promoted by the ruling class) have always dealt irreparable blows to the opponents of capitalism and to freedom fighters on the path to liberation.

Popper’s “solution” to capitalist exploitation is also to “contain” it. He opposes the “unlimited freedom of capitalism,” saying: “Under an unbridled capitalist system, the economically strongest person is free to bully the economically weak and steal his freedom…. We must demand that the policy of unlimited economic freedom be replaced by state-planned economic intervention.”۱۲

Here we are up against a theoretical bait-and-switch, in which Popper shifts words around to distort the nature of capital. As Raymond Lotta writes, “Capital is a social relation and a process, whose essence is indeed the domination by alien, antagonistic interests over labor.” (Raymond Lotta, America in Decline.)۱۳ And the bourgeois state (whether its form is social-democratic or liberal-democratic or fascist), is vital to the imposition of this [social] relation. Without it, the bourgeoisie can never dominate the labor force. No demand can stop “unbridled capitalism,” because the law of “expand or die” is the “intrinsic” law of capitalism, and physical violence the inevitable result: even to the extent of causing devastating wars and the destruction of the environment.

All the countries that the Iranian social democrats present as “examples” and “models” of social democracy—including the Scandinavian countries—are imperialist capitalist countries that as a result of the plunder and super-exploitation of the “Global South,” to some extent and for a period of time, are able to provide welfare and certain political rights in order to secure their own headquarters.

But today, we are seeing these same countries take off their “democratic” gloves and openly show their fascist iron fist. And it is astonishing to see so many of our social-democratic intellectuals adopt a deafening silence toward Israel’s genocidal crime against the Palestinian people—that is much like their deafening silence about the massacre of political prisoners in 1988 [in Iran]!

See also:



۱.  Radio Zamaneh, “The Dignity Movement”, Nikfar, Mohammad Reza, May 17, 1401 [From 2011 through July, 2023 Mohammad Reza Nikfar was Radio Zamaneh’s editor-in-chief. He continues to work closely with Radio Zameneh, and to write and teach.].  [back]

۲.  Jürgen Habermas is a prominent 20th century social-political theorist. For decades he has been a major figure in the Frankfurt School, which is known for revising the revolutionary heart out of socialism. One of his most widely read books is The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, a detailed social history of the development of the bourgeois public sphere from its origins in the 18th century salons up through modern, capital-driven mass media. His writings have been translated into more than 40 languages. Sources: Wikipedia and Library of Congress. [footnote added by translators] [back]

۳.  Website Critique of Political Economy “belonging, not belonging,” Nikfar, Mohammad Reza.  [back]

۴.  Bob Avakian: “To review: Marx said specifically the dictatorship of the proletariat is the transition to the abolition of all class distinctions, of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest, of all the social relations that correspond to those production relations, and the revolutionization of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations.”  [back]

۵.  Frederic Jamison is a “Western” Marxist, in the tradition of the Frankfurt School. He is best known for his critique of post-modernism, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (۱۹۹۱) and his research on critical theory.  [footnote added by translators] [back]

۶.  “In Defense of Social Policy of the Social Democratic Welfare State” by Mehrdad Darvishpour, 2022. [Darvishpour is an Iranian-Swedish sociologist, and a Stockholm activist.)] [back]

۷., ۰۹ May 2023.  [back]

۸.  Agnes Heller, [quoted in Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That? Chapter 6: “Bourgeois Socialism and Bourgeois Democracy.”] Bob Avakian, 1986.  [back]

۹.  Ibid.  [back]

۱۰.  The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper, 1945. Its Persian translation by Ezatollah Fouladvand was published in 2005.  [back]

۱۱.  Avakian. “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Part 1.” In the section titled “Marxism as a Science—Refuting Karl Popper: Marxism’s ‘falsifiability,’ Popper’s falsehoods, and a scientific approach.” ۲۰۰۷.  [back]

۱۲.  The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume II in English pp. 124-125.  [back]

۱۳. “Capital is a social relation and process whose essence is the domination of labor power by alien, antagonistic interests and the reproduction and expanded reproduction of that relation. The most fundamental law of the capitalist mode of production is the law of value and production of surplus value. The most important production relation of capitalism is the relation of capital to labor. And exploitation of wage-labor is the basis of the creation and appropriation of surplus value.” From “On the ‘Driving Force of Anarchy’ and the Dynamics of Change—A Sharp Debate and Urgent Polemic: The Struggle for a Radically Different World and the Struggle for a Scientific Approach to Reality,” by Raymond Lotta [footnote by translators] [back]