Socialism is often portrayed in capitalist societies as the antithesis of democracy. 

However, this is a myth, which is used by the ruling class to deter workers and youth from learning about the reality of socialism. Socialism and workers’ democracy are not only compatible but need each other. 

You cannot have genuine socialism without workers’ democracy. And you cannot have genuine workers’ democracy without socialism. 

So-called Socialism

Looking at the self proclaimed ‘communist’ states, it is easy to see how this myth became so widely accepted. 

The October Revolution in Russia started strong, bringing real democracy to workers in the form of the Soviets (workers councils). But after the death of Lenin, an enormous bureaucracy – with Stalin at its head – took more and more control. 

Those who opposed this move away from workers’ democracy, and the genuine programme of socialism, were expelled from the CP and often killed. Many, such as Trotsky, were accused of being counter-revolutionaries. The political and organisational debates which had been a key feature of the Bolsheviks were stifled.

The Stalinist USSR was not democratic, but it also was not socialist. Workers’ democracy was gradually weakened, as unelected bureaucrats began to dominate the economy and politics. 

Though the USSR was not capitalist, it also did not practice socialism. To suggest that the totalitarianism of the USSR post-Lenin is a natural symptom of socialism is ignorant at best, and deceitful at worst. 

Capitalism and Democracy

When this argument is made, it is often contrasted with the so-called ‘democratic’ nature of capitalism. The most basic principle of capitalism, private ownership, proves this is false. Workplaces are not run by workers, but a capitalist who often knows nothing of the situation in the workplace.

The views of workers are rarely taken into account. Strike action is required to achieve any change. Outside the workplace, the majority has no power over what is produced, or the prices things are sold at. And we are unable to hold companies to account for their actions. 

So the capitalist economy is lacking any real democracy. But what about in politics? 

The capitalist class holds immense power over politics. With immense wealth, comes the ability to fund and corrupt political parties. The media is owned and controlled by a handful of billionaires, who churn out capitalist propaganda. 

Both the economy and political systems under capitalism are dominated by a wealthy minority which holds the real power in society. This, by any definition, is completely undemocratic. It is a ‘democracy’ for only the rich and privileged.

Real Democracy

So what would workplace democracy look like? The best place to look for answers is the Soviets. Despite the conditions which soviet democracy was created in – backwards Russia – they still achieved a great step forwards. A revolution now could create a great deal more for workers.

The Soviets were not created by the Bolsheviks, or any political party, but by the workers themselves. In the course of the revolution, delegates were elected from every factory to discuss which way forward. With the victory of the October revolution – the Soviets were then given the power to carry out these ideas in practice. 

This showed a pure expression of the workers’ desire for revolutionary change. This has been seen in revolutionary movements since in embryonic form. 

Worker’s democracy is the only means of ensuring that workers can actually take control of their lives. From electing representatives – on a worker’s wage and directly accountable to the workers themselves – in the workplaces; to the freeing of time for workers to participate in decisions at large: it is only in these conditions that real democracy can flourish. 

Trotsky once commented that socialism without democracy is like a body without oxygen. In this we see that the two are fundamentally linked. 

If the interests of workers are to be truly represented in society, then there must be a socialist revolution that puts the running of society in the hands of the working class, for the working class. Only this will end the tyranny of capitalism, and bring about a new, truly democratic world.

Finlay Stevenson 


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