Nowadays it seems that many young people are embracing Marxism (or some sort of illusion of it. As Obie 2.0 commented below, many of them probably don't really know what the original Marxism really is). However, it is widely accepted in Western that there are no Marxism-based democratic regimes in the world. To avoid confusion, let us define a democratic regime to be the one that is at least labeled "flawed democracy" in the democracy index.

However, the original theory Marxism does not seems to be against democracy. It highly values the rights of working class, criticizes the super-wealthy capitalists, and aims to built a society of equity ("a classless society" in which the state would wither away). The idea of communism might looks very unrealistic, but as far as I remember Karl Marx himself never said how long it would take to establish communism ("all property is communally owned") and never imagined Mao should want to build communism in a couple of year with Big Leap Forward. Marx himself might imagine the communism to be achieved in thousands of years after the whole human sociality becomes highly wealthy through development.

My question only focuses on the original theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (not limited to The Communist Manifesto). Namely I am asking why the origin theory of socialism/communism invented by them failed to give birth to democracy till today.

To avoid confusion, let me emphasize that I am not asking why the variants of it, namely why Leninism, Stalinism or Maoism failed to establish democracies, because that were how Lenin, Starlin and Mao interpreted the original theory of Marx and Engels. Although they can be used as references to argue the issues with the original Marxism, i.e., what makes Marxism so easily abused by dictators? Or in other words, what nature of socialism/communism due to Marx and Engels makes it unlikely/impossible to become the foundation of democracy? (I believe basically all democracies today are based on the theory of capitalism. For example, the Wealth of Nations)

PS: By "socialism", I am also not asking about the modern Western socialism as shown in say North Europe.

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    The article that you linked suggests that young people are not in fact embracing Marxism, and have simply rebranded social democracy as socialism.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 10, 2022 at 18:37
  • I am totally shaky about the theoretical underpinnings of Marxism (as opposed to its observable outcomes) but I wonder if the notion of a vanguard class of "deciders" isn't what's driving the democratic deficits in most cases: "We know best, so we'll decide for you". As to the claim made in the link: Socialism has several meanings, one of them being a synonym of Communism, another describing "lefty" parties promoting wealth redistribution and possibly some nationalization of production, without hitching to Communism proper. Feb 10, 2022 at 19:40
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    Post-revolutionary Marxism is often interpreted as more or less anarchistic: once you have a society where everyone is well off and doesn't have to work much, then you won't need government. This is in contrast with conventional western representative democracy (particularly Hobbesian conservatism which needs a state to prevent constant war, but also centrist technocratic democracy where an elite tells the people what's good for them, and social contract theory). Although I admit to not understanding the question.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 10, 2022 at 23:58
  • This question dropped from +2 votes yesterday to -2 votes as of now. I wish someone could give me a reason for downvoting. I am happy to change the wording a little...
    – No One
    Feb 11, 2022 at 19:37
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    I think your premise 'all democracies today are based on the theory of capitalism. For example, the Wealth of Nations) is very flawed. Some aspects of modern democracies are organised in ways similar to what is described by Adam Smith (say car making). Others are organised more like what Marx described (education, healthcare) with means of production owned and managed by the government. Which industries work which way depends on the country but government employees make up a significant proportion of the work force in all democracies.
    – quarague
    Jan 19, 2023 at 16:18

8 Answers 8


I think the answer is that history did not allow this middle ground narrative during the cold war.

E.g. look at Chile and Vietnam. They tried to do build some kind of democratic system based on communism but both got set in place by world politics. Vietnam with a war and Chile with the coup in 1973.

Other countries like Yugoslavia and Albania got associated with USSR and became more Soviet-style systems.

Then a few countries could maybe have gotten away with calling something communism, but it is just much more convenient to call it something else. India could be an example.

And then we have those countries that did something most would consider socialist, but their own narrative was free trade and democracy, and they prospered. A good example here it Botswana.

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    +1 on the possible corrosive influence of being caught up in a bipolar Cold War. But then you also have China that separated from the USSR, fought a minor war with them, had the benediction of the Nixon administration - no Cold War get-out-of-jail card here - and still was a totalitarian state, even before it switched to essentially capitalism for its economy. Feb 10, 2022 at 21:00
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    In what way was Yugoslavia associated with the USSR?
    – phoog
    Mar 29, 2022 at 2:01
  • Vietnam war ended in 1975. Almost 50 years ago. "Cold War" doesn't fly as an excuse at this point - if they wanted to build democracy, 50 years should have been more than enough. And Chile coup was internal, not forced by the West (although in all fairness, they did root for the junta, on the principle that socialism was worse).
    – user4012
    Apr 11, 2023 at 2:56

Ok, let's do the history thing...

Throughout 19th century (and to a large extent up through the modern day) Liberalism was largely associated with two principles:

  1. Hyper-individualism, where the Rights, Liberties, and Privileges of individuals (which in that era meant 'male Caucasian property-owners' for cultural reasons) were paramount, and established through some form of representative governance.
  2. Adventure capitalism — from Colonial exploitation to industrial sweatshops — where rapid profit and expansion were key.

Both of these principles were outgrowths of the struggles of Liberalism in the 17th and 18th centuries, primarily efforts to uproot the dominance of traditional (feudal) aristocracies. The ideal was to create a true 'Liberal' society of equals. The practical reality was the creation of a broad, economically anarchic oligarchy, one in which caucasian, property-owning men sought profit and power at the expense of social, political, and human concerns and passed it off as functional liberalism. By the beginning of the 19th century, though, there were broad social movements — pre-Marx socialism — that opposed that anarchic individualism, arguing that society as a whole is what provides inherent rights and liberties, and that every member of society (as well as society itself) should benefit from the profits and protections of liberalism, not just the industrialists, colonialists, capitalists, and other 'individualists' who worked for themselves against society.

The point is this: by the time Marx arrived on the scene, representative governance and adventure capitalism had become conjoined in an oddly rigid caste system. Whether we're talking about constitutional monarchies, genuine republics, or the various transitional and hybrid systems that might have occurred, the one constant factor was that wealth was represented disproportionately, and wealth was contingent on exploitation of labor forces. From Marx's perspective, the idea of 'Liberal Democracy' (like the idea of religion) was a kind of sop spread by the wealthy and powerful to lull the masses into quite servitude. You can still hear that kind of usage even today, if you listen (e.g., those who say that slavery was the best thing for US blacks because it brought them to the greatest and most free nation in the world).

Marx wouldn't have precluded the idea that workers might gain the rights and privileges of a free society through normal electoral processes, but he wasn't naïve enough to think that could happen without massive struggle. He'd have seen the Civil Rights protests (and the violence that surrounded it) as the best-case scenario for political change.

In most proper Marxist systems something akin to democracy (direct or representative) is implied, because on a strictly primal level the only ways to achieve social cohesion are through collective agreement (democracy in the raw) or force majeure (compulsion), and compulsion is not desirable. But for most post-Marx Marxists (particularly Lenin, Mao, and other prominent revolutionaries), ostensibly 'democratic' regimes were merely oligarchies that pretended to be democratic, but used coercive threats of poverty and legal sanction to keep the 'lower' people in line with economic agendas. Such revolutionaries held that compulsive force must be used against these political systems that called themselves democratic (but weren't) in order to establish a system that really was democratic (but didn't call itself such). A few Marxist thinkers subscribed to things like social democracy and democratic socialism which explicitly invoked democratic principles, but for anyone in the 'socialist' camp the term 'democracy' was poisoned by its association with adventure capitalism.

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    Category error. Colonial exploitation is not capitalism.
    – Dan
    Feb 11, 2022 at 18:21
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    @Dan: Uhhh... That's just a silly statement. The entire Colonial project for most nations (Spain handled colonies somewhat differently) was the extraction of resources for commercial production by private companies. Sometimes these companies were state-subsidized (Like the British Tea Company). other times the state merely provided protection against native populations, but all in all it was perhaps the purest form of capitalism run amok that the world has ever seen. Feb 11, 2022 at 18:36
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    @Dan: a spade is a spade, even if the card doesn't think of itself as a spade. I'm not evaluating you, I"m recognizing (and dismissing) your expressed political philosophy. If you'd like to use logic and reason, you're going to have to get past the mindless repetition of your favorite phrase — and past the blithe assertion of nonsensical premises — and actually make (you know...) an argument. Until then, there is literally nothing in your comments for me to respond to. Except, that is, to point out that you're wrong. Feb 11, 2022 at 20:07
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    @Dan: except that the five words "Colonial exploitation is not capitalism" are not supportable except under the dogmatic assumptions of Libertarian idealism. At least not as far as I can see. You'd really have to do a lot more work to make that something I can't blow holes through effortlessly. Feb 12, 2022 at 4:46
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    @Achi: Don't align yourself with one-liner bully-boys; it doesn't serve your argument. But that aside, lots of different forms of government can be expansionist, but colonialism was a specific form of expansionism that was uniquely tied to capitalism: the subjugation of foreign peoples and territories for the benefit of private industry and commerce. That's unheard of in feudalism or communism, though common enough in fascism (which is a degraded form of crony capitalism). Blur the lines enough and everything looks like everything, sure enough, but let's not blur the lines here. Jan 20, 2023 at 14:56

This is my hypothesis based on looking at some of Communism's specific terminology and theory (and a fair bit of non-theoretical reading on the bad outcomes of Communism in practice, not least Gulag Archipelago):

  • class warfare. If you have a Manichean worldview where it's the workers vs the bourgeois, any one who disagrees with you is an enemy, an enemy of the people to be more precise. Or a reactionary. Or many other such terms which were used to sentence people to jail.

  • intermediate stage vs Communist stage. If your system posits an intermediate, imperfect stage, then you could - but don't have to - reason that people should not hold your government accountable for any failures, since it has not - yet - reached the point at which its success or failure can be judged. "Let's reach the real stage, then we can hold elections".

  • dictatorship of the proletariat. Words do matter and dictatorship has a particular, widely recognized, meaning. If your core tenets recognize a use for dictatorship, then why not use it, for the people's own good?

  • vanguard party. These are basically enlightened people, who know better than anyone else. They can be a minority, in fact they are expected to be, but they will show the way.

You also have a situation where Communist-run countries tend to be vilified by the larger world. That could - arguably - have led to them not being able to succeed on their own terms. And it - certainly - has led many to denounce any opposition to their rule as base conspiracies caused by outside influence.

Still, those 4 items can be rephrased as "You're either with us or against us. Good things come to those who wait. We rule for your own good. We know what's good for you.".

Add to it that Marx's words are discussed and interpreted, ad nauseam, with a fervor and intentness usually reserved for the Koran, Bible or US Constitution.

Is it any wonder that this theoretical underpinning instills a tendency to ignore dissenting opinions?

Modern Communism, even if the question expressly requests that that not be taken into account, was brought into being under the particular circumstances of the 1917 revolution, in Russia against a system based on hereditary feudalism, under Lenin and then later on Stalin. Under extreme opposition by the WW1 Allies, who wanted to keep Russia in the war and landed expeditionary forces afterwards to punish them for not doing so.

Given different historical antecedents, maybe Marx-inspired governance would have developed differently, interpreted Marx in a more tolerant fashion and adopted different customs and attitudes. But that's not really knowable, not when Lenin and his successors have been so much part of the picture.

Still, none of this imposition of will over the wider electorate has to happen.

You could, in theory, have an elected Communist government that runs the economy on Marxist principles but submits to the will of the wider electorate every 4-5 years, without rigging the votes, without unduly limiting who gets to vote, etc... Fair elections, or at least about as fair as every one else runs their elections.

But this very rarely happens in practice with governments that expressly look to Marxism for their ideology. Nepal (from Obie's comment). Guyana, Moldova, Nicaragua (v1, not v2 - still cheating on), from a question I asked on SE.History.

That's about it: half a dozen times in 100 years. If it became more frequent and it was a custom, then yes, we might get Democratic Communism. For now, not so much.

p.s. Let's preempt some arguments.

  • "But what about the other "democratic" governments? Are they all democratic?"

No, not necessarily. But if they claim to be democratic, they run multi party elections and occasionally lose them. Losing elections, and transitioning power, is a sign of a democratic government. One Communist governments have exceedingly rarely shown (but it has happened).

  • "But what about the US and "outlawing" Communism?"

That was mostly in the 50s. But most countries do not anything particular against Communism and despite that Communists have rarely won country-level elections. The Parti Communiste Francais, PCF, peaked at 21% and I'd wager that's been a pretty good outcome in rich democracies.

And, as much as the US goes out of its way to throttle Communism, this stricture is only aimed at one party and the other parties are allowed to compete just fine. Contrast that to a government run under Communism, where the general tendency has been to ban all parties not approved.

And, BTW, "people who vote for Sanders" are not "voting for Communism", not in any meaningful sense of the word. No matter what the Washington Post or they themselves think about it.

  • With regard to the United States, communist parties were kind of illegal, but not as much as people think. There was a Communist Party of the United States (that even received funding from the Soviet Union???) that put up candidates for election until 1984 or so. Then they kind of stopped for a while, but in 2021 they announced that they will start fielding candidates again. It's definitely not clear that there is anything illegal about communist parties in 2022.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 11, 2022 at 4:29
  • @Obie2.0 indeed, it is not illegal in the US to be a communist nor to form nor join a communist party. It is, however, illegal for foreign entities to give campaign donations to US politicians.
    – phoog
    Mar 29, 2022 at 2:07
  • @talianPhilosophers4Monica Yes, these 4 principles are a recipe for disaster. That being said they aren't really Marx's contribution, are they? I mean the classes aren't fixed static "ethnicities" or good and evil. So unlike the Nazi ideology it wouldn't make sense to defeat and kill the bad capitalists and replace them with "the good" ones, because afaik Marx considered them consequences of the material conditions. Like capitalist and worker are descriptions of their situation not judgements of their character or group membership. So more like roles that people fulfill in a system.
    – haxor789
    Dec 1, 2022 at 12:14
  • @talianPhilosophers4Monica Same for the intermediate step. Like it doesn't take a genius to realize that the aftermath of a revolution is likely more messy than perfect, it's something different to use that as an excuse for everything. And apparently the term "dictatorship" had a different meaning back then and it's meant as an antonym to the "dictatorship of the bourgeosie" which it sought to replace. Though yes the authoritarian character is still present. And the vanguard party is Lenin's idea, Marx apparently thought of it as happening inevitably, Lenin was more about jumpstarts.
    – haxor789
    Dec 1, 2022 at 12:20
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    OTOH by 1871 he had changed his mind again, and wanted deputies. So, in that regard, the Q is "which Marx"? Mar 24, 2023 at 19:02

I'll give it a try.

While Marxism and democracy are not necessarily in conflict with each other, there is a certain tension built into them as they have fundementally diverging orientations.

  • Marxism is focused on outcome, and ambivalent about process

  • Democracy is focused on process, and ambivalent about outcome

To summarize Marxism, it proposes that class struggle would lead to a world revolution, which ushers in a new world order. Once the new world is created, technological advancement would improve so much that it would resolve all problems in society.

Regardless whether you believe it or not, you can see that this is an ideology strongly rooted in a vision of where history must be going. Those who live in this worldview are encouraged to think about communism in inevitable terms, rather than evaluative terms. Communism will come eventually whether we like it or not, we don't know when or how, but all we can do is speed up the process.

This means that there is basically no limit on how you achieve communism. If you truly believe that the communist vision is all that matters, then you necessarily must eliminate all obstacles to achieve that vision. Maybe unsurprisingly, the first thing to go has to be democracy, because democratic elections and deliberations would only slow down the inevitable, or worse, entrentch the class divide. Taking this to logical end, then you have Soviet Union.

On the other hand, democracy is wholly unconcerned about which direction history should be going. It only cares about people being in control of their own destiny: They can choose to build communism this year, then change their mind to build capitalism next year, or maybe even choose to end democracy eventually - if that is what they want.

To answer your question: Combining Marxism and democracy would require a profound conviction among the voters. Essentially, they would have to decide - elections after elections - that they want to keep building communism. The moment that voters decide not to build communism, then I guess communism ends.

So while it is not impossible for the two to coexist, I can see why some might think it is unlikely.

  • Yes and no. I mean you certainly have that tendency in Marx with "historic materialism" and the idea of a certain progression of history from the rule of the few to the rule of the many. Though yes communism is just seen as the next stage after capitalism that follows naturally from the dynamics of the material conditions. That being said the the point of criticism of capitalism is it's lack of democracy because the economic inequality produces a power structure that makes the parliamentary democracy a farce, in Marx's time even more so than today. So democracy was the stated goal.
    – haxor789
    May 30, 2023 at 13:53

First of all a lot of the popular support for "socialism" in the U.S. is probably a backlash from the conservative fearmongering, which for decades called anything left of anarcho-capitalism the dreaded "s"-word, so much so that people are starting to use it again, though largely referring to social-democratic (social-market-economic) policies rather than actual socialism.

With regards to Marx and Marxism. Afaik Marx himself didn't actually contribute all that much to the question how a communist society should look like and how it's supposed to be achieved or organized. He was active in the 1st international (workingmens association) and bullied the anarchists out of it and his communist manifesto included a 10 point action plan which he called largely obsolete in the preface of later versions. He also vaguely spoke about a "dictatorship of the proletariat" and a transitional period between capitalism and communism and approved of revolutionary terror to make the process go a faster. Though contemporaries and later theoreticians have placed way more value on these terms than Marx has. He wasn't too active in the revolutions in his lifetime an the ones he saw in 1848 and the Paris Commune in 1871 were short lived and rolled back pretty fast.

So the idea that he developed a rudimentary masterplan for how society should be organized is largely false. His contribution is apparently the description, analysis and critique of the upcoming industrial capitalism of his time. He dipped his toes into economic and social science developing a theory of value based on Smith and Ricardo and took on a materialistic perspective towards social relations. So the broad social structure of classes, castes and hierarchies is based on economic relations and material conditions. He even conjectured a historic materialism where he views history through the lens of class struggles.

Now he was hardly the first to recognize that there is a discrepancy of power between those who own the mean of production and those who work them or to call for various ways to get rid of that discrepancy. Though he was more interested in making it a science while others were apparently more interested in describing their utopia or engaged in practical activism.

Apparently Marx is a seminal figure for many branches in economics, sociology and philosophy and "Marxism" thus can refer to a variety of ideas going back to Marx. Also even during his lifetime Marx had his struggle with "Marxists" as interpretations of his works didn't always match with his own interpretations.

With regards to democracy. Well the ideal, or the direction of the historic progression seen by Marx is democratic. To him these class struggles present themselves as a movement from the rule of the few to the rule of the many or an anarchist scenario without rulers. And with the industrialization and the increase in economic production, the relations between the classes in this productive system are no longer a necessity of the production process but are merely kept in place by the ownership of the means of production, which is a title granted and protected by an oppressive state. But the proletariat is, or is to become so plentiful and powerful that they could do away with that and enter a new stage with new problems.

To an extend he even sees capitalism as necessary and positive in doing away with middle classes and religious, ethnic and other differences establishing only class as the relevant distinction that creates an ever growing proletariat, that if it would recognize it's common socio-economical situation would just need to join forces and organize and would be basically unstoppable given the numbers and the improved material conditions. So when talking about a communist party he's talking about a mass movement, not a top-down vanguard party. Afaik Engels even criticized that approach after the Paris Commune as failure.

The mode of change is a revolution. Now for context, he apparently wasn't generally an adversary of peaceful transitions but if you take a look at the political landscape of his time you'd find that democracies where something rather scarce. France pivoted between a republic and a absolute monarchy and the U.S. and England which were nominally democratic or at least technically democratic constitutional monarchies took well into the 20th century to establish even universal suffrage.

The founding slave owners of the U.S. were so contemptuous of the liberty of the working class that they called democracy "tyranny of the majority" and "mob rule". In Federalist Papers No. 10 Madison even shared Marx's impression (not by name but by idea) that the working class would form factions based on their shared economic situation and demand change, just that unlike Marx he doesn't see that as something good, but instead specifically argues for the state to uphold the privileges of the better offs and to find ways to curb the ability of the rest to resist that, which famously includes his OPPOSITION to DEMOCRACY. While in Marx's exile in London also only a small fraction of the population was eligible to vote with the poor and working class being among those without suffrage.

Meanwhile on the European continent revolutions for democracy were militarily crushed and there was a period where monarchy had a comeback. So even the phony or shortlasting democracies had to be fought for by revolutionary violence and actual democracies were as utopian as socialism. So given these circumstances it's somewhat understandable that Marx as well as many others was primarily in favor of a revolution as reforms seemed to be fully out of reach, he made exceptions though for countries that already had nominal democracies and the ability to do it peacefully and apparently argued in 1952 that the universal suffrage in England would be the most socialist thing to happen compared to anything happening on the continent, because given that the proletariat has the majority it would be equivalent to the rule of the proletariat.

Now obviously history proved many of these assumptions wrong, insufficient, not yet realized or anything else. Capitalism didn't crush all differences between people except class, in fact fascists and conservatives still pit different sections of the poor and working class against each other, by "perceived class", sex, race, ethnicity and so on. Nationalism proved to be more successful than anticipated in making people believe it's "their country" despite not owning even a handful of dirt of it. He was kinda right that revolutions were in the air, as can be seen in the beginning of the 20th century, though again quite some of them were unsuccessful and as a response to the successful ones the ruling classes rather reformed than risked less structured transitions. Democracy, unions and social security further reduced the necessity for revolutions, both in terms of material necessity as well as in the sense of political means. Which depending on perspective can be seen as progress being achieved or progress being inhibited as a marginally better status quo is frozen rather than advanced further. Also universal suffrage didn't lead to large scale victories of socialist mass movements and despite being a majority the concerns of the lower classes are still only of marginal interest to the plurality of parties despite their perceived plurality.

Despite already being debunked with the enlightenment, the idea of an aristocracy (rule of the best) or it's modern version a "meritocracy" are still being floated, as well as a pseudo-religious prosperity gospel and a cult of personality around rich people, despite better knowledge. Technically powerful techniques such as general strikes and boycotts are often either undermined by individuals betrayal or outlawed and branded non-effective.

Though whether that's the end of history is not yet clear, given that capitalism still suffers from the same problems already described by Marx, it's still a system that alienates people from their labor, it amasses riches with the few and impoverishes the many (if left unregulated). And while democracies regulated a lot of the worst aspects of it, there's a constant struggle of those profiting from exploitation to deregulate them again. Or urgent patch regulations can end up granting privileges to certain groups. The fact that staggering economic inequalities endanger the nationalist narrative and further the social class perception of a majority of people. So that just be wrong in the sense of an inevitable linear progression but not in principle.

On the other hand Lenin apparently saw a whole lot of that already at the start of the 20th century while being exiled in western Europe and despite the economic conditions being ripe for change, no such change occurred revolutionary.

From which he again went back to the vanguard party, the dictatorship of the proletariat, not by majority but by seizing state level powers and by forcing a lot of the collectivist ideas. Which has many problems. Like capitalists like to point to how mean revolutions are and that they weren't as economically successful as countries not just emerging colonialism and banana republics or having "won" (lost) a devastating war. But lots of countries had revolutions, the problem is rather that it's a minority revolution, so more of a coup, which means they have a majority against them which has a much higher likelihood of going dictatorial to preserve power, while a majority movement would not need to be as threatened by a minority.

Also if this is supposed to be a transitional period, where is the transition? I mean democracy is a process that people need to learn and how do you learn it if you can't effectively make decisions (as a group)? But are given orders top-down? How do you overcome capitalism if you still engage in it, still produce for sale rather than consumption with the revenue of the trade going to the "owners" or in that case managers of the means of production rather than the workers?

TL;DR Marx didn't really produce a theory of socialism/communism that could be the foundation of a democratic regime, he criticized capitalism and had ideas of a historic trend. Of which he was likely wrong.

Though is it fundamentally impossible for a mass movement to develop class consciousness, seize the productive economy and restructure it so that everyone is worker and owner and the productive output is produced, invested or distributed democratically? No not at all, parts of the state and the economy already function like that, democracy has gone a long way since Marx was around and it's technically thinkable. Whether that works or has new and different problems, some of which we've already seen or am seeing, is a different question that goes beyond Marx and his writings anyway.


Marxism, or any -ISM that has a specific ideology, cannot be the basis for a democratic society because it is possible for people to vote for non-Marxist policy.

A democracy can enact policies consistent with Marxism but can just as easily enact other policies.

The best one can do to have both democracy and Marxism together is similar to what Iran does with Islam - have a supreme council that holds veto power whenever something violates the religion but have an elected parliament (or have referenda for every proposal)

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    That would require a very strict definition of democracy. Many democratic countries have constitutions, for instance, that require supermajority votes to modify and have clear ideological bases.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 10, 2022 at 22:10
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    Democracy itself is an “ism;” how does democracy survive if the people could vote for a nondemocratic regime?
    – H Huang
    Feb 10, 2022 at 23:44
  • @HHuang: Because (in the US) the Supreme Court functions as a judicial veto for non-democratic policies, exactly as described here.
    – Kevin
    Feb 11, 2022 at 0:07
  • @Kevin Yes, of course, but the internal logic of the answer clearly seems to suggest that democracy is incompatible with undemocratic measures like the Supreme Court that are ostensibly designed to protect democracy
    – H Huang
    Feb 11, 2022 at 0:51
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    @HHuang: Well, it depends who you ask. The cynical view is that SCOTUS is what makes the US a non-democratic system. The more idealistic view would appeal to a variation of the paradox of tolerance to explain it.
    – Kevin
    Feb 11, 2022 at 0:57

The original ideas of Marx and Engels do not define a complete political system. Many points and many ideas were simply outlined without going deep into the details.

Take simply the statements that the workers will own the means of production. What does it mean? State ownership? Ownership organised in cooperatives? Something else? They never said, and and later claims come by people supporting their own view.

So there cannot be a system based only on the original theory of socialism/communism of Karl Marx because it is too vague. But any system can incorporate those ideas. Democratic or not is not a constraint over the adoption of those ideas.


TL; DR: The original Marxist theory is literally against liberal democracy

However, the original theory Marxism does not seems to be against democracy. It highly values the rights of working class, criticizes the super-wealthy capitalists, and aims to built a society of equity ("a classless society" in which the state would wither away). The idea of communism might looks very unrealistic, but as far as I remember Karl Marx himself never said how long it would take to establish communism ("all property is communally owned") and never imagined Mao should want to build communism in a couple of year with Big Leap Forward. Marx himself might imagine the communism to be achieved in thousands of years after the whole human sociality becomes highly wealthy through development.

One has to distinguish democracy in the sense of domination of majority achieved via the elections/voting and liberal democracy with its emphasis on individual rights - which is how it is understood today in most western societies. This is also how Marx understands it: for him liberal democracy is the extension of capitalism, i.e., extension of the individual property rights into the social and political sphere as asserting individual rights as the top priority (in fact, according to Marx the political system is determined by the economic system). In particular, "super-wealthy capitalists" [sic] are an inherent part of the democratic society.

On the other hand, communism is characterized by subjugation of the individual rights to the rights of the proletariat (although some more refined versions also include peasantry). Transition to communism means complete destruction of the of the existing social, economic and political order, that is again - the destruction of the liberal democracy.


  • This destruction implies much more than most well-wishing western admirers of Marx can imagine: for example, imagine that population growth is desirable in the interest of the community (e.g., to sustain the pension benefits) - the community could then prohibit abortion and homosexuality as individual choices that are contrary to the interests of the community. In general, woman in a communist society is unseparable from her function of giving birth.

  • Socialism vs. Social democracy

PS: By "socialism", I am also not asking about the modern Western socialism as shown in say North Europe.

It is necessary to point out that none of the "socialist" states in western Europe is actually called "socialist" or officially uses this term anywhere. They are "social democracies". The term "socialist" was officially used only by states built on Marxist principles.

Here is a quote from Two Souls of Socialism - a work written by a Marxist and generally favorable to Marx, but stressing the disconnect of the modern social democracy with Marx ideas:

That very model of a modern social-democracy, the German Social-Democratic Party, is often represented as having arisen on a Marxist basis. This is a myth, like so much else in extant histories of socialism. The impact of Marx was strong, including on some of the top leaders for a while, but the politics which permeated and finally pervaded the party came mainly from two other sources. One was Lassalle, who founded German socialism as an organized movement (1863); and the other was the British Fabians, who inspired Eduard Bernstein’s “revisionism.”

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    I’m calling BS on this based on the “remark”. In terms of legal protections and opportunities for education and work outside the home, the USSR was clearly ahead of the west until the women’s liberation movement of the 70s. Homosexuality was illegal in the West for much of the 20th century and Abortion was legalized in the USSR in 1920 vs 1973 in the us (and of course it’s likely to be banned again soon). Unless you consider the GOP to be communist, it seems to argue against your point
    – divibisan
    Feb 11, 2022 at 16:31
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    @divibisan I flagged it for offensive language. Russian women had to work, since a family could not sustain itself by the man's salary alone. They often had to do unqualified work or "women's" professions, that men were not interested in. There was virtually no promotion to position of respoinsibility for women. The propaganda prased as "hero mothers" those with 5+ children, and one could be called to local party or KGBheadquarters to explain one's personal life. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in the USSR. Feb 11, 2022 at 17:27
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    And, again, women were forced "to do unqualified work or "women's" professions, that men were not interested in" in the West as well. Your claim that women's equality and gay rights are an essential feature of democratic countries and inherently opposed by communist countries is simply blatantly false. There are plenty of good things about the West and bad things about Communism: you don't need to make stuff up.
    – divibisan
    Feb 11, 2022 at 17:35
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    @RogerVadim To be fair when Marx was around "liberal democracy" didn't mean that much. Like look up when countries adopted universal or even male suffrage: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_suffrage#Dates_by_country Many of the first iterations were pretty plutocratic with income based voting rights and the inability of working people to "skip work and do politics". So they were progress but also a farce in many instances. The U.S. apparently was pretty anti freedom and democracy calling it "tyranny of the majority" or "mob rule". And only took baby steps in that regard.
    – haxor789
    Dec 1, 2022 at 11:48
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    @RogerVadim So the point isn't really that the super-wealthy are democratic it's that the super-wealthy are an internal threat to democracy as they present a different power structure outside of the legitimation by the public and the control over the media and the narrative allows for a "phony legitimation" where consent is given without proper knowledge of the subject. So before general education, transparent political decisions and universal suffrage, this whole process is only marginally more democratic than the previous aristocracy. So it's criticism is that it's not democratic enough.
    – haxor789
    Dec 1, 2022 at 11:51

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