On writing about 'democracy' it becomes clear that this is not a single problem but a complex of problems that permeates many other subjects. To understand the continued importance of taking up the mantel of democracy we must turn to Marx & Engels.
Rather than counter posing democracy to socialism, Marx & Engels saw their task as integrating the two objectively (programmatically and, crucially, in terms of the real mass movement). They began by prioritising the fight to democratise political forms as an integral part of the fight for socialism and communism.
This reading of democracy flows from an understand of democracy as a practice: strongly related to a conception of human capability and confidence through the process of democratic practice, through revolutionary struggles, through people transforming themselves through their activity. For this reason Marx would note the relative progressive nature of the bourgeois republican form of state, as compared with other forms of bourgeois state power, that could provide the class with opportunities for this struggle.
The political activity of the M&E team involves the logical continuation of this view in both the slogans they raised and the politics they fought for, as articulated within the call for suffrage. Marx said of universal suffrage that it could provide the class with a school of development despite the obvious fact that this will remain abused as a play-thing in the hands of the ruling classes and must subsequently be 'set aside by a revolution or by the reaction'.
This is an approach also reflected with their active involvement within the revolutions of 1948, an involvement implying an unambiguous attitude towards democracy and the fight for it to be broadened and taken to new heights.
In applying theory to concrete material conditions, Marx was able during these years to drive the political logic of democratic demands to its conclusion: conflict with bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois-democratic movement, going beyond the realistic and practical stance of bourgeoise-democratic movements in the demands raised.
This manifests itself in a multitude of ways, including within the organ of extreme democracy launched by Marx, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, it championed: “a democracy which everywhere emphasised in every point the specific proletarian character”, as Engels said many years later (K Marx, F Engels CW Vol 26, Moscow 1990, p122).
Demands that Marx & Engels raised for widened political democracy - for suffrage, against censorship - were often clearly not demands that in themselves went beyond the limits of capitalism of course, however they helped provide the necessary from through which the 'battle for democracy can be fought and won' as the basis for the realisation of majority rule (Weekly Worker Oct 14 2004).
The point is to 'define consistent democracy in socialist terms, and consistent socialism in democratic terms' (H Draper Karl Marx's theory of revolution Vol I, New York 1977, pp282-283). In doing so Marx was able to recognise that struggles within the state are simply the ways in which real struggles are fought out among the different classes, a fact culminating in the modern state which is thoroughly dominated by the bourgeoisie.
So Marx says the goal of revolution, which is 'freedom', means to make society again again into a community of men for their highest aim, a democratic state (KMTR 100). This means not only democracy in political forms, but also democracy in civil society, economic democracy. In contrast, our understanding of democracy within capitalist society remains predicated upon the distinction of the economic and the political.
We may join Marx in drawing from this the conclusion that true democracy requires a new social content – socialism, that must take as central to its adoption democracy forms that far surpass that which is considered feasible within capitalist society. As has been noted before: "Without a social content there can be no consistent democracy. Without democracy there can be no socialism." (CPGB)