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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a system of government control of society by the bourgeoisie, characterized by a clear-cut distribution of legislative and executive functions, so that the legislative body (the parliament) holds a more privileged position than the other bodies of government.

In a parliamentary system the government is formed by the parliament and is responsible to it. Thus, in a formal sense, the term “parliamentarism” indicates that the elected body occupies the leading position in the machinery of state power and administration. Parliamentarism was characteristic of the epoch of premonopoly capitalism, when the bourgeois class was a relatively homogeneous aggregate of owners of the means of production, the contradictions inherent in capitalism were not yet fully developed, and the class struggle was not as acute as it became later, during the epoch of imperialism. Consequently, it was possible for the bourgeoisie to attain political dominance through the elected body—the parliament, the representative body of the entire ruling class. Parliamentary control of government, which was typical of the epoch of premonopoly capitalism, was nothing other than direct control by the propertied classes. It was one of the forms through which the industrial division of labor was brought under state administration. The electorate had the opportunity to choose only which representative of the ruling class would receive the deputy’s mandate. Lenin wrote: “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary-constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 33, p. 46).

Parliamentarism reached its peak in the 19th century, when the victorious bourgeoisie sought to rule primarily through representative bodies. However, as industrial capital developed into monopoly capital, the role of the executive bodies grew more important, while the role and jurisdiction of the parliament declined. Increasingly, parliamentary democracy gave way to authoritarian and oligarchic methods of government. Underlying this process was the sharpening of class contradictions and the strengthening of the political independence of the working class: the executive bodies were much more effective than the parliament in struggling against the working class and defending the interests of the bourgeoisie.

In contemporary bourgeois states parliamentarism is going through a deep crisis. Bourgeois governments have usurped many parliamentary functions, including legislation (delegated legislation), and have, in fact, come to dominate the parliamentary bodies. As a result, parliamentary discussions on various aspects of government are purely formal. In many instances, governments react to parliamentary votes of no confidence by dissolving parliament and calling new elections. Thus, the “responsibility” of the government is a sham. To a considerable degree, the two-party system, which is characteristic of many countries, has contributed to the crisis of parliamentarism. This alliance of the bourgeois parties almost always guarantees the support of the parliamentary majority for the government and the imposition of the majority’s decisions on the opposition.

The progressive forces in the capitalist countries, including the Communist and workers’ parties, have waged a relentless struggle to preserve the institutions of parliamentary democracy. As a result, after World War II (1939–45) these institutions became stronger in France, Italy, Japan, and a number of other countries where the Communist parties are strong in parliament. In their programs, the Communist parties of the capitalist countries have provided the foundation for the possibility, under certain conditions, of a peaceful transition to socialism by means of a Communist majority in parliament, which would carry out socialist transformations. This objective can be attained by the comprehensive development of the extraparliamentary class struggle of the proletariat.


Bel’son, la. M. Sovremennoe burzhuaznoe gosudarstvo i “narodnoe predstavitel’stvo.” Moscow, 1960.
Krylov, B. S. Parlament burzhuaznogo gosudarstva. Moscow, 1963.
Parlamenty, new ed. Prepared by M. Ameller. [Moscow] 1967. (Translated from English.)
Mishin, A. A. Tsentral’nye organy vlasti burzhuaznykh gosudarstv. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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