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a form of political organization of society established in a number of European and Asian countries as a result of the people’s democratic revolutions of the 1940’s.
The rise of people’s democracy is associated with the second stage of the general crisis of capitalism, the character of World War II, and the decisive role of the USSR in liberating the peoples of Europe and Asia from fascism and occupation. In the overwhelming majority of these countries, people’s democracy originated as a form of revolutionary democratic power led by the working class. As the people’s democratic revolution grew into a socialist revolution, people’s democracy was transformed into a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In Bulgaria, as Todor Zhivkov wrote, “in its class character the power was always socialist power, in the form of people’s democracy” (Izbr. stat’i i rechi, vol. 1, Moscow, 1965, p. 421).
In terms of its class character, people’s democracy at the democratic stage of its development was a new type of power, representing the democratic dictatorship of several classes—the proletariat, the peasantry, the petite bourgeoisie, and part of the middle bourgeoisie (national bourgeoisie). This democratic dictatorship was based on the alliance of the proletariat and peasantry under proletarian hegemony. Politically, the task of the socialist revolution was to strengthen the role of the working class in governing the state and to remove the representatives of the bourgeoisie from power. The dictatorship of the proletariat was established by parliamentary means and within the framework of a constitution. Under pressure “from below” from the masses and with the aid of elements of power already held by the working class “from above,” the parliaments removed the representatives of the exploiters from power and adopted and implemented a program of socialist transformations.
In a number of countries under people’s democracy, such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Rumania, the tactic of the Marxist-Leninist parties from 1945 to 1947 was to make revolutionary demands and gradually to expose various factions of the bourgeois parties to the masses. With the support of the masses, who withdrew their confidence from the bourgeois parties, the Marxist-Leninist parties drove the representatives of the bourgeoisie from the parliaments and the bodies of power. The Soviet Union gave comprehensive aid to the countries of Central and Southeast Europe, guaranteeing their security against foreign intervention by the imperialist powers. Owing to the correct policies and tactics of the Marxist-Leninist parties, the class struggle of the working people in these countries led in 1947–48 to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of people’s democracy. People’s democracy “reflected the distinctive development of socialist revolution at a time when imperialism had been weakened and the balance of forces had tilted in favor of socialism. It also reflected the distinctive historical and national features of the countries concerned” (Programma KPSS, 1973, pp. 19–20).
In the countries of Central and Southeast Europe the national liberation and revolutionary democratic movements, which included fairly heterogeneous social forces, produced new forms of political organization, such as the National Front and the people’s committees. They also preserved certain old forms (parliament, local self-government, universal suffrage, and the multiparty system), giving them new content and subordinating them to the tasks of the revolutionary reorganization of society.
An important feature of people’s democracy is the way in which the old machinery of state was replaced by a new one. During the liberation from fascism the machinery of state was reconstructed. The workers took control of a number of key positions in the people’s democratic state, including the police and agencies dealing with state security. At the same time, certain important sectors of the machinery of state remained in the hands of representatives of the bourgeoisie. During the struggle against the fascists and reactionary elements, whose political parties discredited themselves and were banned, the machinery of state was purged of hostile elements and democratized. The establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat was marked by the purge of the enemies of socialism from all levels of the state machinery and the reorganization of the state to suit the tasks of socialist construction.
One of the distinctive characteristics of people’s democracy was that universal, equal suffrage was, as a rule, maintained for all citizens, including the bourgeoisie. Even in the early years of Soviet power, Lenin emphasized that “the question of depriving the exploiters of the franchise is purely a Russian question, and not a question of the dictatorship of the proletariat in general” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 37, p. 265). The retention of the bourgeoisie’s right to vote in the people’s democracies during the period of transition to socialism confronted the working class and its Marxist-Leninist party with new tasks. It was necessary to fight to prevent the bourgeoisie from using the democratic electoral system in its own self-interest.
Another special feature of people’s democracy in a number of countries is the existence of several parties, with the Marxist-Leninist party retaining the leading role. With the establishment of people’s democracy, the counterrevolutionary and fascist parties were dispersed and banned, but a number of mass parties, which had evolved in fundamental ways and been purged of reactionaries, did not stop their activities under the dictatorship of the proletariat. In cases where the majority of the members of a particular party were workers, the struggle led to the confirmation of leaders ready to adopt and defend a program of socialist transformations. However, in parties with a more heterogeneous composition, a broad campaign of explanation and special forms of struggle were necessary before progressive figures—people capable of collaborating in socialist construction —rose to positions of leadership.
Another important feature of people’s democracy was the National (or Patriotic) Front, which emerged during the first stage of the revolution and, in the socialist stage, united all the political parties, as well as the trade union, women’s, youth, sports, and other mass organizations. The National Front created favorable opportunities for uniting diverse progressive social forces. Its program, and often its bylaws, assigned the leading role to the Marxist-Leninist party. The National Front sets the tasks for all parties, presents a common slate of candidates for the bodies of state power, organizes the masses, and guides their activity in building socialism.
As historical experience shows, the essence of the Soviet system and that of people’s democracy are the same in the stage of socialist construction. “They are two forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat” (G. Dimitrov, Izbr. proizv., vol. 2, Moscow, 1957, p. 670).
As a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, people’s democracy ensured the full development of socialist construction in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Korea, Poland, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and several other countries. Moreover, in a number of countries, particularly Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, and Rumania, the tasks of the transitional period have been accomplished. The premises for the creation of the material and technical basis for socialism have been ensured, the socialist transformation of industry and agriculture has been achieved, and a revolution has taken place in consciousness and in culture. With the elimination of the exploiting classes and the attainment of a certain level of development, the transition from the dictatorship of the proletariat to the power of all the people is taking place in these countries.
A. P. BUTENKO