Written in Vietnamese by Donkey Knight on Saturday, July 13, 2019 (https://cunom.blogspot.com/2019/07/ban-ve-khai-niem-dan-chu.html)
Translated on July 22-23, 2020 (https://www.facebook.com/dongminhnhungnguoicongsan/posts/289526339145400)
The so-called democracy has been a popular fashion in the West. Every kinds of misfortunes are because of "lack of democracy", and all kinds of miracles are because of "democracy", they say. The United States has been delivered "democracy" via B-52 bombers into other nations and it seems to be proud of it. The neo-facists also try to claim the name "democracy" for themselves. And some certain self-proclaimed Vietnameses with mental problems have been fawning upon the "democracy" distributed by American heavy bombers.
However, when the authentic Vietnamese citizens try to say something about their own genuine democracy, they are categorically silenced, of course in the name of democracy.
It is the approach has to be changed when we discuss about the concept of democracy, so that we can correctly understand its essence and effectively refute the fallacies of the fake democrats.
Power structure in the pre-capitalist societies
In the pre-capitalist societies, the majority of the population were peasants. Although the landlords were the legal owners of the arable lands, it was the peasants who were the occupants and the cultivators of the land, they were tied to the lands from generations to generations and were able to pass the easement to their descendants according to the local customs. Therefore the landlords or the state can only exercise their exploitation by coercion based on their political, legal, and military domination, which means the lord's possession of the land could not be separated from his political and military status. The most basic forms of the landlord's exploitation were land rents, taxes, corvee labor, and other forced duties.
The peasants in pre-capitalist societies also had their own political organizations, these were the ancient village communities. Thanked to the political power of the local communities, the peasants could elected their own local managers instead of the magistrates appointed by the state or the lords, the peasants could established some of their own laws and rules, therefore the exploitation from above could be limited. However the village communities could never grant the complete freedom to the peasants because the peasants could never intervene in state affairs. State affairs were the exclusive area of the landlords, the peasant communities could not take part in hence the peasants had no citizen rights.
The Athenian democracy was the sole exception of the pre-capitalist societies. After Cleisthenes's reforms, the villages became administrative units and the village peasants became citizens. "Deme" means "village", and "democracy" means "power to the villages", not "power to the people" at it is commonly interpreted today. The incorporation of villages into the state and the transformation of peasants into citizens resulted in two distinctive traits of the Athenian citizens. First, all Athenian peasants were able to directly take parts in state affairs disregards of his economic status. Second, as peasants became citizens and had political power, they could use that power to limit the exploitation of the aristocrat on them, which means restriction of taxes and forced labors. Which means, even the poorest Athenian citizen was free, he was no servant, no slave of any human, he did not have to do any unpaid work to the aristocrats or the state bureaucrats, he only worked for himself.
However the Athenian democracy was the sole exception of the pre-capitalist area and it did not reoccur in anywhere, anytime. Moreover, the Athenian democracy only granted political power to its citizen at the expense of the majority of its inhabitants: women, the Metecs, and slaves. In essence the Athenian democracy means full political rights to the citizens, but only a few were citizens. The reason is because Athenian system was established from the primitive society when the peasants were still relatively free in economic sense while the aristocrats had not been strong enough to established their own state independent of the peasants. Hence an alliance was formed to created a stable government body to maintain a social hierarchy which was acceptable to the aristocrats.
Liberalism in feudal Europe
Different from the Athenian peasant-citizens, the peasants in feudal Europe were tied to their occupied lands from generation to generation and suffered all the non-economic exploitation, and they were completely excluded from the state affairs. The distinctive traits of feudal Europe was the dispersed and decentralized power structure, which means the system comprised of many autonomous local landlords, each had full political, legal and military authority over his own fiefdom; the peasants inside that fiefdom, free or not, were complete dependent on the landlords. The monarch and his royal courts stood above the local landlords, however the monarch was restricted to his own fief and could not effectively intervene in the landlord's internal affairs.
The local peasant villages still existed and could somewhat restrict the exploitation of the landlords and could somewhat function as a regulator to check the power of the lords. However, it is important to note that the peasants were completely excluded from the state. The decision over politics, military, taxation, and legal affairs, all these were the exclusive affairs of the landlords and their royal court. Therefore Athenian-style democracy, or peasant-citizen, is completely alien to the feudal Europe. There was no democracy in feudal Europe. Athenian democracy ended with the death of herself and left no trace in Middle Age Europe.
European feudal landlords faced a completely different problem than the Athenian aristocrats. The development of feudalism increased the power of the royal court as the centre of political power, and the growing central court demanded more and more surplus products from the whole society, which means less were left for the local landlords. Moreover the stronger central court also became independent of the local landlords and intensified its intervention in the local affairs, which means reduced the local authority of the feudal lords. Hence the concept of "liberalism" were born, "liberalism" meant the affirmation of the individual privileges of the local landlords which the central state must not violate, which also meant a restriction of the state power. Hence "liberalism" is a product of the late feudal society which the centralization of power and the declined landlords who were losing their political, legal and military functions and only relied on the aristocratic status with the state-protected privileges. Middle Ages "liberalism" is different from Athenian democracy since it did not protect the rural workingmen, but the parasites who exploited the rural workingmen.
England is the classical example of "liberalism", as the feudal landlords transformed into bourgeoise and became separated from the feudal duties of military and legality, and made living purely on capitalist possession of lands. They formed a power system based on a parliamentary monarchy. That does not mean democracy or grating citizen rights to the peasants. The English parliament was elected only by the aristocrats and it claimed the position of "representative of the people" even though the people themselves did not elect it. English liberalism coupled with constant rebellions of the English monarch.
The concept of "liberalism" has nothing to do with democracy as it represent the individual privileges in feudal society and functions as the replacement of European feudalism. Liberalism does not protect the oppressed people, it protects the privileges of the oppressors.
Democracy in capitalist society
It is vital to take note that, in capitalist society, the worker is separated from the means of production and have to sell his labor-force to the capitalist as the only mean to make a living. Therefore the workingman has to be "free", not only his body is free but he must completely have no relationship with the society that sustains him (unlike in the precapitalist society). Moreover, the capitalist must be released from the political functions and only submits under the market rules during property trading. It also means that the capitalist ownership must be released from the political, legal, and military restrictions.
The capitalist individuals exist as independent individuals, not as the members of a community like in the pre-capitalist societies. Therefore in capitalist society, the citizen rights are granted to all the inhabitants since all the individuals are considered equal in the nominal sense. However the capitalist citizen rights are restricted in the economic sense. The Athenian peasant-citizen could utilize his citizen rights to negate the economic exploitation on himself, but now in capitalist society the economy is released from the restriction of state power and is independent from state power, economy affairs only submit under market rules. In other words, the citizen rights can no longer affect the economic status of the workingmen. When the workingmen sell their labor force to the capitalist, they become the slaves of the capitalist and are exploited by the capitalist, the state power cannot intervene in that affair. In short, in capitalist society the citizen rights are grant to all person, however the citizen rights cannot protect the citizen from economic exploitation, and are restricted within the political sphere.
In capitalist society, the citizen rights do not depend on economic or social status, and the political authority also cannot affect the economic power. Hence capitalism manage to salvage feudal liberalism and incorporate it into the bourgeoisie democracy to create the concept of "liberal democracy".
However it is important to take note that, liberalism has its origin in pre-capitalist society and it assumes that the individual has impregnable privileges and has all the material conditions to realize these privileges. However reality is different. In capitalist society the individual worker is stripped naked, he has no means of production, he cannot own his life, he has no privileges and he cannot rely on any privileges to counter the economic exploitation. Liberalism is unprepared to deal with such realities. Hence capitalist "liberal-democracy" results in frequent social crisis and unsolvable legal issues.
The United States and the notion of representative democracy
The United States was established from the former English colonies in North America. Hence she inherited the political legacy of England - the first capitalist state in the world. However the American revolution war also resulted in the notable political roles of the small producers in the society. Therefore the American upper class could not evolve into the English-style bourgeoisie aristocracy although they really wanted to.
In order to deal with the situation the American ruling class created the notion of "representative democracy". They argued that the social commoners have somewhat consistent interests with the ones in upper class, for example the merchants should be the natural representative of the tradespeople, in other words the tradespeople should politically support the merchants since the merchants could better represent the interests of the tradespeople better than the tradespeople themselves. From that point the American ruling class argued that democracy is not the direct participation of state affair but vesting the power to the so-called "representatives". As a result, under the guise of democracy, the American ruling class created a tacit aristocracy regime and incorporated it into the bourgeoisie democracy. Under this system the citizen rights are granted to all inhabitants disregards of economic status, however these citizen rights are restricted within election activities only. The American citizen rights cannot affect state authority and cannot alter the economic status of the citizens.
Representative democracy is the modern product of the United States and it has nothing to do with Athenian democracy, because Athenian citizens directly took parts in state affairs and they did not vest their political power to any "representative". Representative democracy is completely alien to Athenian citizens and, according to Athenian criteria, the United States is NOT democratic.
American representative democracy leads to a paradox, which forces the U.S. to re-define the concept of "the people". On the one hand the U.S. has to recognize "the people" as a collection of all the inhabitants with unlimited authority - so that "the people" can vest that unlimited authority to "the representatives". On the other hand the U.S. only see "the people" as an abstract collection with no political activities and only passively accept whatever the state delivers to them, which means the political content of "the people" is removed.
In short the Athenian democracy and modern bourgeoisie democracy are completely different and originated from different societal system. Unlike Athenian democracy, the modern bourgeoisie democracy grants citizenship to all the working class, however it restrict the political power of that citizenship, hence modern bourgeoisie democracy is in name only.
Such realties is completely opposite from the interpretation of the Western orthodox political science which considers "democracy" as a notion continuously evolving from Athens to modern states. This interpretation is completely deceitful, and its aim is to deceptively mislead the public to believe that "modern democracy" is some sort of universal "legacy" from the West and needed to be preserved. In fact the Western democracy is completely anti-democratic. It deceptively and nominally recognize the unlimited authority of the people, however in reality it strips off any chance for the people to use that authority and forces the people to vest their power to the "representative" belongs to the capitalist class.
The Asiatic autocracy
Unlike Middle Ages Europe, Asiatic feudal states successfully established the centralized autocratic governments. The distinctive traits of the Asiatic centralized feudalism is that, the ruling class homogenized itself with the state. Which means an independent aristocrat class did not exist and the country was not divided in to separated fiefs. The centralized state had absolute power and the regional magistrates were directly appointed by the monarch. The state was the only exploiter in the society and the exploited ones were the feudal peasants. The ruling class was homogenized with the state bureaucrats.
Peasants in Asiatic autocracy had no political rights. The village communities again could restrict the exploitation from the state, however they could not control the state. The Asiatic landlords and wealthy metchants also had almost no political rights and were also subjected to the control of the central autocratic state. Therefore in Asiatic society, the wealthy individuals tend to use their money to "buy" a small bureaucratic position to avoid the forced duty applied on the commoners.
Unlike European feudal governments which relied on inherited aristocracy, the Asiatic autocracy relied on the bureaucratic intellegistia to rule the society. These intellegistia focused their effort on studying and research the neccesary techniques and knowledge of social management and political affairs, so that the could became state magistrates. Therefore, democracy did not exist in ancient Asiatic feudalism. State affairs were exclusive for the state magistrates and the common peasants had no part in it. The Asiatic intellegistia studied the necessary skills to work in the state bureaucrats, they had no incentive to restrict the state power and the state power did not affect the social status of the feudal intellegistia.
Vietnam's August Revolution and the New Democracy
Vietnam entered 20th century under the oppression of the decaying feudal society and the colonial system. She could not rely on the old feudal intellegistia or the comprador bourgeoisie to topple these two things altogether. The 1945 August Revolution is a historical milestone of Asia as for the first time in its history, the peasants are liberated and granted citizen rights. Not only having citizen rights, they are provided the necessary material conditions to exercise the rights. The peasants are granted arable lands and become the free producers, they are liberated from the oppression of both feudalism and capitalism. The peasants are not only able to elect the government, they also are able to control and supervise the government via the non-privileged representatives in the Communist Party. This is a novel innovation created from the activities of the international communist movement. The Party members on the one hand are just normal workers, they receive no privilege from being Party member, they hold no governmental position. On the other hand they are able to control the activities of the bureaucratic system from strategic planning to approval of bureaucratic candidates based on the interest of the working class. This mechanism aims to tightly supervise and regulate the state activities and prevent the Party members themselves from becoming the new privileged class.
This is a completely new notion of democracy which is completely different from Athenian or bourgeoisie democracy. Vietnam's democracy also did not originate from the experiences of Asiatic autocracy, therefore the arguments that "Vietnam should escape from Asiatic influence" are completely rubbish. The new Vietnamese democracy on the one hand creates the economic freedom and grant citizen rights for the working class, on the other hand it creates the conditions for the workingmen to indirectly control the state authority via participation in a political party that has a real political authority.
However this system has a tacit internal conflict. The state is always the last stronghold of exploitation. The state bureaucrat is a separated social class who take part in government affairs via appointment and recruitment, their interest corresponds with the enlargement of the government power hence they want to escape from the supervision and control of the proletariat political party. On the opposite the proletariat party will try its best to restrict the enlargement of government because that correspond to enlargement of exploitation via taxation. Therefore the most essential issue of Vietnam during the transitional period is to keep the government power in control via the mechanism of power to the people, leadership of the Communist Party, and relentlessly increasing the political power for the workingmen.