Note on popular democracy

Franklyn Dzingai, Space Between Us 2


After the 70s, it was no longer controversial that the nature of the Brazilian revolution became socialist, however, the PCB in its VII Congress still reaffirmed that the revolution was democratic and national.


It is not new that there has been a very mistaken debate within the Brazilian left regarding the use of the category of popular democracy. This category has a centuries-old history, which must be quickly revisited to clarify the points of confusion that affect the discussion.

Soon after the defeat of the international socialist revolution, in 1921, the Communist International had to rethink its strategy. The strategy of the united front of the proletariat was then conceived. The slogan would be “For a workers’ government”, soon extended to “worker-peasant government”. This so-called government would be a form of rapprochement with the dictatorship of the proletariat. Controversy soon arose among those who understood this form of government as an approximation or as a synonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

A theoretically better elaborated reflection appeared with György Lukács, in the second half of 1928, when he wrote the thesis project for the II Congress of the Communist Party of Hungary. For György Lukács, between the feudal-bourgeois dictatorship, which he watches over, and the socialist revolution, there should be a phase called “democratic dictatorship”, during which the bourgeois revolution would reach its limits and there would be an open dispute for power between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. .

In this phase of the class struggle, the victory of the bourgeoisie would result in a fascist dictatorship and the victory of the proletariat would result in the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat. It would then be a phase of open dispute for hegemony (a category that Lukács does not use). This document was discarded, as at that time the thesis prevailed in the Communist International that there would be no intermediate phases of rapprochement between bourgeois domination and the proletarian revolution.

With the advance of fascism, from 1934 onwards, there was a reorientation of the politics of the Communist International, which culminated in the formulation of the anti-fascist Popular Front. In 1936, in the midst of the Spanish civil war, Palmiro Togliatti formulated the thesis of “progressive democracy”. The Spanish revolution was still bourgeois, but with the deepening of democracy the question of the transition to socialism would arise. This thesis was taken up by Palmiro Togliatti in 1944 upon his return to Italy. At that time, the expression “popular democracy” had already prevailed, with a formulation made by Dimitrov and spread throughout the communist movement, having even been used by György Lukács.


The thesis was that the defeat of fascism and colonialism would give rise to a regime of “popular democracy”. The first point to be retained is that popular democracy arises from a historical rupture, not from the evolution of any eventual bourgeois democracy. Another point to be noted is that in popular democracy there is a dispute over the conduct of social life between the bourgeoisie, which continues to exist, and the proletariat, which holds political power through the revolutionary party. To be even clearer, in popular democracy the productive forces are not yet sufficiently advanced and the correlation of forces in relation to the bourgeoisie is not definitively defined. Furthermore, there is the presence of a peasantry that oscillates between capitalism and the socialist project.

Popular democracy tends to be a variant of state capitalism led by the revolutionary party. With differences in power relations, this was the situation in Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia at the end of the Second World War. Some countries immediately declared themselves socialist, such as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and Cuba, but this does not mean that they were not popular democracies, but only that they privileged the historical project in their self-identification. Note that only the theoretical category of popular democracy is discussed here and not the content of the historical experiences of these countries.

In retrospect, the USSR during the NEP period (1921-1928) would be a popular democracy, as it was state capitalism under the leadership of the Communist Party. Another synonymous formulation of popular democracy was New Democracy, as elaborated by Mao Zedong in 1940. Later, Mao Zedong also adopted the category of popular democracy to identify China.

As in Eastern Europe, the conception of popular democracy resulted from a broad alliance of classes, which included the proletariat, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and even bourgeois sectors opposed to fascism and colonialism. With all the comings and goings, today's China still identifies itself as a popular democracy, state capitalism, which carries the project of socialist construction, but the dispute with the bourgeoisie is still present.


In Brazil, the category of popular democracy was consecrated by the PCB in the IV Congress (1954-55). Previously, there were already references to a front of popular, democratic, progressive forces, but a clear definition of what a popular democracy would be was only drawn up at this congress. It is then argued that popular democracy is a phase between bourgeois democracy and socialism, “a transitional power” composed of anti-imperialist and anti-feudal forces.

It would have to be this way, as the country did not yet have sufficient productive forces for socialism nor was there a correlation of social forces that would allow for an indisputable victory for the proletariat, for it to present itself as an effective hegemonic force. Popular democracy, therefore, as a transition phase would be the possible way to complete the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, but already in a step forward, with the proletariat composing the coalition of forces that opposed imperialist domination and fighting for the direction of the process.

After the famous “March Declaration” of 1958, the expression popular democracy disappeared. The PCB starts to invest in the possibility of forming a nationalist and democratic coalition government within the current institutional framework, which could have its democratic aspects expanded. This would be the path to a new type of bourgeois democratic revolution, which, strictly speaking, even without using the expression, would establish a popular democracy.

In the analysis carried out by communists at the time, at first, bourgeois hegemony seemed indisputable, but mass pressure would be decisive in the advancement of the democratic process and social reforms, in the fight against imperialism and latifundia.

The biggest problem is that the essential issue of rupture does not appear clearly, as without this there is no effective change in social life. What also does not appear clearly in the documentation is that the communists' expectation was that the democratic petty bourgeoisie would, initially, as long as the working class had not yet become sufficiently organized and educated, be the spearhead of the revolution. The petty bourgeoisie would have its strength expressed in the military left and in the student movement. In fact, this was the perspective already pointed out at the III Congress of the PCB of 1928/29: the petty bourgeoisie would begin the revolutionary process and the dispute for hegemony between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

The military coup showed how the ruling classes and a large part of the petty bourgeoisie, with broad support from US imperialism, could unify against the working class, the peasantry and the democratic petty bourgeoisie. The diversification/fragmentation of the left – which began at the beginning of the decade – tended to expand. There were those who argued that the Brazilian revolution was already socialist in nature, but the majority still defended that the revolution was national democratic, anti-imperialist and anti-landlord.

The understanding that national democratic revolution is synonymous with “popular democracy” is also not clear. If the question is about what forces make up the nation, what forces make up the people, it is clear that these expressions are synonymous, even if the notion of popular democracy has disappeared.

However, in May 1976, a publication by the PCdoB (a party that emerged in 1962 from a split from the PCB) leaves no room for any doubt when stating as the party's objective the goal of establishing a popular democracy in Brazil. The understanding is very similar to that previously stated in the IV Congress: this would be a transitional regime established by a group of anti-imperialist and anti-landlord forces.

A transitional regime that would open the open dispute for the conduct of the process, the open class struggle between the national bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In 1983, in its VI Congress, the PCdoB reaffirmed the objective of achieving a popular democracy aimed at socialism. In this document the presence of bourgeois sectors in the popular democratic coalition is only implicit.

In 1995, the VIII national conference of the PCdoB offered a socialist program to be carried out by a “workers' republic”. Here it is recognized that the bourgeoisie would have no place in this situation to be established. It is not clear whether this new name would be synonymous with popular democracy or whether it would be discarded in favor of the current socialist revolution, given the new economic and social conditions in the country. In any case, this formulation was later abandoned by the PCdoB, which began to accepting tactical alliances with bourgeois sectors in the name of “development”.


It can be said that the bourgeois revolution in Brazil concluded between 1978 and 1980. The country was then fully capitalist and had reached this level through a path that could be called the Prussian path (Lenin) or passive revolution (Gramsci), which is characterized by the maximum containment of the political protagonism of the subordinate classes. This means that in Brazil there has never been any type of democratic rupture, that even the current liberal bourgeois democracy has a great touch of farcism.

Once capitalism is fully established, it becomes logical that the nature of the Brazilian revolution becomes unquestionably socialist. If until the 1970s this was a controversial issue, now it should no longer be. However, the PCB, in its VII Congress (1982) still reaffirmed that the revolution was democratic and national and had a bourgeois democracy with social rights on the horizon, which would allow the dispute for hegemony.

The PT, an organization that emerged at the conclusion of the bourgeois revolution, in 1981, at its Fifth National Meeting, held in 1987 (the only one in which leftist tendencies predominated), defended that the PT fought for socialism, starting with the proposal of a popular democratic alternative supported by wage earners, middle classes and rural workers.

The bourgeoisie is explicitly excluded from this democratic, popular, anti-imperialist coalition. The government of this coalition can be achieved through elections and must carry out anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly and anti-landowner tasks (as stated in the Fifth Congress of the PCB in 1960), tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution, which have not been achieved. At the same time, it would be a government willing to adopt measures typical of socialism.

It is quite clear that the proposal is that a democratic and popular coalition government would contribute to or induce democratic rupture, would establish a popular democracy already linked to the socialist perspective because it is anti-bourgeois from the outset. Interestingly, the document explains the understanding (which may be debatable) that the idea of ​​a national revolution implies an alliance with the bourgeoisie.

At the very least, it can be said that it depends on the concrete situation and what is meant by a national issue. In any case, as we know, this perspective soon lost ground in the PT and was soon forgotten in favor of the alliance with the bourgeoisie, exactly as happened in the PCdoB. The fact is that the immense majority of the Brazilian left simply accepted the bourgeois order exactly at the moment it entered the neoliberal era.

Experiences of popular democracy in Latin America can be considered Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia, with notable differences in the correlation of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In all these cases there was an institutional rupture and the establishment of a constituent power, which induced changes in social relations, even if still within the framework of capitalism.

In the set of historical experiences of popular democracies, the strong presence of forms of progressive Caesarism (Gramsci) can be noted, an expression exactly of the immaturity of the conditions for an effective socialist transition. Caesarism can be expressed in notable leadership or even in the revolutionary party as an institution.

Brazil could, in theory, have followed this path even very recently, but that opportunity was lost in palace negotiations rather than in mobilization and organization of the masses. The other possibility is the construction of popular power from the foundations of social life, through the construction of an alternative civil society, which immediately creates the socialist path, a new hegemony, a popular power, through a long “war of position”, which requires fighting to deconstruct the bourgeois order by occupying spaces within it.

*Marcos Del Roio is professor of political science at Unesp-Marília. Author, among other books, of Gramsci's prisms (boitempo). []

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