MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms



Peaceful (‘Parliamentary’) Road to Socialism

The Peaceful, or “Parliamentary”, Road to socialism, was the policy adopted, mostly after 1949, by almost all the Communist Parties of the world by which it was declared that socialism could be achieved through bourgeois electoral processes such as Parliament.

The Australian CP has written the Parliamentary Road into its program as early as 1939, but by the mid-1950s, every national section in the world had agreed its “National Road to Socialism” in line with Stalin’s directions. All were Parliamentary or Peaceful Roads except for the South African Communist Party, which remained committed to the revolutionary road until they were legalised in 1991.

For example, whereas the programme of the British Communist Party adopted in 1935 stated:

“... the building of a mass Communist Party within an all-inclusive united working class front is the sole path to the advance of the working class struggle, and ... the victory of working class revolution in Britain and the establishment of the workers’ dictatorship on the basis of Soviet power for the building of socialism”.

in The British Road to Socialism written in 1947, we read:

“... it is possible to see how the people will move towards Socialism without further revolution, without the dictatorship of the proletariat”

This Peaceful Road was adopted by the Communist Parties around the world as part of the policy of “socialism in one country” and “peaceful co-existence”, to serve the foreign policy interests of the Soviet Union.

This illusion was fostered even in conditions where it would prove disastrous. For example, less than a month before Chilean General Pinochet overthrew the elected government led by the socialist president, Salvador Allende in 1973, and installed a regime of torture, the Chilean Communist Party declared:

‘In Chile, where an anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly and anti-feudal democratic revolution is under now way, we have essentially retained the old state machine ... The armed forces, observing their status of a professional institution, take no part in political debate and submit to the lawfully constituted civilian power. ... the working class will gain full power gradually’. [World Marxist Review, August 1973]

The “Peaceful Road” policy is contrary to Marxism. According to the Communist Manifesto, the working class must “win the battle of democracy”, but “winnng the battle of democracy” is only the first stage, the stage of winning broad political support for socialism and rallying the mass of the population behind the working class. But Marxists understand that the fašade of democracy is available only so long as the working class does not use its voting power to abolish capital. [See Origin of the Family]. Once the working class actually threatens to extend democracy to the economy and the state, and subject all social positions to elections, to place real power in the masses of the masses, always and everywhere the bourgeoisie abolishes democracy and wheels out the un-elected state machine to protect its privileges.

In countries where the “Parliamentary Road” is (for the moment) open the working masses invariably demand that their leaders work peacefully and legally “within the system” and Marxists support this policy.

Lenin advised in 1920:

“Whilst you lack the strength to do away with bourgeois parliaments and every other type of reactionary institution, you must work within them because it is there that you will still find workers who are duped by the priests and stultified by the conditions of rural life; otherwise you risk turning into nothing but windbags.

“... it has been proved that, far from causing harm to the revolutionary proletariat, participation in a bourgeois-democratic parliament, even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet republic and even after such a victory, actually helps that proletariat to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be done away with; it facilitates their successful dissolution, and helps to make bourgeois parliamentarianism “politically obsolete”. [Left-Wing Communism, Chapter 7]

But workers must be aware that real power lies outside parliament, and just as soon as any government elected by socialists made the slightest in-roads into the rights of capital, the extra-parliamentary power of the bourgeoisie – in the state, in the company boardrooms and the banks and from their overseas allies – will be broad to bear against the government. Consequently, the workers must always be politically and organisationally prepared and aware that it is their own extra-parliamentary power that guarantees the transition to socialism, not seats in parliament.

“One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’ ” [1872 Preface to the Communist Manifesto ]



The peasantry are the class of small farmers, especially in those countries which have not yet industrialised and where archaic methods of production continue in agriculture and the lack of means of communication leave the peasant masses in relative isolation from events around the country.

Like the rest of the middle-classes, the peasantry are highly differentiated, but may form the great majority of the population – as they did in Russia in 1917, China in 1949 and in the countries which formed the national liberation movement in the post-World War Two period. Consequently, the success of the revolution in those countries depended on the working class being able to win the mass of the peasantry, especially the poor peasants, to their side.

Further reading: The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry’ – in February and October, Trotsky, 1924, What is the Permanent Revolution? Basic Postulates, Trotsky, 1921, Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society, Mao 1926.


People, The

The People is a vague term which includes a number of classes which may have divergent historical trajectories – the working class, lumpen proletariat, professional middle-classes, petit-bourgeoisie, peasants and small farmers and sometimes the youth – in contrast to the ruling classes – the big bourgeoisie, landowners and landed aristocracy, for example.

“The People” is the core concept of “populism”, which can be very radical or may be mere hot air, but is generally characterised by the amorphous character of the social entity they claim to represent, which being so diverse can have no real political expression. In times of crisis, when the ruling clique finds itself isolated, “the people” may become a reality, but invariably a transitory one.

“The People” was also the core concept of the national liberation movements which aim to unite as wide as possible range of classes of their own nation against the imperialist power.

“The People” was also the key concept in the creation of the “People’s Republics” after the Second World War, where the problematic nature of the concept was quickly exposed, though the name stuck.


People’s Republic and People’s Democracy

People’s Democratic Republic": was the designation used for the new states set up in Eastern Europe under Red Army occupation, and elsewhere after the Second World War. The form of government was described as “people’s democracy”, as opposed to “bourgeois democracy” and “proletarian democracy”.

The designation of these states as ‘People’s Democracies’ was in no way hypocritical or tongue-in-cheek! Stalin fully intended to establish Popular Front-type governments, that is multi-class governments, states representing an alliance between the working class and the Bourgeoisie. It was quite explicitly envisaged that capitalist property would be protected.

When no bourgeois party could be found with whom to form a ‘popular front’ the Communist Party created their own. Artificial ‘parties’ were created to represent the various social classes who were ‘invited’ to form coalition governments. The presence of ‘deputies’ representing absolutely impotent ‘parties’ in rubber-stamp ‘parliaments’ does not make a two-class or three-class state.

The ‘Peoples Democracy’ program proved unworkable however. The combination of the pressure of the working class and peasantry in favour of expropriation of the capitalists and landowners and the inability of the Soviet bureaucracy to manage a capitalist economy forced Stalin into a policy that he never anticipated.

In Soviet-occupied Europe, the Red Army was the State. The social relations of production upon which the Red Army rested, i.e. the political-economy of the Soviet Union, imposed themselves upon the countries it occupied. Stalin’s diplomacy could not eradicate the fundamental antagonism between the workers’ state and international capitalism.

The same policy was carried in China under the banner of “Bloc of Four classes”.



Perestroika, lit., “restructuring” and “Glasnost” were the main planks of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy in the last years of the Soviet Union.

The core of perestroika was to be “full cost accounting”, i.e. requiring all departments of the Soviet economy to keep account of their costs of production and income and balance them to make a profit. Gorbachev never spoke out for “market socialism” but perestroika had a similar function as “corporatisation” had in the West in the same period, i.e., it was a preparatory stage to privatisation. In his own words:

“the present economic reform envisages that the emphasis will be shifted from primarily administrative to primarily economic management methods at every level, and calls for extensive democratisation of management, and the overall activisation of the human factor.

The reform is based on dramatically increased independence of enterprises and associations, their transition to full self-accounting and self-financing, and granting all appropriate rights to work collectives. They will now be fully responsible for efficient management and end results. A collective’s profits will be directly proportionate to its efficiency.” [Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika]


Permanent revolution

"The Perspective of permanent revolution may be summarized in the following way: the complete victory of the democratic revolution in Russia is conceivable only in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry. The dictatorship of the proletariat, which would inevitably place on the order of the day not only democratic but socialistic tasks as well, would at the same time give a powerful impetus to the international socialist revolution. Only the victory of the proletariat in the West could protect Russia from bourgeois restoration and assure it the possibility of rounding out the establishment of socialism.

Leon Trotsky
The Permanent Revolution

This theory is most closely associated with Leon Trotsky beginning with the 1905 revolution when he first developed his ideas about the leading role of the working class in industrially backward and underdeveloped countries. Trotsky first set out the theory in Results and Prospectus, in 1905 where it gained acceptance with the Bolsheviks. After the October revolution, Lenin continually stressed that the survival of the Russian Socialist revolution was dependent on other countries becoming Socialist. After Lenin's death, the Stalinists attacked the theory as counter-revolutionary and created the theory of socialism in one country.



Petit-Bourgeoisie, lit., “little city-folk” – the small business people, sometimes extended to include the professional middle-class and better-off farmers.



1) The class of small proprietors (for example, owners of small stores), and general handicrafts people of various types.

This group has been disappearing since the industrial revolution, as large factories or retail outlets can produce and distribute commodities faster, better, and for a cheaper price than the small proprietors. While this class is most abundant in the least industrialized regions of the world, only dwindling remnants remain in more industrialized areas.

These people are the foundation of the capitalist dream (aka “the American dream”): to start a small business and expand it into an empire. Much of capitalist growth and development comes from these people, while at the same time capitalism stamps out these people more and more with bigger and better industries that no small proprieter can compete against. Thus for the past few decades in the U.S., petty-bourgeois are given an enourmous variety of incentives, tax breaks, grants, loans, and ways to escape unscathed from a failed business.

2) Also refers to the growing group of workers whose function is management of the bourgeois apparatus. These workers do not produce commodities, but instead manage the production, distribution, and/or exchange of commodities and/or services owned by their bourgeois employers.

While these workers are a part of the working class because they receive a wage and their livelihood is dependent on that wage, they are seperated from working class consciousness because they have day-to-day control, but not ownership, over the means of production, distribution, and exchange.