Communist Politics: A Reader by Daniel N. Nelson, Stephen White

By Daniel N. Nelson, Stephen White

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Great stress is laid on the fact that all candidates have equal access to campaign facilities, but the legitimate use of such facilities is restricted to those canvassing in favour of those standing; no mention is made of the right to campaign against candidates. Indeed, all campaigning is coordinated and steered by the communist party's agitation and propaganda departments to project the best possible image of party and government achievements and plans. Throughout the three weeks or so of the campaign national policies are lauded and not discussed.

Voting procedures facilitate the expression of support and discourage dissent. To register a vote in favour of the candidate the elector has merely to place an unmarked ballot paper in the box; those who wish to vote against the candidate have to delete his or her name. As secrecy of the ballot is constitutionally guaranteed, voting booths are provided for this purpose. In the circumstances, however, their use can be interpreted as indicating dissidence. These conditions, in addition to the strong campaign pressures to vote 'demonstratively', result, at least in the Soviet Union, in an estimated 1-5 per cent of the electorate using the booths to cast a 'secret' ballot.

Nevertheless, the political tradition of many of these countries was less authoritarian than that of Russia, and the citizens of Poland, Czechoslovakia and what was to become East Germany had some experience of competitive multi-party elections in the inter-war period (McCartney and Palmer, 1962; Rothschild, 1974. On Poland more particularly, see Polonsky, 1972, pp. 60--1,247-51, 321-3; for Czechoslovakia, see Zinner, 1963, pp. 63--5, 183--6). The influence of these pre-communist traditions was twofold.

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