As a socialist, I have always believed that there can be no socialism without democracy and, more importantly, that there can be no democracy without socialism. With this in mind, I was pleased to see a history of democracy from a Marxist perspective as it fills an important gap.
Roper distinguishes between three different models of democracy. The classic Athenian model, the more recent and dominant liberal one and a socialist or Marxist view of democracy. Roper makes the point that liberal interpretations of democracy tend to try and assimilate earlier democratic practices into its own model even though they were distinct, time specific and historically contingent.
Roper's point is that Athenian democracy remains the model for popular workers democracy from below, and the chapter on Athenian democracy is eye opening, whereas Roman democracy is the one favoured by those who see democracy, in a more limited and controlled form handed down from above. The 1688 Revolution in England is an example suggested.
I found the chapter on the American Revolution illuminating. It is well furnished with quotes from the framers of the US constitution that show that representative democracy was clearly designed to keep power in the hands of a rich, property owning oligarchy and away from the mass of ordinary workers or farmers - let alone the slaves owned by the Founding Fathers.
The book is divided chronologically and is an excellent text for anyone seeking to understand a historically grounded socialist point of view, and then read on further. There are suggestions for more in depth reading at the end of each chapter.
Roper proceeds from Athens, via the transition from feudalism to capitalism on to capitalist democracy itself and concludes with two examples of socialist democracy in practice -- the Paris Commune and the first years of the Russian Revolution from 1917.
If I have a criticism, then it would be that not enough space is devoted to the struggle for democracy such as The Chartists.
Our society suffers a democratic deficit and many people are increasingly aware that this is the case. At the same time, the Left is in crisis and seemingly unable to offer an alternative to an increasingly crisis prone and undemocratic capitalism. Roper's book goes some way to providing us with a historically grounded understanding of where socialists should stand with regards to democracy.