Dictatorship of the proletariat and class party
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 8; Spring 2012)
While the slogans of real democracy flourish in demonstrations around the world, calling for an informal and apolitical union of 99% of the population, with all classes intermingled, Marxists defend more than ever the need for the exploited class to organize independently from all the others for the exclusive defense of its class interests; independent organization whose outcome is the class party, indispensable organ for the proletariat to lead the class struggle to the revolutionary victory materialized in the establishment of its dictatorship on the ruins of the bourgeois state.
THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT
The Marxist position in the question of the state is condensed in these few programmatic lines
“Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” (1).
If it need be said, this classic formula shows that revolutionary communism does not call for dictatorship by “political ideal”, by an appetite for force or by a thirst for violence, as democrats, the traditional spokesmen of the conservative middle classes, would have us believe (in fact they are more attached to the social order in force than to political democracy since, in the event of a brutal crisis, they do not hesitate to turn to Fascism).
Marxism sustains and demands the dictatorship because it foresees and struggles for the revolutionary transformation of capitalist society into socialist society.
Capitalism is not eternal, contrary to what the bourgeois revolutionaries of the eighteenth century thought and contrary to what the miserable social democrats of today would have us believe, since all their demands are based on maintaining the exploitation of wage labor and on all the relations of exchange specific to the capitalist economy, any more than the previous modes of production and the societies which corresponded to them, neither capitalism nor a society divided into bourgeois and proletarians can gradually and peacefully disappear: that disappearance can only be the result of the deepening, generalization and unification, not only national but international, of the spontaneous, scattered, limited struggle of proletarian groups, on a revolutionary anti-capitalist program.
These theorems of Marxism follow from the historical materialist analysis signifying that the explosion of a social revolution is inevitable, and that if it is victorious, it will put an end to the capitalist mode of production and the division of society into classes .
Marxism is not an abstruse doctrine reserved for the convoluted speculations of intellectuals and academic experts, essentially it affirms three basic positions which are so many calls for revolutionary struggle:
1. Capitalism, that is to say the exploitation of wage labor, is not eternal but historically transient, as were slavery and feudalism, that is to say, servile labor.
2. Capitalism cannot disappear peacefully because the capitalist class and the middle classes that support it will never give up their privileges.
3. Even during reactionary periods, that is the periods when the proletariat renounces the revolutionary struggle, accepts the regime that oppresses it economically, politically and morally, or in any case is at least resigned to it, class antagonisms do not disappear, they burst out in broad daylight at the first grave economic or political crisis that the very growth of capitalism inevitably causes.
These are the irrefutable positions upon which the maximal political demands of authentic communism repose, the dictatorship of the proletariat, even though it now seems distant, the socialist revolution is bound to burst out at some point in history. It is precisely this moment which the Communists are awaiting and preparing for, because only this revolution can spell the end of the capitalists’ barbarism and misery.
But as Engels said to the anti-authoritarian anarchists,“A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population [the revolutionary class] imposes its will upon the other part [the whole social aggregate which lives on exploitation of the proletariat] by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon – authoritarian means, if such there be at all” (2).
To recoil from this perspective in horror, is not just to recoil from socialism, it is to pass over in cowardly silence everything of importance that has happened in human history, all serious steps forward achieved by humanity since it was organized in society, because what revolution which is to any degree profound has ever been peaceful, starting with the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1789?
This being said, it is easy to understand the meaning of the great formula “dictatorship of the proletariat” that not only bourgeois propaganda, but also generations of petit-bourgeois reformers and so-called revolutionaries have managed to discredit even among the proletariat.
It expresses an obvious necessity: the proletariat can not and should not eternally fight in a dispersed manner, nor above all more or less always on the defensive. At a given moment in its struggle it must take the initiative, all the initiative into its hands, to carry the whole fight to the opponent and go on the general offensive .
And just as this general offensive cannot be crowned with success as long as the class enemy has State power, the objective of seizing power, the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie, is the logical conclusion; any radical social struggle is also a political struggle, as Marx affirmed against Proudhon. The purpose of the conquest of power is not only to tear away the supreme weapon of the state from the capitalist class, but more especially to destroy capitalism so that a new society can emerge from the ruins of the exploiting society.
Such a power can only be revolutionary because, to maintain itself and prevent counter-revolution, it recognizes no value in the juridical, political and constitutional practices and norms of the old bourgeois regime. It can only be dictatorial (as is all bourgeois power, which, behind even the most democratic of facades, capitalist interests dominate, unchallenged) as it is guided only by the interests of the exploited, it must intervene in a despotic manner in the relations of production, without being restrained by the interests of the propertied classes, and that it must suppress their inevitable attempts to overthrow it.
The demand for the dictatorship of the proletariat is the central position of genuine Marxism, one that distinguishes it from all the false versions of all the false revolutionaries. Marx explained this to a correspondent:
“And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them.
Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: 1. that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production), 2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, 3. that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.” (3)
In their epoch, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had to wage battle against the reformist socialists who, while claiming to champion the cause of the exploited, condemned the Russian revolution in the name of democracy. Thus Karl Kautsky, the great international theoretician of the Social-democrat International, was willing to admit that the Soviets would play “a decisive role in great decisive battles between capital and labor” but he then immediately adds that the fault of the Bolsheviks was to have “destroyed the democracy that the Russian people had won” by making these “organizations of a single class” a State organization. Lenin, after quoting this passage, replied sarcastically:
“But won’t the ‘decisive battles between capital and labor ’ decide which of the two classes will assume state power?
‘Nothing of the kind! Heaven forbid! [replies Kaustky] The Soviets, which embrace all the wage-workers, must not become state organisations in the decisive battles!’
But what is the state? The state is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another.
Thus, the oppressed class, the vanguard of all the working and exploited people in modern society [according to Kautsky] must strive towards the ‘decisive battles between capital and labor,’ but must not touch the machine by means of which capital suppresses labor!—It must not break up that machine! It must not make use of its all-embracing organization for suppressing the exploiters!” (4).
UNIQUE CLASS PARTY AND CLASS DICTATORSHIP
The concepts of class party and class dictatorship are thus central to the Marxist doctrine, as the Communist Manifesto enunciated in 1848, defining the two moments of the revolutionary process that must lead to the demise of capitalism: constitution of the proletariat into a class, therefore into a party, and its constitution as the ruling class. The proletarian class is not simply a sociological category alongside others that make up bourgeois society, a particular fraction of the 99% with incomes more or less stagnant in relation to the 1% of the super-rich whose wealth increases without cessation; and it is the class whose exploitation nourishes, to varying degrees, all the others – and not just a handful of billionaires; and for this reason it is the only revolutionary class, the only class whose interests are historical and general – the destruction of capitalism and the establishment of a society without exploitation, and not some reform aiming towards a better distribution among the various bourgeois layers profiting from the exploitation of the proletariat.
But the proletariat only becomes a class in the full Marxist sense (a class for itself and not for Capital, as written in the Manifesto) only when in its struggle for its general historical interests, it succeeds in transcending the limits of category, corporation, factory, region, nation, sex, race, age, etc.., in which it is emprisoned by the organization of capitalist society. As the social and political movement objectively tending at the overthrow of capitalism and replacing it with a new society does not exist, or it does not have enough power, the masses of the exploited are only a class in the bourgeois sociological sense of the term: the individuals who compose it live for themselves, but fail, except on rare occasions, to overcome “the struggle of all against all” that characterizes capitalism according to Marx.
The spontaneous movement engendered by the acute worsening of capitalist contradictions is indeed not enough; to become an independent force aware of its general historical interests and fighting for them – a class in the Marxist sense of the term – the proletariat needs “an organization that inspires it, concretizes it, precedes it, in a word frames it” : this vital organization is the party. “The class presupposes the party, because to exist and to act in history it must possess a critical doctrine of history and an aim to attain in it” (5).
If the proletariat constitutes itself as a class only when it constitutes itself into a party, it can only constitute itself as the ruling class by establishing its dictatorship, its state – any State being the dictatorship of one class over the others – if its party directs this dictatorship, this State.
In the course of this relentless struggle which leads to insurrection, the destruction of the bourgeois and the establishment of proletarian power, the class party plays a decisive role, as the general staff of the revolution. But the seizure of power is itself only the prelude to a social revolution of unprecedented magnitude; the struggle does not stop, it continues with the weapons of power. To overcome the resistance of all kinds from the old world which will not cease to oppose it, since the power of the bourgeoisie can’t be simultaneously defeated around the globe, the working class will always need its internationalist and international organ of unification, conscience and direction which is the class party.
History has shown conclusively that in the revolutionary period and after the seizure of power, all other parties, including those which call themselves revolutionary and workers’ but which are in reality representatives of classes or sectors perhaps oppressed, but not proletarian, infallibly range themselves on the side of the counter-revolution. Lenin replied in 1919 to those who advocated a government of all “socialist” parties: “When we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party and, as you have heard, a united socialist front is proposed, we say, ‘Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position because it is the party that has won, in the course of decades, the position of vanguard of the entire factory and industrial proletariat.(...)’ When a united socialist front is proposed to us we say that it is the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties that propose it, and that they have wavered in favour of the bourgeoisie throughout the revolution.” (6)
Almost a century has passed since and nothing has invalidated this historical lesson.
If in Russia the counter-revolution did not overthrow the Communist Party formally, it is because it had managed to denature it completely to the point of transforming it into an agent of emerging state capitalism the growth of which it had attempted to control (because of the material impossibility of going beyond capitalism in the absence of revolution in the West). Stalinism was able to make it appear that the construction of capitalism was a “construction of socialism”, and that his ferocious dictatorship was a continuation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, even though the Communists, and the proletarians in general, were its first victims!
Subsequently the Stalinists and their descendants completely took on the democratic ideology and principles, although they were and have always been denounced and opposed by Marxism. In his “Theses on bourgeois democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat,” Lenin reminds us:
“History teaches us that no oppressed class ever did, or could, achieve power without going through a period of dictatorship, i.e., the conquest of political power and forceable suppression of the resistance always offered by the exploiters—the resistance that is most desperate, most furious, and that stops at nothing.
(...) In explaining the class nature of bourgeois civilization, bourgeois democracy and the bourgeois parliamentary system, all Socialists have expressed the idea formulated with the greatest scientific precision by Marx and Engels [Engels: Introduction to the The Civil War in France], namely, that the most democratic bourgeois republic is no more than a machine for the suppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie, for the suppression of the working people by a handful of capitalists.
(...) in capitalist society, whenever there is any serious aggravation of the class struggle intrinsic to that society, there can be no alternative but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dreams of some third way are reactionary, petty-bourgeois limitations.” (7)
Today very few people dare to criticize the democratic lie and to defend Marxist positions. But it is the increasingly violent contradictions of capitalism, its increasingly profound crises which inevitably will dissipate the illusions in democracy and in the union of 99% of the population, in thrusting the proletariat into struggle.
Then the specter of communism will recommence haunting the world, and then the need for the unique party of social revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat will reappear with imperious force!
(1) K. Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Program”.
(2) F. Engels, “On authority”, 1872
(3) K. Marx, Letter to Weydemeyer, 03/05/1852.
(4) Lenin, “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”.
(5) Bordiga, “Party and Class.”
(6) Lenin, “Speech at the First Congress of Education Workers”, 07/31/1919.
(7) Lenin, “Theses on bourgeois democracy and proletarian dictatorship”, 1919, written for the first congress of the Communist International.
(all quotations in English are taken from the Marxist Internet Archives [MIA])
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