Theory: The dictatorship of the proletariat

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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Whilst it is generally thought that Marx did not develop a clear view as to what in the course of the proletarian revolution would replace the smashed capitalist state machine until he had actual experience and practice of the first ever working class government in the 1871 Paris Commune to study, I found some very interesting comments in an earlier work of his in respect of the 1848-50 class struggles in France.

In this work, Marx traced the political and economic development of the proletariat and, through his analysis of the complex events through which the bourgeoisie established the bourgeois republic as the “perfected and clearly expressed rule of the whole bourgeois class”, in which “bourgeois factions could maintain with equal power the common class interest without giving up their mutual rivalry” , showed how the proletariat emerged for the first time as an independent political and material force.

Already in these early stages, when the bourgeois revolution itself was not yet complete, Marx talked of embryonic centres in the emerging proletariat, as nascent expressions of potential self organisation and future class independence.

Following the bloody defeat of the 1848 June insurrection by the relatively weak and immature working class in France, Marx was already able to refer positively to the “centres of the revolutionary proletariat, the clubs”. The talked of the “Red Republic being openly proclaimed in the proletarian clubs” , as the White Monarchy (ie, forthcoming reaction) was within the factionalised bourgeoisie.

The following extract indicates clearly that Marx saw these embryonic forms of proletarian self organisation as potential structures of working-class power and rule:

“The clubs were gathering points, the conspiratorial seats of the revolutionary proletariat. What were the clubs but a coalition of the whole working class against the whole bourgeois class, the formation of the workers’ state against the bourgeois state?”

These words have a striking echo in Lenin’s comments made in various speeches in the weeks following the 1917 October Revolution: “Your factory committees must become the fundamental state nuclei of the ruling class”; “The proletariat should become the ruling class in the sense of being the leader of all who work … it should be the ruling class politically”; “The proletariat must take the rule of the state upon itself. Every factory committee should concern itself not only with the affairs of its own factory, but should also be an organisational nucleus helping build the life of the state as a whole.”

How right Lenin was, in his masterpiece The State and Revolution, to argue so effectively and convincingly that the essence of Marxism is the complete overthrow and destruction of the capitalist state and its replacement by a new state, of a completely new type, one whose structures have emerged from, and are organically integrated in, the working class’s struggle against capitalism. The corollary being that in the era of proletarian revolution it is no longer possible to consider taking over the (capitalist) state machine and ‘refashioning’ it for the purposes and the use of the proletariat.

The essence and content of this new state was epitomised by the emergence of the soviets in 1905 and 1917 in Russia. Soviet power will constitute the democratic new basis of the new rule of the working class, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and, indeed, is the only form of power that can replace and eliminate the power of the bourgeoisie.

That classic formula of Marxism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, a phrase that upsets liberals, social democrats and revisionists alike, dialectically and scientifically unites the apparent opposite concepts of democracy and dictatorship. As Lenin so admirably put it: the rule of the working class means unprecedented and maximum democracy for the working class, the majority of the population, but dictatorship and force to be used against the overthrown capitalist class and their lackeys, to stop them being a threat to real democracy, the political and economic power of the working class.

The task of the proletarian revolution is to liberate the potential of humankind from being held in check by hundreds of thousands of years of scarcity and thousands of years of class society. We are not going to allow the remnants of a historically outdated and now useless class, nor false adherence to its instruments of class rule and oppression, such as bourgeois democracy, to stand in the way of realising our “vision splendid”!