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Dictatorship

Marxist Dictionary

Rule of a particular interest over the whole political apparatus and through it over the social whole.

All ruling classes exercise their dictatorship through the state

All class societies have organized themselves politically as dictatorships in the interest of their ruling class, regardless of the concrete form of their political organization. Greek democracy was a dictatorship of the slaveowner class over the whole of society, just like the aristocratic government of its rivals. They are in fact forms of government of the same dictatorship, all designed to defend, in different ways and in different contexts, the same class interest and to impose it as an objective of the whole society.

Thus, in any class dictatorship, asserting an opposing interest will never seem sensible and sometimes not even legitimate. On the other hand, the prevalence of the interest of the exploiting class over the universal needs of the species, not to mention the interests of the working class in that society, will seem the most “sensible” thing to do. We see it every day. The trade unionist who tells us that we cannot claim “what the company finances cannot sustain without losses”, or the politician who tells us that medical treatments or pensions must be made subject to the “deficit target”, are in fact saying that the most basic, universal, generic human needs – welfare, health, etc. – can only be satisfied once the need of capital has done so: to accumulate profits in each cycle so as not to be devalued. When an environmentalist argues that we should get used to living with less, he is also saying the same thing. He is taking for granted that capital cannot be devalued even to reduce its most destructive practices. And from that perspective, that of the sustainability of capital, the only way to reduce the ecological impact is to reduce our consumption, the social form that under capitalism takes access to everything we obtain to satisfy our needs. And the fact is that capitalism, under any of its political forms -from its original liberal forms to stalinist state capitalism- has been and will be focused on ensuring the accumulation of capital as long as there is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in and from the state.

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The passage from the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie to the dictatorship of the proletariat would mean that for the first time, the exploited class, the largest in society, would exercise its dictatorship. A dictatorship that by its very nature would not have radically different forms and contents. The proletariat is the universal class, the interest it defends and the guiding principle that moves it is that of generic, universal human needs.

This, since its first revolutionary experiences, the Paris Commune of 1871, has conditioned its relationship with the state. To begin with, he cannot simply appropriate an apparatus designed for oppression and the reinforcement of exploitation, he has to destroy it and raise his own forms.

But the working class cannot simply take possession of the state machine as it is and use it for its own ends. […] The variety of interpretations to which the Commune has been subjected, and the variety of interests which have interpreted it in its behalf, show that it was a perfectly flexible political form, unlike previous forms of government which had all been fundamentally repressive. Here is its real secret: the Commune was essentially a government of the working class, the fruit of the struggle of the producing class against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered that allowed the economic emancipation of labor to take place.

Karl Marx. The Civil War in France, 1871.

Its aims are in fact none other than the reorganization of production and the whole society on the criterion of human need, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the transitional phase between what the workers’ struggles implicitly pose (in itself) and the conscious and universal realization of that logic: communism.

The Commune first, and the soviet later, are nothing more than the forms in which this dictatorship is imposed from the base of production on the different aspects of social life. And unlike the dictatorship of an exploiting class, which becomes all the more repressive the more democratic it wishes to appear to be, the dictatorship of the proletariat is unambiguously shown to be leading the broadest strata of the workers and society to take the organization and transformation of production and social relations directly into their own hands.

We will organize large-scale production ourselves, the workers, on the basis of what has already been created by capitalism, drawing on our own working experience, establishing a very strict, iron discipline, maintained by the state power of the armed workers; we will reduce the state officials to being mere executors of our directives, responsible, removable and modestly paid “inspectors and accountants” (together, of course, with technicians of all kinds and ranks): this is our proletarian task, this is where we can and must start by carrying out the proletarian revolution. This beginning, on the basis of large-scale production, leads in itself to the gradual “extinction” of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of an order-an order without quotation marks, an order that will not resemble wage slavery at all- an order in which the increasingly simplified functions of inspection and accounting will be carried out by everyone in turn, will eventually become customary, and will finally disappear as special functions of a special layer of society.

“The State and the Revolution”. Lenin, 1918

Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Social Revolution

The main objective of the dictatorship of the working class is none other than the destruction of the capital-labor relationship, wage labor, the fundamental and defining institution of capitalism. That is why all the coming proletarian revolutions will be social revolutions from day one.

The revolution will be a social revolution in the very place where it arises and not simply a political one (the seizure of power by the proletariat). A workers’ state, let us stress, cannot be maintained in any case if the international revolution does not take place, and therefore socialism cannot be established in a single country. Let us add to this that the suppression of capitalist relations is in no way equivalent to socialism (or communism!!) but only – and in all this we take for granted that it is a destruction carried out by the working class itself – a step towards socialism. But this step, we assert, must be taken as quickly as possible by the immediate attack on and suppression of wage labor even before the proletariat takes power on an almost global level. Without this, however proletarian the power, it will become the opposite, as the devastation of the revolution is not a clear and immediately perceptible cut.

Even if it takes place only in a single industrial district, a social revolution is situated in the point of view of the totality because it is a protest by man against dehumanized life, because it starts from the point of view of each real individual, because the collective being from which the individual strives not to remain separate is the true collective being of man, the human being. On the contrary, the political spirit of a revolution consists in the tendency of the classes without political power to suppress their isolation from the being of the state and from power. Their viewpoint is that of the state, an abstract totality that exists only through separation from real life, which would be unthinkable without the organized contradiction between the general idea and man’s individual existence. In accordance with its limited and ambiguous nature, a revolution with a political spirit thus creates a dominant sphere in society at the expense of society itself…Every revolution dissolves the old society: in this sense it is social. Every revolution overthrows the old power: in this sense it is political.

Marx in The King of Prussia and Social Reform by a Prussian

“Letter to the Third International Conference of ‘Communist Left’ Groups”, FOR, 1980.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is the opposite of stalinist dictatorship

Stalinism, an expression of the state capitalist counter-revolution in Russia could emerge and assert itself because the organisms of class dictatorship, the soviets, were already greatly weakened by the civil war and by the NEP, the policy of building a state capitalism under the surveillance of the soviets as a desperate way of trying to maintain the bases of the dictatorship during the stagnation of the first wave of the world revolution in the 1920s. The Russian Revolution, a permanent revolution, thus cut short the attack on capitalist relations of production that was the guide to its socialist phase. The bureaucracy, which is in charge of the reconstruction of national capital, will gradually reinstate its dictatorship.

By 1936, the soviets, already completely subordinated to the new ruling class by a thousand procedures and through brutal repression, will be legally replaced in the new state constitution by bodies made up exclusively of bureaucrats. For obvious political reasons, the new organs through which the state controls the workers retain the name of those in which the workers exercised their dictatorship. But one need only look at any of their most basic expressions or practices to discover that they were not organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but of a dictatorship over the proletariat.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, [is, in its] thuggish definition, [a] police, militarist and bureaucratic despotism, set against the proletarian revolution at home and abroad. A supremely centralized capitalist state in which power is exercised, without control or responsibility, by a handful of all-powerful, all-terrorist leaders. Historically, its origin is the destruction of the 1917 revolution and the extermination of its protagonists. It is a dictatorship over the proletariat.

[In its] Revolutionary definition, [instead, it is the] government of the proletariat based on its own armament, after the dismantling of the capitalist repressive bodies, on the workers’ management of the economy, and on the distribution of the social product of labor. It thus carries out the suppression of wage labor, and as a result the disappearance of classes and the state. It is, therefore, the most complete democracy, not only in law, but in fact. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, the first and most important of the rights of man will begin to rule: the right of every person to live and realize himself without needing to sell his capacity for work and creation, or to buy or sell the products of either. The second right to be guaranteed, the right of insurrection against any attempt to retreat back into capitalism. Through the proletariat humanity enters into possession of itself, initiating an entirely new civilization.

“A Lexicon of Contemporary Political Thuggery, Compared with the Revolutionary Lexicon”, 1970