After reading this article you will learn about Dictatorship of Proletariat:- 1. Definition of Dictatorship of Proletariat 2. Essentiality and Inevitability of Dictatorship of Proletariat 3. Aspects 4. Assessment.
Definition of Dictatorship of Proletariat:
In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx and Engels have made the following observation: “Between the capitalist and communist society lies the period of revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the leitmotif of the working class and this ambitious goal is achieved through a protracted revolution or a series of revolutions. Like many other concepts the dictatorship of the proletariat remains unexplained in the vast literature of Marx and Engels.
However, the deficiency has been fully compensated by Lenin. He has explained the concept in several of his works, specifically in State and Revolution. Lenin’s explanation covers all the aspects of the concept which Marx and Engels thought.
Generally, the concept means that it is power in the hands of the working people for building up of a socialist society. In the State and Revolution Lenin says: “the dictatorship of the proletariat is the rule unrestricted by law and based on force of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, a rule enjoying the sympathy and support of the labouring and exploited masses.”
When the proletarians are organized into a class and establish their supremacy over the bourgeoisie and the purpose of this is to emancipate the workers then that can be termed dictatorship of the proletariat.
Elsewhere Lenin defines it in the following words:
“If we translate this Latin scientific historical philosophical term dictatorship of the proletariat into a more simple language it means only a definite class, namely that of the urban and industrial workers in general, is able to lead the whole mass of the toilers and exploited in the struggle for overthrow of the yoke of capital, in the process of the overthrow, in the struggle to maintain and consolidate the victory, in the work of creating the new socialist social system, in the whole struggle for the complete abolition of classes.”
The dictatorship of the proletariat, according to Lenin, is a specific form of class alliance between the proletariat the vanguard of the working class and the numerous non-proletarians strata of the working people, on the majority of these strata and alliance for the final establishment and consolidation of socialism.
So we can hold that dictatorship of the proletariat is a specific form of rule and the dictatorship is an instrument for the attainment and consolidation of communism or socialism.
Proletarians use their dictatorial power for the suppression of the bourgeoisie as well as to destroy the citadel of power built up by the capitalists in collaboration with the state authority. The suppression of bourgeoisie and destruction of state power both are essential preconditions of the emancipation of proletarians.
The dictatorship of the proletariat used by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin cannot be confused with the bourgeois or liberal meaning of the term. The bourgeois theoreticians use dictatorship to mean the rule of particular persons or party over the rest of the society.
In other words, it is a rule and oppression of minority over the majority. In Marxian terminology the term means a form of government of the majority established to crush the capitalist rule and oppression.
The dictatorship of the proletariat has a special meaning in Marxism. Through the establishment of the dictatorship of proletariat the advent of communism will be very easy. The proletarians may be allowed to exercise dictatorial power, but it is a temporary phenomenon.
Once counter-revolutionary forces are destroyed and the state comes under the full control of the proletariat the meaning and significance of dictatorship will tend to evaporate. Dictatorship of the proletariat is a definite form of government.
Some critics of the dictatorship of the proletariat hold the view that whether the proletariat will set up dictatorship rule or not shall be decided by vote. Lenin was against all sorts of parliamentary tactics or methods He says that the supporters of this view forget that voting system, parliamentary tactics, universal suffrage are all bourgeois policies and have thrived in bourgeois system. They are beyond the bounds of proletarians. Naturally, laying confidence on these policies will inevitably mislead the working class. Proletarians will have to set up their supremacy only through revolution.
Essentiality and Inevitability of Dictatorship of Proletariat:
Marx, Engels and Lenin in their various writings have dealt with the major aspects of the concept and this treatment reveals that dictatorship of proletariat is both essential and inevitable. Marx and Engels were convinced that the bourgeois state an instrument of exploitation could not be amended, but, at any cost, be destroyed.
The emancipation of the proletarians is impossible so long the bourgeois state continues to exist and exercises its power over the proletariat. The bourgeois state machinery has to be broken, and smashed from top to bottom. To achieve this lofty ideal a gigantic machinery or institution must be created. This implies the essentiality of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The whole theme is to be analysed still from a different angle. Bourgeois states are most varied. That is, the forms of government, administrative systems and judiciary are varied and many. But in one respect they are one: all bourgeois states are instruments of exploitation, and every bourgeois state is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
The logical conclusion, therefore, is proletarians require dictatorship or dictatorial power to smash the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Without dictatorial power the proletarians cannot destroy the bourgeois state and the remnants of bourgeoisie after the establishment of the first phase of communism.
The bourgeois freedom is-the freedom of a minority, freedom of the elites. The great majority of the masses are deprived of the values and fruits of democracy. This is to be reversed and, for that, the proletarians must have sweeping power in every sphere of society.
The abolition of capitalism gives real freedom and democracy to all. Simultaneously, the bourgeois system of private ownership of property is to be destroyed. Socialism and private property cannot co-exist.
All the sources of production and the methods of distribution of these products shall be placed at the disposal of the whole society. Marx and Engels, out of their own experience and from the study of history, have come to the conclusion that sporadic attempts and lukewarm behaviour and lackadaisical efforts cannot fulfill the ambition.
As to the inevitability of dictatorship of the proletariat we can here refer to the letter written by Engels to Eduard Bernstein on 24th March 1884. The proletariat needs democratic forms of the seizure of political power. But if democracy is wanted as an end it is necessary to rely on the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie, i.e., on classes that are in the process of dissolution and reactionary in relation to the proletariat when they try to maintain themselves artificially.
So with the help of petty bourgeois or peasantry democracy and freedom cannot be established. The proletarians must prepare themselves in all the ways to set up freedom and democracy and attain supremacy.
Aspects of Dictatorship of Proletariat:
1. An Instrument of Revolution:
Stalin has explained the dictatorship of proletariat in the following way. He has said that it is an instrument of proletarian revolution. Stalin observes that the question of the proletarian dictatorship is, above all, a question of the main content of the proletarian revolution.
The purpose of the revolution is to set up a classless society and without a proletarian revolution this can never be achieved. The only means is political domination of the proletariat. Engels stated this unambiguously in a speech made at the London conference of the International Workingmen’s Association in September 1871. Proletarians’ revolution is the supreme political act and it has no alternative.
Echoing Engels’s view, Stalin has said that it is the most important mainstay brought into being for the purpose of overthrowing exploiters. The dictatorship of the proletariat will launch a revolution for achieving socialism and the revolution will continue for its completion.
The revolution can defeat the bourgeoisie; can overthrow its power, even without the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the revolution will be unable to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie to maintain its victory and to push forward to the final victory of socialism unless it creates a special organ in the form of dictatorship of the proletariat as its principal mainstary.
Task of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat:
In our definition we have noted that dictatorship of the proletariat is proletarians’ rule coupled with force over the bourgeoisie. From this definition it is quite manifest that dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be assumed as a change of government, or a change of personalities.
It is a change of the whole state it is a new state, it is a state of the proletariat. It arises not on the basis of bourgeois order or to safeguard the bourgeois interests, but to rule over the bourgeoisie and to destroy gradually all the vestiges of bourgeois rule and economy.
So one of the most important tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and to finalize the process of expropriation of the landlords and capitalists through the socialization of principal instruments of production.
Another important function of dictatorship of the proletariat is to fight violently the reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces. Even after the revolution the bourgeoisie continues to gain and consolidate power and makes alliances with other counter revolutionary forces. This is dangerous for proletarians’ dictatorial power.
By destroying all the remnants of bourgeois rule the proletarians must clear the deck for socialism. For building up a better society the proletarians will have to start afresh. They will get nothing readymade.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is both a form of government and an instrument of rule or administration. Capture of power or establishing ownership over the means of production cannot immediately bring success for the proletarians.
The bourgeois superstructure is first to be destroyed and then to be rebuilt. New cultural and social organizations are to be created for the all-round development of the proletarians.
A new superstructure is to be constructed in order to correspond it to the new economic base. Dictatorship will emphasize on the cultural and educational aspects of the proletarians.
The dictatorship of the proletariat has a responsibility in the international field. The revolution in one country is not enough. All the proletarians of all the countries of the world must be brought under one umbrella.
The exploited masses of the world are to be united under the leadership of the dictatorship of the proletariat and their efforts for emancipation will be consolidated in a formidable manner.
The dictatorship of the proletariat will always support people’s struggle for emancipation and, if necessary, will help both materially, intellectually and psychologically. The leitmotif of the dictatorship of the proletariat is first to disintegrate both capitalism and its highest form imperialism and then to precipitate their destruction.
2. Bourgeois Democracy:
In order to understand the nature of proletarian democracy it is essential to know what is bourgeois democracy. Lenin with his great insight and acumen has scanned the nature of both bourgeois and proletarian democracies.
According to Lenin and many other Marxists the bourgeois democracy is based on the principle of inequality in all its manifestations. Particularly; the bourgeois theoreticians emphasize the political nature of democracy. Economic oppression and inequality are, for them, quite immaterial.
As a result of this deep-rooted notion in capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. Bourgeois democracy is the democracy for an insignificant minority. The nature of capitalist democracy, in Lenin’s view is there an emphasis on the details of universal suffrage, techniques and functioning of representative institutions and glorification of people’s political rights.
The bourgeoisie resorts to intensive propaganda in favour of this type of democracy forgetting that without emancipation from economic bondage the political nature of democracy is simply a farce. Only dictatorship of the proletariat can fulfill the aspirations of the working class.
3. Marx on Proletarian Democracy:
Marx grasped the essence of capitalist democracy splendidly and that is why he attacked this with all his vigour. In the Manifesto we read the following words .The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.
The most important task of the proletariat is to capture power and then to free democracy from the grip of bourgeoisie. According to Marx, democracy will get full scope to thrive only in the atmosphere created by the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The proletarian democracy is the real democracy, it is the democracy of the majority, it is the democracy for the free and full development of all. Elaborating the Marxian concept of proletarian and bourgeois democracy Lenin has said that the bourgeoisie confined democracy within the elites or insignificant minority.
Bourgeois democracy is the democracy for the rich. But real democracy is that which reaches the door of all, inspires all, and where there is no oppression and exploitation. All these ideals are realized only in a proletarian democracy.
Democracy undergoes tremendous changes during the transition period from capitalism to communism. Proletarian democracy oppresses the oppressors and exploiters.
The proletarians must suppress the oppressors in order to free humanity from wage slavery.
The resistance built up by the bourgeoisie must be crushed. In the words of Lenin “it is clear that where there is suppression, where there is violence, there is no freedom and no democracy.”
Marx and Engels was over-confident that only the dictatorship of the proletariat could defeat the reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces of the state, and then only could real democracy appear.
In State and Revolution Lenin has said that the gigantic power of the capitalists can only be defeated by the proletarians. Through revolution the proletarians will expand the sphere of democracy. Marx, Engels and Lenin have held that the proletarians must do this. Democracy is an instrument of struggle for emancipation. Democracy will go on working until communism is achieved.
The capitalists use the state to protect their democracy, that is, the democracy of the minority. After overthrowing the bourgeoisie from power the proletarians will use the same state to protect proletarian democracy.
That is why, at the first phase of socialism, workers will never try to demolish the bourgeois state. Thus, at the hands of the proletarians, the character of the state will be quite different.
The proletarian state and proletarian, democracy will ensure the development of all. The dictatorship of the proletariat will hand over power, administration and the entire responsibility of the state to the proletarians.
This process, attaining maturity, will reduce the importance of the bourgeois state and ultimately the state will tend to wither away.
“The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment approaches when it becomes unnecessary. The more democratic the “state” which consists of the armed workers, and which is no longer a state in the proper sense of the word, the more rapidly the every form of state begins to wither away.”
What has been emphasized here is that the state (in the bourgeois sense of course) and real democracy are arch-enemies. Both cannot coexist. In other words, there is an antagonistic relationship between state and democracy.
In the dictatorship of the proletariat there will be state, but this state will be different from the bourgeois state which means that the proletarian state will lose its character as an instrument of exploitation. The existence of the state in proletarian democracy will be a temporary phenomenon. The development of democracy will make the state redundant.
Lenin has said that the proletarian democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat are synonymous. They are the two sides of the same medal. It is unimaginable that there is dictatorship of the proletariat and, at the same time, there is no democracy. That is why democracy finds the fullest development only in the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Lenin has said that the opportunists and bourgeois theoreticians find contradiction between proletarian democracy and dictatorship of the proletariat.
Marx and Engels have categorically stated that the bourgeois democracy is not real democracy. It is the democracy of a minority. A particular class which is economically powerful controls both economics and politics for its own benefits as well as advantage. Proletarian democracy is not for few persons or class, it is the democracy of the whole society and of all persons. Proletarian revolution abolishes all classes and all other artificial divisions and that paves the way for fuller and perfect democracy.
In the epoch of proletarian democracy the artificial distinctions made by the bourgeoisie between the rural and urban area is removed. All the political, social and cultural organizations are remodelled and reorganized to make them fit for building up socialism. All the people will be imbued to come under the banner of new construction of society.
There will be no bar to national participation everybody will have freedom to work and express his own opinion on national and local issues. Proletarian democracy is called an integrated and united social system.
Lenin has said that in order to make proletarian democracy universal the workers can form alliances with other small groups of persons and unorganized small manufacturers.
Proletarian democracy disdains the formal equality propagated and practiced by bourgeois thinkers and politicians. The formal equality or the equality is only in the political arena while the forces of production are controlled by few. This is simply a farce. Proletarian democracy proceeds firmly to do away with this formal and farcical democracy and equality.
By making the society that is all members of society the owners of the means of production, socialist revolution removes all inequalities and converts democracy into a real one. Formal equality will be converted into real equality or actual equality, i.e., to the operation of the rule “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
An important aspect of proletarian democracy is democratic centralism. In capitalist system there is also a type of centralism, but that is bureaucratic centralism. Bureaucrats are completely alienated from the people and they enjoy supremacy in the decision-making process. Workers and peasants have no role to play in the making of decisions and administration of the state.
Accountability a recognized principle of democracy is flatly bypassed or violated under bureaucratic centralism. In proletarian democracy there is centralism that is the whole administration of the state is run from a single centre. But there is a hierarchy.
The decision-making process and administration is clearly divided into several stages and all the stages are connected with each other.
One stage of administration is accountable to the other and in this way the concept of accountability has been raised to the level of utmost significance and meaningfulness. Democratic centralism of proletarian democracy opens the door for the participation of masses in all the spheres of state administration. This ultimately creates tremendous enthusiasm in the mind of the people.
In proletarian democracy there is no place of conspiracy and secrecy which is characteristic feature of bourgeois democracy. Marx and Engels have said in the Manifesto that the communists disdain secrecy and conspiracy.
They do everything openly and declare their objectives publicly. People will participate in all the activities of the state that is the raison d’etre of proletarian democracy.
To deprive people from this fundamental right, in one way or other, is a great crime and also abnegation of democracy. Proletarian democracy, therefore, enriches democracy’s certain fundamental principles.
It brings for the people a new hope, an ambitious future and promises a new way of life, a quite new type of society which was unimaginable by the bourgeoisie.
Assessment of Dictatorship of Proletariat:
We have analysed various aspects of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We shall now make an objective assessment of the concept and its practical side. The revolutionary government in Russia under the leadership of Lenin in 1917, and the revolution was spearheaded by the Bolshevik Party. Only the urban workers took the leadership and played active role in the revolution.
This raised a lot of suspicion in the minds of people. It is alleged the peasants constituting the important section of proletariat had no role to play. In December 1917 Lenin said that it could not be expected that the rural proletariat would be clearly and finally conscious of its own interests.
Only the urban working class could be. The proletariat should become ruling class in the sense of being leader of all who work; it should be the ruling class politically. But this assertion of Lenin could not bring an end to the suspicion that the proletariat was not actually the ruling class.
Elsewhere Lenin admitted that not the proletariat but the Bolshevik Party was exercising dictatorial power, and he thought that there was no wrong in it. For several years the Bolshevik Party had been working for the workers and guiding them.
It was their vanguard. The natural leadership of the workers fell upon the Party. So the dictatorship of party and the dictatorship of workers or proletariat were synonymous.
This plea of Lenin is untenable. Because, under abnormal circumstances, the dictatorship of the party may be accepted temporarily. But this cannot be the permanent feature or solution. Proletarians should be the supreme authority.
Miliband in his Marxism and Politics writes:
“The fact remained that the party had substituted itself for a ravaged and exhausted working class in a country gripped by civil war, foreign intervention and economic collapse.”
Whatever may be the reason the fact is that the Party not the proletariat exercises the dictatorial power. This is a clear departure from Marx’s original concept of dictatorship of the proletariat.
Marcel Liebman, a renowned interpreter of Leninism, says that a lot of confusion has been generated by the term dictatorship of the proletariat. This is chiefly due to the fact that neither Marx, nor Engels not even Lenin have explained in unambiguous terms the concept.
“The mechanisms and structures of such a dictatorship were never described” in details. Should the proletarians rule themselves? Should some other persons rule and proletarians will guide them? What would be the methods and tactics of the government? What would be the role of force in the dictatorship of the proletariat? All these questions remain unanswered.
Marx, Engels and Lenin generally refer to the Paris Commune. But this does not throw ample light on the vital questions raised by the critics. It is maintained that these questions are to be answered.
Kautsky believed that the proletariat as a class cannot govern. The parliamentary system should be revived. Retorting Kautsky’s suggestion Lenin said “it is altogether wrong to say that a class cannot govern” and claimed that only a parliamentary cretin could say this Although Lenin had great faith on the ability of the proletariat as a ruling class, in his lifetime the party was all in all, and this party constituted a microscopic fraction of the whole proletariat.
So it is not true that the proletariat, in practice, was the ruling class. Even today, proletarians as a whole have no place in any administrative system. Liebman concludes that the dictatorship of the proletariat “was an ephemeral thing that was unable to survive for long the exhaustion of the political or even simply physical energy of the proletariat”.
In 1919 Lenin identified the party with the proletariat. Earlier he said that the Bolshevik Party was substituted for proletariat to meet the exigency of the situation, later on he identified the party with the working class. “The thesis of the identification of the class with the party prevented the thesis of substitution from raising its head. Lenin had admitted implicitly that the dictatorship of the proletariat was a thing of the past. The replacement of the proletariat by the party has left nothing about the concept.”
But the whole concept of dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be summarily rejected. It is said that both Marx and Engels have floated this concept to effectively counteract the supremacy of the bourgeois in economic, cultural and political spheres.
They saw that the supremacy of the capitalist class was counter-productive in all respects and, in order to bring about an end to this, the proletariat class must establish its supremacy through the seizure of political power.