Letter: Marx and Dictatorship

 Letter From A Correspondent.

Under the above heading, the Socialist Standard for June chose to answer a perfectly fair question by twisting and misconstruing a clear statement of Engels into an anti-class struggle position by adding to it a typical S.P.G.B. “explanatory interpretation.” The statement quoted ran, “ . . . Then look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.” This statement was “clarified,” save the mark! You went on to show how the Paris Commune was an instance of majority democratic control with, of course, no suppression of minorities. Minorities had their newspapers and were allowed to carry on their propaganda. In point of fact, they were, according to you, generally and generously “protected” by the “good” working-class dictatorship.

Then you contrast this beautiful fancy against Russia, with its ruthless suppression of all minorities, and draw the vicious anti-working class conclusion that you are right and the Bolshevist wrong.

You, as individuals, editors, contributors and members of the S.P.G.B., have every “right” to express opinions like the foregoing, but neither you nor anyone else has the slightest right to make, or try to make, Marx or Engels responsible for such cowardly opinions.

I am going to quote from Engels, but before doing so I want to say that the quotations which I will use need no “interpretations” from the S.P.G.B., or anybody else. They are clarity itself! Engels, writing on the Anti-authoritarians of his day, says;:

“These gentlemen, have they ever seen a revolution? A revolution is the most authoritative thing possible. Revolution is an act in which part of the population forces its will on the other part by means of rifles, bayonets, cannon, i.e., by the most authoritative means. And the conquering party is inevitably forced to maintain its supremacy by means of that fear which its arms inspires in the reactionaries.
“Had the Paris Commune not relied on the armed people against the bourgeoisie, would it have lasted longer than a single day ?
“May we not rather censure the Commune for not having made sufficient use of its authority?”

Again Engels, in a letter to Bebel, after pointing out the ahsurdity of a Free People’s State in a revolutionary period, says:—

  “As the State is only a transitional institution which we are obliged to use in the revolutionary struggle in order to forcibly crush our opponents, it is a pure absurdity to talk of a ‘Free People’s State.’ During the period that the proletariat still needs the State, it does not require it in the interest of ‘Freedom,’ but in the interest of crushing its antagonists . . .”

And so any Marxist could go on quoting. But it is when you make the stupid blunder of contrasting the Russian “departure” from “equality” in wages and their “resorting” to inequality that you really relinquish all right to be considered seriously as Socialists, and take your true place as “just another one of those opposed to the growing power of the Working Class all over the world and particularly in Soviet Russia.!’

Try, if you can, to get the idea contained in the common Marxism : Equal “right” is a bourgeois “right” and will wither away as the State withers away, until real justice for Humanity shall establish itself in what would appear to-day as inequality, and we shall realise to the full that pregnant sentence—“ From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

W. D.,


If W.D. would use his intelligence, instead of his temper, he would try to meet arguments based on facts instead of foolish remarks.

It is a fact that Engels wrote: —

  The German Philistine has lately been thrown once again into wholesome paroxisms by the expression “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Well, gentle sirs. would you like to know how this dictatorship looks? Then look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Paris Commune, p. 20, New York Labor News Co.)

It is a fact that Marx described the Commune in the following words: —

    The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workman’s wages. (Page 74.)
While the merely repressive organs of the old governmental power were to be amputated, its legitimate functions were to be wrested from an authority-usurping preeminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society. Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling Class was to represent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for the workmen and managers in his business. And it is well known that companies, like individuals, in matters of real business generally know how to put the right man in the right place, and, if they for once make a mistake, to redress it promptly. On the other hand, nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Commune than to supersede universal suffrage by hierarchic investiture. (P. 76.)

Of Russia it was and is a fact that universal suffrage is superseded by hierarchic investiture.

It is a fact that Russia is one of the most bureaucracy-ridden countries in the world, and that the police and all the officials of the administration are the agents of the Central Government—the Central Committee of the Communist Party—and are not revocable at the behest of the majority of the Russian people.

It is a fact that the officials of the Russian Government do not perform their duties at workmen’s wages in the sense Marx used the term.

The above are a few of the host of fundamental differences between the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviet Republic.

We will quote the evidence of Lenin. Speaking at the 4th Congress of the Communist International in 1922, and enumerating the reasons the Bolsheviks made mistakes, he said : —

A fourth reason is the nature of our State apparatus. One of our misfortunes was that we had to take over the old state apparatus. The State apparatus often works against us. It is a matter of history that in the year 1917, when we had seized power, the State apparatus practised sabotage against us. We were greatly alarmed, and said: “Please come back to us”—and they all came back. That was our misfortune; We have now an enormous mass of officials, but we still lack a sufficient quantity of trained energies to keep them under proper control.
In actual practice we often find that here at the top, where we exercise the powers of State, the apparatus works all right, whereas lower down the officials do as they please, and what they please to do is to work against our measures.
At the top we have a few—I do not know the exact number—I am sure it is only a few thousand, or at a maximum, a few ten thousands—of our people; in the lower grades we have hundreds of thousands of officials bequeathed to us from Czarist clays or taken over by us from capitalist society. To some extent deliberately and to some extent unconsciously, they work against us. (The Communist, 16th December, 1922.)

From the above it will be seen that the Bolsheviks took over the old state apparatus, whereas the Commune did not. Since Lenin’s speech, Stalin and company have developed this state apparatus into a huge overshadowing power that crushes out all who disagree on particular points of policy with the small clique at the top. Heresy hunts and the activities of the secret police remind one of the extent the ideas of the Middle Ages affect Bolshevik activity. Trotsky and others have already found this out to their cost.

In further illustration of the undemocratic nature of the Russian Dictatorship as compared with the Paris Commune, let us quote once again the statement of Zinovieff at the 1st Congress of the 3rd International in March, 1919: —

  Our Central Committee has decided to deprive certain categories of party members the right to vote at the Congress of the Party. Certainly it is unheard of to limit the right of voting within the party, but the entire party has approved this measure, which is to insure the homogeneous unity of the Communists.
So that, in fact, we have 500,000 members who manage the entire State machine from top to bottom. (The Socialist, 29th April 1920.)

Now, W.D., would you mind informing us what kind of a “working class dictatorship” this is from which not only the working class but even members of the ruling party are excluded ? Is this the form under which “real justice for humanity” (whatever this empty bourgeois phrase means!) will “establish itself”?

Let us now take the two extracts from pages 64 and 67 of Lenin’s “State and Revolution,” that have been quoted by our opponent. W.D. says they need no “interpretation” from us or anybody else. Having doctored the quotations by tearing them from their context, he naturally objects to analysis.

The first is a quotation from an article written in 1873, by Engels, in an Italian paper against the Anarchists who “denied every form of authority, of subordination, of power.” The whole of the quotation given by Lenin on page 64 is as follows: —

If the Autonomists merely meant to say that the social organisation of the future would admit authority only within those limits which the conditions of industry inevitably dictate, then it would be possible to come to an understanding with them. But they are blind in respect of all the facts which make authority necessary, and they fight passionately against a mere word.
Why do not the Anti-Authoritarians limit themselves to shouting against the political authority, against the State? All Socialists agree that the State, and together with it, also political authority, will vanish as the result of the future Socialist Revolution, i.e., that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into simple administrative functions, concerned with social interests. But the Anti-Authoritarians demand that the political State should be abolished at one blow, even before those social relations which gave birth to the State are themselves abolished. They demand that the first act of the Social Revolution shall be the abolition of all authority..
These gentlemen, have they ever seen a Revolution? Revolution is undoubtedly the most authoritative thing possible. Revolution is an act in which part of the population forces its will on the other part by means of rifles, bayonets, cannons, i.e., by the most authoritative means. And the conquering party is inevitably forced to maintain its supremacy by means of that fear which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Had the Paris Commune not relied on the authority of the armed people, against the bourgeoisie, would it have lasted longer than a single day? May we not. rather censure the Commune for not having made sufficient use of this authority? And so either the Anti-Authoritarians themselves do not know what they are talking about, in which case they merely sow confusion, or they do know what they are talking about, in which case they are betraying the proletariat. In either case they serve only the interests of reaction.

If Engels’ statement is analysed, and not blindly bolted, it is obvious that he was arguing against those who were opposed to the capture and use of political power. Engels and the S.P.G.B. maintain that political power must be captured by the workers and used as an agent of emancipation. Engels also means that it shall be the work of the majority, hence his reference to the Paris Commune. Engels nowhere says that a minority of the population shall force its will on the majority, nor does he say that the minority shall not be.allowed to express their views. He is not dealing with that point. He is only concerned that the will of the conquering party shall prevail, that it shall remain supreme. In other words, that when the majority are in favour of Socialism, and obtain control of political power, they will not allow the minority to prevent them from setting about the establishment of Socialism. He suggests that the Commune might be censured for not having made sufficient use of their authority, and we have also put forward the same view in different articles on the Commune. But this has nothing to do with the question of democracy.

The second quotation from page 66 of Lenin’s book is taken from a private letter to Bebel by Engels, criticising the “Gotha programme” of 1875. Again Engels was concerned with the Anarchist’s criticism of the State, and he objected to the use of the term “Free State” in the programme.

The Free People’s State has been transformed into a Free State. According to the grammatical meaning of the words, the Free State is one in which the State is free in relation to its citizens, that is. a State with a despotic government. It would be well to throw overboard all this nonsense about the State, especially after the Commune, which was already no longer a State in the proper sense of the word.
The Anarchists have too long been able to throw in our teeth this “People’s State,” although already, in Marx’s works against Proudhon, and then in the “Communist Manifesto,” it was stated quite plainly that with the introduction of the Socialist order of society, the State will dissolve of itself, and will disappear, as the State is only a transitional institution which we are obliged to use in the revolutionary struggle in order forcibly to crush our opponents, it is a pure absurdity to speak of a Free People’s State. During the period when the proletariat needs the State, it does not require it in the interests of freedom, but in the interests of crushing its antagonists; and when it becomes possible really to speak of freedom, then the State, as such, ceases to exist. We should, therefore, suggest that everywhere the word State be replaced by Gemeinwesen (Commonwealth), a fine old German word, which corresponds to the French word “Commune.”

Take the expression, “crushing its antagonists” in the above, and, putting it along with all Engels’ other writings on the subject, what meaning can be taken from it except the crushing of those who try to frustrate the carrying out of the will of the majority? Engels certainly did not mean that one portion of the working class party should use state power to prevent another part from having a voice in policy.

In Engels’ criticism of the German Social Democratic draft programme of 1891, he said: —

If anything is certain, it is this, that our party and the working class can only achieve power under the form of the democratic Republic. This is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(The Labour Revolution, Kautsky, p.67).

Finally, let us hear the voice of one who should know something of Russia: —

     We know from older books that workers’ bureaucracy and workers’ aristocracy is the social foundation for opportunism. In Russia this phenomenon has taken on new forms. On the foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat—in a backward country—surrounded by capitalism—for the first time a powerful bureaucratic apparatus has been created from among the upper layers of the workers, that is, raised above the masses, that lays down the law to them, that has at its disposal colossal resources, that is bound together by an inner mutual responsibility and that intrudes into the policies of a workers* government in its own interests, methods and regulations.
. . . The entire leading stratum of the party that was at the helm during the revolution and the civil war has been replaced, removed and crushed. Their place has been taken by an anonymous functionary. At the same time the struggle against bureaucratism which was so acute in character during Lenin’s lifetime, when the bureaucracy was not yet out of its diapers, has ceased entirely now when the apparatus has grown sky high.
And, indeed, who is there capable of carrying on this struggle? The party, as a self-controlling vanguard of the proletariat, no longer exists now. The party apparatus has been fused with the administrative. The most important instrument of the general line within the party is the G.P.U. The bureaucracy not only prohibits the criticism of the top from below but it prohibits its theoreticians from even talking about it and from noticing it. (Trotzky, quoted from the Militant by the One Big Union Bulletin, 16/6/1932.)

Perhaps the above is an illustration of the “growing power of the workers”!

Finally, W. D., if you would analyse what you write, you might think more clearly. For instance, when you say “contrasting the Russian ‘departure’ from ‘equality’ in wages and their ‘resorting’ to ‘inequality,’ ” what do you mean? What is contrasted? Again, how “Equal ‘Right’ ” “wither away”? Again, when we quote Marx’s statements as to the nature of the Commune, how are we contrasting “this beautiful fancy against Russia”? If, as it appears, you are in favour of the “ruthless suppression of all minorities,” why do you say: “You, as individuals, editors, contributors, and members of the S.P.G.B., have every ‘right’ to express opinions like the foregoing”? At least be logical! ‘