“The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”

The Communist parties of France and Italy are the biggest in Europe. The Italian party has 1.7 million members, and the French party half a million members. The Italian party holds 29 per cent. of the seats in Parliament and has 33 per cent. of the total vote (Guardian 16th February 1976). The present minority government, the Christian Democrats, depend on the Communists in order to rule, and it seems likely that the Communists will succeed to power. The position in France is said to be that the “Socialists and Communists will combine to form the next government”. Both Italian and French parties, we are told, have renounced the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat and are now relying on democratic methods to obtain and hold political power.

It is not the first time that the Communist parties have turned a complete somersault with embarrassing changes of policy. In the Sunday Times 29th February 1976, Mr. Napolitono, the Italian leader, had this to say about NATO when asked how a Communist party could remain a partner in an anti-communist alliance: “Everything changes. The NATO alliance is not the same as in 1950. In those days we took the view that the NATO alliance was potentially aggressive. But now the danger of an aggressive initiative by NATO against the Warsaw pact has disappeared”. This type of blatant dishonesty characterizes the Communist parties everywhere. A lie becomes the truth when circumstances demand it. What however have not disappeared are the nuclear missiles, the Polaris submarines, and the hordes of armed men ready to disembowel each other over the ownership and control of the earth’s resources at the behest of these unprincipled opportunists and their Moscow parents.

At the moment, the Italian and French capitalist classes are finding increasing difficulty in administering the system. Social problems are mounting, together with the effects of the present world slump. Both countries have unemployment well over the million mark: Italy has 1.3 million unemployed. In these circumstances, the capitalists are prepared to allow the cause of the Communists to advance, having heard them give assurances that they will uphold the national interest at the expense of cutting the ideological ties with the Soviet Union. It is significant that both French and Italian leaders were absent from the Moscow International Congress of World Communist Parties. Perhaps they decided not to risk it.

Communism & Democracy
Should the Communist parties in both countries take over the running of the governments they will declare themselves for what they really are — the servants of capital. As such they will be forced to come into conflict with the workers and oppose demands where those demands do not harmonize with the interests of the ruling class. This is inevitable, for no political party can serve two masters. They will also show their impotence in solving problems which a class society produces, where events are in control, and where their forked tongues cannot help them.

The new-found democracy they now assume has been produced as evidence of their enlightenment, when in fact it was thrust upon them. Never at a loss to display their talents for turning night into day, they now seem to be claiming credit for discovering democracy. Mr. George Marchais, secretary of the French party, claims to have “defined, clarified and enriched the strategy of the political party line. This line lays down the democratic way we propose to Frenchmen to lead them to socialism . . . we have also taken into account national characteristics and traditions to build socialism with the colours of France”. (Times, 28th February, 1976).

The history of the Communist parties throughout the world is an unrelieved story of dictatorial organizations, having at their head the absolute dictatorship of the Communist party in Russia. The dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the Communist party are two fundamentally different conditions. The former, which basically means conscious majority rule, has never existed in Russia. With the present exception of the Chinese party, whose international ideology has had to give way to the building-up of state capitalism and the defence of national interests, all Communist parties have to be regarded as Trojan horses of Soviet capitalism. The fear of the more ignorant politicians is that if the Communists ever get power in the West they will emulate Lenin and never let it go. When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, Lenin shut down the Constituent Assembly and abolished free elections, set up censorship, and abolished other democratic rights enjoyed by workers. Had free elections been allowed shortly after the hollow victory of the revolution there was a real danger that the Bolsheviks might have been voted out of power, and Lenin was not prepared to risk it.

The conditions in a modern capitalist country are very different from those obtaining in Russia are 1917. The parliamentary system of government based on a democratic franchise means that property questions can be settled by a democratic vote. Generally, the democratic system of election and an uncensored press, free trade unions, and the freedom of political parties to have their say, grows naturally out of the conditions of free trade. As Engels said, the bourgeois democratic republic is the natural state for capitalism.

Marx’s Phrase
In May 1875 the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany, led by Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, and the General Association of German Workers, founded by Lassalle, decided to unite under the name of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany. The unity congress was held at Gotha. Prior to the conference, a programme outlining the aims of the new organization was sent to Marx for his criticism. In a letter to Bracke, a founder member of the Social Democratic Party, Marx criticized the Programme. It consisted of a number of vague, and in many cases ethical, propositions which could mean anything. The first proposal, “Labour is the source of all wealth and all cultures”, Marx showed was incorrect, as it ignored the part played by nature.

In criticizing the democratic section II “The Free basis of the State (government machine)” he said : “Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one with 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”. (The letter was published by Engels in 1891, 15 years later). This is the historic statement which Lenin seized upon as justifying the dictatorship in Russia and the failure of the Bolsheviks to solve the problems of production without which Socialism is impossible. The transformation between capitalist and communist society became twisted to mean a transition between Socialism and Communism. Socialism being a “lower stage” and Communism a “higher stage”.


The elaborate falsification of Marx’s theory was connived because the Russian revolution was represented to the world as a Socialist revolution, but the Socialism was absent because the conditions for its establishment were absent. The historic revolutionary rôle of Lenin and the Bolsheviks was to build up a capitalist society in Russia, and they knew it, despite the fact that the Bolshevik party contained a number of Marxist thinkers. There was no other course open to them.


“The Transition Period”
Marx’s phrase about the transformation between capitalism and communism could not apply, because capitalism had not developed in Russia. Moreover, Marx was discussing the kind of action the workers ought to take after they had gained political power and Socialism had been established, and the State had become the agent of working-class emancipation instead of an instrument of oppression, and also what changes the form of the State would undergo in communist society. In Marx’s view there could only be a scientific answer to that, and it was what the conference ought to be discussing: not the “freeing of the State” but its transformation within the new conditions of production which communism would bring forth. Earlier in his criticism, dealing with the section on the “fair distribution of the proceeds of labour”, he said: “What we have to deal with here is a Communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society, which is thus in every respect economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmark of the old society from whose womb it emerges”.
(Critique of the Gotha Programme, p.16, Progress Publishers, Moscow.)


Marx cannot be cited as an advocate of dictatorship. A few years earlier, in his book The Civil War in France, dealing with the Paris Commune, he wrote: “The Commune was essentially a government of the working class: the result of the struggles of the producing class against the appropriating class, the political form under which the freedom of labour could be attained being at length revealed”. Engels, in his introduction to the work, said: “Of late, the German philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the workers’ Dictatorship of the Proletariat: well and good gentlemen, do you want to know what this Dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune, that was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. (Civil War in France, p.19, Martin Lawrence, 1933.)


Those who know something of the brief history of the Commune will know that instead of the suspension of democracy, it was founded on its most thoroughgoing use. Dictatorship, in the final analysis, must come to mean a form of government by a single individual or of an organization over a great mass. Both these forms are impossible in a Socialist society. The Socialist movement is not a minority movement, it is a movement consciously pushing the interests of the majority. This marks it off from all previous movements which were movements of minorities in the interests of minorities. This mass movement can only be organized on a democratic basis. Everyone will and must know what fundamental issues are involved, and what is expected of them. Participation requires understanding.


It should be borne in mind that Marx’s criticism of the Gotha Programme was not meant for publication, and it was contained in letter form. Furthermore, it was addressed to Wilhelm Bracke and other founders of the Social Democratic Party to be sent to Bebel and Liebknecht, all of whom were men of long experience in the Socialist movement, and who were all familiar with Marx’s ideas and writings. Their interpretation of what Marx meant would have been different from that of the ordinary layman. One thing is indisputable, and that is that the Communist party have no claim whatever to represent the work of Marx. They cannot abandon the Dictatorship of the Proletariat because they have never known the meaning of it, let alone accepted it.


Establishment of Socialism
We in the Socialist movement do not accept the idea of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as a transitional period. We have no need to because class society will be abolished simultaneously with the establishment of common ownership. The State machine will be under the direct control of Society, and its repressive organs will be the first to be abolished. Other social and administrative functions, will be developed in accordance with prevailing social requirements. All forms of social re-organization will be under the democratic control of the community. No political transition will be required because political society ends with the abolition of social classes. The political transition takes place before the eventual victory of the proletariat. Capitalist ideology has given way to Socialist ideology — the revolution is complete.


One of the difficulties facing Marx was that the Gotha Programme was not a Socialist programme, nor were the parties to it Socialist parties. However, these were all Marx had to work on, and he had to do the best he could, in all the circumstances. Experience has shown that a well-intentioned leadership with Socialist ideas is not sufficient to change society. The SPGB has learnt this lesson from history.
Jim D’Arcy