1980s >> 1980 >> no-909-may-1980

The End of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat!

As everyone knows, there has been a Shakespeare industry for centuries. Thousands of academics—some wise, some foolish, some honest, some crooked—have made a nice living out of it. But it took a long time for a similar industry to develop about Marx; for most of the century since he died, the groves of academe in the main held a conspiracy of silence. He wasn’t worth mentioning to students—who in turn became professors who were able to pass on their own ignorance to succeeding generations. Suddenly, in the last decade or two, all that has changed. The reasons need not bother us, but it’s enough to make an SPGB cat laugh to find that there is now a flourishing Marx industry among circles which not so long ago “professed”: “Marx? Never heard of ‘im!”

Every facet of the sage’s life and works is explored and there is no end to the discoveries about the subsequent career of his third cousin twice removed; or about the bastard whom he fathered on the domestic servant and who was looked after by the undoubtedly kindly Engels. It is true that all these scribblers seem to know everything except the one thing that Marx really spent his life on: socialism. Ask ten professors of politics to tell you what socialism is and you will get ten different answers, each one as stupid as the rest. A few months ago, for example, there was an attack on Marxism in the Observer by no less a personage than the editor-in-chief. Predictably, this brought an article the following week by E. P. Thompson (who is too big for the paper to ignore) who had no difficulty in showing that Conor Cruise O’Brien is an ignoramus. Sadly he also showed that he too has his faults. The author of The Making of the English Working Class, which received the high praise that was its due when reviewed in this journal some years ago, can still think that a Marxist can possibly associate with the reformists in the Labour Party or the SWP.

As is the nature of an industry, those who engage in it are always looking for products that the competition has not dealt with. So we find that the literati take their magnifying glasses to pore over every odd phrase that Marx wrote from his youth (and like ordinary mortals, Marx too had to grow up—and learn). So we get learned tomes discussing what exactly the great man meant in Chapter XYZ, line 123 of the Critique of the Gotha Programme or some such.

The matter of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is even more ridiculous. The phrase was not intended for, and not used in, one of his books or major pamphlets, but was merely a remark used en passant in the course of correspondence. This however has not prevented the phrase being analysed and dissected ad nauseam. Can there be a dictatorship of the great majority? Whom would they dictate over in the classless society of socialism? Did Marx really mean “dictatorship” in the sense in which we understand the term or was he using it in the manner in which it was understood in ancient Rome? One can only assume that in his grave in Highgate, Marx is saddened to think that a careless phrase, one that indeed seems rather less than meaningful to us, should occasion so much bother to generations then unborn.

Unfortunately, it is not only foolish academics who seize on such phrases. People like Lenin (who had at any rate studied Marx) and Stalin (who had no time to read, being too busy butchering the Russian proletariat) needed these obscure phrases to lend authority to their tyrannical capitalist regimes. Lenin and his so-called Communist Party made it quite clear that they thought it perfectly correct to run a dictatorship and call it democracy. This, they said, was what Marx meant by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. And this in turn meant that Lenin and his grislier successors could claim to be Marxists when by every reasonable understanding of what Marx spent his life writing about, and fighting for, they were anti-Marxists who were running a dictatorship over the proletariat—like Hitler. (In a sense, even worse, Hitler could at any rate say that millions of proletarians had voted him into power in an election in 1933; something that has never happened in the entire history of the Union of Capitalist Soviet Republics.)

However, the mask has now been taken off, very quietly. Russia, which always claimed to be the supreme example of whatever Marx is supposed to have meant by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, has now abandoned that claim. At last, the official news from Moscow, from no less authoritative a source than the Sovietskaya Vooruzhennye Sily (p. 409). Most readers will no doubt be fully familiar with this journal but, for those who are not, it is the official publication of the Institute of Military History of the Soviet Ministry of Defence—and you can’t get more official than that. Here is the passage in question: “Great changes have occurred in the Soviet political system. Our socialist state, which emerged as a dictatorship of the proletariat, has become an all-embracing national state expressing the interests and the will of the entire nation. As a result of this, the Soviet Armed Forces have become the weapon of our all-embracing state, a reliable defender of all classes and strata of Soviet society. Their social and class base has been widened. The union of the armed forces and the nation has been cemented further”.

There we have it, After 60 inglorious years, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is now pronounced dead. Out of the ashes we now have a socialist, classless society? On the contrary, our glorious armed forces are there to protect “all classes and strata of society”. Russia even has strata as well as classes, unlike our own capitalist state. It will not be necessary to point out all the significance of the remarkable passage quoted but it is worth mentioning that the dateline of the issue is Moscow 1978. Did the glorious Soviet people have some sort of referendum in which they joyously voted out of existence the glorious Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which they had joyously upheld in all those free elections ever since Lenin smashed up the Constituent Assembly in 1918? If so, this great event went unreported. The Morning Star still knows nothing about it, which is remarkable ignorance even by their standards. It is probable that about 250 million Russian members of the working class who are unlikely to read Sovietskaya Vooruzhennye Sily, haven’t noticed the change either.

L. E. Weidberg

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