Dictatorship of the proletariat

From Academic Kids

The dictatorship of the proletariat is defined by Marxist theory as the use of state power by the working class against the overthrown ruling class and others of its enemies during the passage from capitalism to communism. It involves creation of a new post-revolutionary state apparatus and confiscation of the means of production. The original meaning is a workers' democracy where the working class would be in power, rather than the capitalist class.


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Background of the Term

Prior to 1871, Karl Marx said little about what in practice would characterize a "dictatorship of the proletariat", believing that planning in advance the details of a future socialist system constituted the fallacy of "utopian socialism." Marx used the term "dictatorship" to describe control by an entire class, rather than a single sovereign individual, over another class.

In this way Marx called capitalism the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, which he believed would be superseded by the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in turn would be superseded by a classless and stateless society known as communism. He viewed the dictatorship of the proletariat as only an intermediate stage, believing that the need for the use of state power of the working class over its enemies would disappear once the classless society had emerged.

Although Marx did not plan out the details of how such a dictatorship would be implemented, he did point to the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example of a society in his own lifetime that put his ideas into practice. In his work "The Civil War in France," Marx praised the government of the Paris Commune. Frederick Engels, in his 1891 postscript to the work, summarized this position, and praised the democratic features of this government, when he wrote: "In this first place, it filled all posts -- administrative, judicial, and educational -- by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, with the right of the same electors to recall their delegate at any time. And in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers." Engels argued that the working class, once in power, had to "do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself," and that it must "safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment." In praising the Paris Commune, and at the same time defending his concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat, Engels said: "Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: 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."

The Paris Commune, however, was short-lived, and no other serious attempt at implementing Marx's ideas was made during his lifetime. After Marx, the concept of a dictatorship of the proletariat was later altered and defined by many Marxist groups who adopted Lenin's theory documented in his brochure State and Revolution. Lenin believed that the political form of the Paris Commune was revived in the councils of workers and soldiers that appeared after the 1905 Russian revolution and called themselves soviets. Their task, according to Lenin, was to overthrow the state and establish socialism, which he identified as the stage preceding communism. The Stalinists later corrupted "dictatorship of the proletariat," however, and used the concept to justify unlimited totalitarian power in the hands of few individuals who constituted a new elite ruling class, and thus betrayed the Marxian ideal.

Current Usage

This concept of Dictatorship of the Proletariat was used -- and, some would claim, abused -- in self-proclaimed Communist countries, to justify the exercise of state power to suppress all opposition (see totalitarianism), allegedly done on behalf of the workers. Critics, particularly anti-communists, Trotskyists and non-Leninist communists, such as anarcho-communists contend that this principle has been used as a justification for granting sweeping powers to a new ruling elite.

These critics maintain that it is not the working class which uses state power in historical "Communist countries", but a new elite, crueler and more corrupt than the old ruling class it replaces (see nomenklatura). As a follow-up to this argument, some critics refuse to use the label "communist" for those countries or their ruling parties, and call them either revisionist or Stalinist instead.


  • "The dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must suppress them in order to free humanity from wage slavery, their resistance must be crushed by force; it is clear that there is no freedom and no democracy where there is suppression and where there is violence." - V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution

External links

fr:Dictature du proltariat ja:プロレタリア独裁 pl:Dyktatura proletariatu sv:Proletariatets diktatur


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