Dictatorship of the proletariat
In Marxist sociopolitical thought, the dictatorship of the proletariat refers to a state in which the proletariat, or the working class, has control of political power. The term, coined by Joseph Weydemeyer, was adopted by the founders of Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in the 19th century. In Marxist theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the intermediate system between capitalism and communism, when the government is in the process of changing the ownership of the means of production from private to collective ownership. It is termed dictatorship because it retains the 'state apparatus' as such, with its implements of force and oppression. According to Marxist theory, the existence of any government implies the dictatorship of one social class over another. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is thus used as an antonym of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Dictatorship of the proletariat is different from the popular notion of 'dictatorship' which is despised as the selfish, immoral, irresponsible and unconstitutional political rule of one man. On the other hand, it implies a stage where there is complete 'socialization of the major means of production', in other words planning of material production so as to serve social needs, provide for an effective right to work, education, health and housing for the masses, and fuller development of science and technology so as to multiply material production to achieve greater social satisfaction. However, social division into classes still exists, but the proletariat become the dominant class; oppression is still used to suppress the bourgeois counter-revolution.
- We see now that infringement of freedom is necessary with regard to the opponents of the revolution. At a time of revolution we cannot allow freedom for the enemies of the people and of the revolution. That is a surely clear, irrefutable conclusion.
- The Marxian theory maintains that the State in other hands—the "dictatorship of the proletariat"—could abolish exploitation. But the sociological theory of the State (or the conquest theory) insists that the State itself, regardless of its composition, is an exploitative institution and cannot be anything else; whether it takes over the property of the owner of wages or the property of the owner of capital, the ethical principle is the same. If the State takes from the capitalist to give to the worker, or from the mechanic to give to the farmer, or from all to better itself, force has been used to deprive someone of his rightful property, and in that respect it is carrying on in the spirit, if not the manner, of original conquest.
- Frank Chodorov, "From God or the Sword?" Ch. 2 of The Rise and Fall of Society: An Essay on the Economic Forces That Underlie Social Institutions (New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1959), p. 18.
- In all probability, the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and will be able to abolish private property only when the means of production are available in sufficient quantity. What will be the course of this revolution? Above all, it will establish a democratic constitution, and through this, the direct or indirect dominance of the proletariat.
- We reject the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is unbridled oppression, and the Marxist-Leninists and Stalinists must be made to answer for it. Millions have been murdered by Stalin in the name of fighting an internal class war, and millions more were murdered in China, Poland, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and other countries by Communist movements which followed Stalin’s prescription for revolutionary terror. We reject State communism as the worst aberration and tyranny.
- Dictatorship does not necessarily mean the abolition of democracy for the class that exercises the dictatorship over other classes; but it does mean the abolition of democracy (or very material restriction, which is also a form of abolition) of democracy for the class over which, or against which, the dictatorship is exercised.
- Vladimir Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 235.
- 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.
- Vladimir Lenin, "The State and Revolution" (1917)
- Disarmament is the ideal of socialism. There will be no wars in socialist society; consequently, disarmament will be achieved. But whoever expects that socialism will be achieved without a social revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a socialist. Dictatorship is state power based directly on violence. And in the twentieth century — as in the age of civilisation generally — violence means neither a fist nor a club, but troops. To put “disarmament” in the programme is tantamount to making the general declaration: We are opposed to the use of arms. There is as little Marxism in this as there would be if we were to say: We are opposed to violence!
- Marx said that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat lies between capitalism and communism. The more the proletariat presses the bourgeoisie, the more furiously they will resist. We know what vengeance was wreaked on the workers in France in 1848. And when people charge us with harshness we wonder how they can forget the rudiments of Marxism.
- When we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party and, as you have heard, a united socialist front is proposed, we say, "Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position because it is the party that has won, in the course of decades, the position of vanguard of the entire factory and industrial proletariat. This party had won that position even before the revolution of 1905. It is the party that was at the head of the workers in 1905 and which since then — even at the time of the reaction after 1905 when the working-class movement was rehabilitated with such difficulty under the Stolypin Duma — merged with the working class and it alone could lead that class to a profound, fundamental change in the old society.
- Vladimir Lenin, “Speech to the First All-Russia Congress of Workers in Education and Socialist Culture” (30 July 1919) Collected Works, Vol. 29, p. 535.
- Dictatorship is rule based directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is rule won and maintained by the use of violence by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, rule that is unrestricted by any laws.
- Vladimir Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1972), p. 11.
- The tacit assumption underlying the Lenin-Trotsky theory of dictatorship is this: that the socialist transformation is something for which a readymade formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which needs only to be carried out energetically in practice. This is, unfortunately or – perhaps fortunately – not the case.
- Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was (1) to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; [and] (3) that this dictatorship, itself, constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society
- People argued over the problem whether the realization of Socialism…was to be attempted through the instrumentality of democracy or whether in the struggle one should deviate from the principles of democracy. This was the celebrated controversy about the dictatorship of the proletariat; it was the subject of academic discussion in Marxist literature up to the time of the Bolshevist revolution and has since become a great political problem.
- Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962, p. 81.
The bigger an enterprise is, the more is it forced to adjust its production to the changing whims and fancies of the masses, its masters. … It is the patronage of the masses that make enterprises grow big. The common man is supreme in the market economy. He is the customer who "is always right."
In the political sphere, representative government is the corollary of the supremacy of the consumers in the market. Office-holders depend on the voters as entrepreneurs and investors depend on the consumers. The same historical process that substituted the capitalistic mode of production for precapitalistic methods substituted popular government—democracy—for royal absolutism and other forms of government by the few. And wherever the market economy is superseded by socialism, autocracy makes a comeback. It does not matter whether the socialist or communist despotism is camouflaged by the use of aliases like "dictatorship of the proletariat" or "people's democracy" or "Führer principle." It always amounts to a subjection of the many to the few.
- Ludwig von Mises, "On Equality and Inequality," in Money, Method, and the Market Process (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990), §1, p. 192.
- In examining any dictatorship, there are two good tests. Firstly, what is the relation between the rulers and the proletariat or common people? Are the rulers members of the proletariat, as they would have you believe? Do they even identify their interests with those of ordinary citizens? The truth seems to be that, no matter where you find them, the so-called proletarian dictatorships are actually controlled by a small elite who ordinarily lose little sleep in worrying about the rights of the common man. Secondly, have the proletariat any effective say in what the rulers do? In the proletarian dictatorships I am familiar with, ordinary people enjoy little or no control over their Government or over their own lives and futures.
- Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (1961) Mission for my Country, London, page 162
- Viewing the Bolsheviks’ power seizure from the perspective of history, one can only marvel at their audacity. None of the leading Bolsheviks had experience in administering anything, and yet they were about to assume responsibility for governing the world’s largest country. Nor, lacking business experience, did they shy from promptly nationalizing and hence assuming responsibility for managing the world’s fifth-largest economy. They saw in the overwhelming majority of Russia’s citizens—the bourgeoisie and the landowners as a matter of principle and most of the peasantry and intelligentsia as a matter of fact—class enemies of the industrial workers, whom they claimed to represent. These workers constituted a small proportion of Russia’s population—at best 1 or 2 percent —and of this minority only a minuscule number followed the Bolsheviks: on the eve of the November coup, only 5.3 percent of industrial workers belonged to the Bolshevik party. This meant that the new regime had no alternative but to turn into a dictatorship—a dictatorship not of the proletariat but over the proletariat and all the other classes. The dictatorship, which in time evolved into a totalitarian regime, was thus necessitated by the very nature of the Bolshevik takeover.
- Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (2003)
- As long as they wanted to stay in power, the Communists had to rule despotically and violently; they could never afford to relax their authority. The principle held true of every Communist regime that followed. Lenin realized this and felt no qualms about imposing a ruthless despotism. He defined “dictatorship” of any kind, including that of the “proletariat,” as “power that is limited by nothing, by no laws, that is restrained by absolutely no rules, that rests directly on coercion.” He was quite prepared to resort to unlimited terror to destroy his opponents and cow the rest of the population. He did so in part because he was indifferent to human lives, but in part because the study of history had persuaded him that all past social revolutions had failed by stopping halfway and allowing their class enemies to survive and regroup. Violence—total and merciless (one of his favorite adjectives)—had to clear the ground for the new order. But he also believed that such violence would have to be of short duration: he once cited Machiavelli to the effect “that if it is necessary to resort to certain brutalities for the sake of realizing a certain political goal, they must be carried out in the most energetic fashion and in the briefest possible time because the masses will not tolerate prolonged application of brutality.” Contrary to his expectations, these brutalities became a permanent feature of his regime. As Thomas Hobbes put it, if there is no agreement on trumps, clubs are trump.
- Richard Pipes, Communism: A History (2003)
- Against the obvious dictatorship of the globalist bourgeoisie we have to develop the idea of a proletarian dictatorship, that nobody has to fear, since it's the only true democracy for the people.
- For two decades the supporters of Bolshevism have been hammering it into the masses that dictatorship is a vital necessity for the defense of the so-called proletarian interests against the assaults of counter-revolution and for paving the way for Socialism. They have not advanced the cause of Socialism by this propaganda, but have merely smoothed the way for Fascism in Italy, Germany and Austria by causing millions of people to forget that dictatorship, the most extreme form of tyranny, can never lead to social liberation. In Russia, the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat has not led to Socialism, but to the domination of a new bureaucracy over the proletariat and the whole people. … What the Russian autocrats and their supporters fear most is that the success of libertarian Socialism in Spain might prove to their blind followers that the much vaunted "necessity of dictatorship" is nothing but one vast fraud which in Russia has led to the despotism of Stalin and is to serve today in Spain to help the counter-revolution to a victory over the revolution of the workers and the peasants.
- Rudolf Rocker The Tragedy of Spain (1937), p. 35.
- It is therefore necessary to be precise in saying that by dictatorship of the proletariat we mean a government of workers’ syndicates.
- Edmondo Rossoni, as quoted in Italian Industrialists from Liberalism to Fascism: The political development of the industrial bourgeoisie, 1906-1934, Franklin Hugh Adler, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 312. Also in Ferdinando Cordova, Sindacati fascisti, p. 87
- Friends of Russia here think of the dictatorship of the proletariat as merely a new form of representative government, in which only working men and women have votes, and the constituencies are partly occupational, not geographical. They think that "proletariat" means "proletariat", but "dictatorship" does not quite mean "dictatorship". This is the opposite of the truth. When a Russian Communist speaks of dictatorship, he means the word literally, but when he speaks of the proletariat, he means the word in a Pickwickian sense. He means the "class-conscious" part of the proletariat, i.e., the Communist Party.
- Bertrand Russell, "The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism" (1920)
- The State is a machine in the hands of the ruling class for suppressing the resistance of its class enemies. in this respect the dictatorship of the proletariat does not differ essentially from dictatorship of any other class, for the proletarian State is a machine for the suppression of the bourgeoisie.
- Repression for the attainment of economic ends is a necessary weapon of the socialist dictatorship.
- Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism : A Reply to Karl Kautsky (1920; 1975), p. 153
- The road to socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the state … Just as a lamp, before going out, shoots up in a brilliant flame, so the state, before disappearing, assumes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the most ruthless form of state, which embraces the life of the citizens authoritatively in every direction...
- Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism : A Reply to Karl Kautsky (1920; 1975), p. 177
- If a revolution is to be victoriously carried through, it will require a concentrated power, a dictatorship at its head. Cromwell's dictatorship was necessary in order to establish the supremacy of the English bourgeoisie; the terrorism of the Paris Commune and of the Committee of Public Safety alone succeeded in breaking the resistance of the feudal lords on French soil. Without the dictatorship of the proletariat which is concentrated in the big cities, the bourgeois reaction will not be done away with.
- Joseph Weydemeyer, "The Dictatorship of the Proletariat", Turn-Zeitung, New York, 1 January 1852, translated by Horst Duhnke and Hal Draper