Proletarian Dictatorship Vs Bourgeois “Democracy”
First Published:Revolution, May 1973
Revised and Reprinted:Revolution, 1978
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
Publisher’s Note: Proletarian Dictatorship Vs. Bourgeois “Democracy” originally appeared in the May, 1973 issue of Revolution, at that time the organ of the Revolutionary Union. The article was adopted by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA at the time of its founding in 1975. The article has been revised for publication.
What do communists mean when we talk about the dictatorship of the proletariat? How can we say that socialist society represents the interests of the great majority of the people, and at the same time say that it is a dictatorship? This article is written to answer these questions and to deal with the distortions of the bourgeois ruling class about “communist dictatorship.”
The rulers of this country never stopped preaching that their form of government is “the most democratic on earth,” and that the “communist countries are cruel dictatorships where the people have no rights.” Like other things these parasites put out, this stands things upside down and twists reality inside out.
The fact is that the very people who run this country are a small handful of bankers and businessmen, multimillionaires and billionaires like the Rockefellers, Duponts and Mellons. In this system which they call “the most democratic on earth,” they own the vast productive forces–the factories, the mines, the mills, the transportation systems, machinery, etc–and exploit the working class, the majority of the population, for their own private profit.
The state–the police, army, courts, bureaucracy and similar institutions–is set up and controlled by this capitalist class. These big businessmen–the bourgeoisie, or monopoly capitalists–consistently use the police, army, national guard, courts and bureaucracies to break workers’ strikes and generally to put down the rebellions of the poor who own little or no means of production. The police, army and national guard are never called out against the class of bankers and corporation executives.
In short, this state is a bourgeois dictatorship. This does not mean there is a dictatorship in this country of one or several men. It does mean there is a class dictatorship, where a tiny handful of profit-makers rules society and uses the state as their machine to suppress the working people.
Most people do not think of our country as a dictatorship because the relationship of different classes is usually concealed. The monopoly capitalists do not openly admit their rule. Instead they claim that this is a democracy where “everyone shares power and takes part in running the government.”
The ruling class goes to great lengths to cover up their dictatorship under the mask of democracy, for it is extremely difficult for a minority of exploiters to rule by force alone. Only at the time of full-blown crisis, when it can stay in power in no other way, does the monopoly capitalist class rule by open, terroristic dictatorship, or fascism.
In fact, the bourgeoisie is no more willing to “share” power with the majority of people than it is to share the ownership of the means of production and the wealth that comes from this. For them to function as a capitalist class, they must exploit the working class; and to exploit the workers, who constantly resist this exploitation and oppression, they must use the state to suppress the workers.
Of course the ruling class has been forced to grant the workers some democratic rights such as the right to vote, free speech, free press, etc. But these freedoms, like everything else in capitalist society, have their class content: they mean one thing to the ruling class and quite another for the workers. For the capitalists, freedom of the press and free speech, as examples, mean the right to fill the air-waves and daily newspapers with their propaganda and lies and to use them freely to debate with each other. For the capitalists, elections are a way to settle differences among themselves, while making it look like everybody has equal say.
For the working class, democratic rights are the fruits of previous struggles, and we fight to preserve them for they make it easier to organize and mobilize for the day when the capitalists will be overthrown. Nevertheless democratic rights for the masses are primarily a sham, a mask, to cover the real dictatorship of the capitalists. This becomes especially clear when democratic rights come into conflict with the most basic “freedom” of bourgeois society–the right of the capitalists to their “private property” and to exploit the labor of the workers. Consider, for example, how many workers have been fired or disciplined for posting a notice on a company bulletin board, or circulating a leaflet or petition, while the capitalist class freely makes use of their ownership and control of virtually all of the mass media.
In the final analysis all their talk about democracy boils down to one thing. The ruling class decides by struggle and compromise within its own ranks, and among its paid politicians, how it will maintain its system of exploitation over the people. As V.I. Lenin, leader of the first successful workers’ revolution, said, “Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich–that is the democracy of capitalist society.”
The “Free World”
When the capitalist class talks about freedom, it does not mean that the people have, or should have, rights. It means that the capitalists are free to exploit the people to make profits. This is why, according to the U.S. ruling class, the “free world” includes countries like South Africa–where the African people, the great majority, are not even allowed to vote and are forced to live in concentration camps. “So what,” reason the capitalists, “all the better, because we–the Rockefellers, General Motors, and the others–are free to set up our operations and make millions.”
The “free world” is military dictatorships in Latin America and feudal kingdoms in the Middle East where the people live as serfs or slaves. It is anywhere the monopoly capitalists are free to invest their capital. That is why imperialist wars, like Vietnam, are fought in the name of “freedom,” even though the U.S. set up and supported the Thieu regime which maintained an open and undisguised dictatorship over the masses of people of south Vietnam.
But there is one sense in which the capitalists want the workers to be “free.” We must be “free” of ownership of the means of production, we must have no other way to make our living except to go to work to enrich the capitalists.
This is clearly shown by the historical development of capitalism. The capitalist class in every country has continually ruined the small farmers and property owners, driving them to the cities and factories in desperate search of employment. In this country this has gone hand in hand with the armed theft of the Mexican and Indian lands.
And, as our capitalist rulers have extended their investments and their system of exploitation throughout the world, they have ruined and impoverished the masses of people in other countries, robbing them in their own homelands, and forcing millions to come to this country, where the capitalists can employ for cheap wages these “masses yearning to be free.”
What about the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech–doesn’t this show that the people do have freedom in this country? Going back to the beginning, many of the “Founding Fathers” of this country had no intention of granting even these limited rights to the common people.
But they had to promise certain freedoms to get the working people to fight on their side. This, combined with the revolutionary upsurge of the people around these rights, forced them to be written into most state constitutions. It was only after wide opposition to the original Constitution and still further struggle that the Bill of Rights was added, as a series of amendments. The real attitude of many of the “Founding Fathers” was expressed by one delegate at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, who said, to his fellow delegates’ approval, “The people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government.”
And the Constitutional Convention officially sanctioned slavery, declaring the slaves to be three-fifths human beings, to be counted as such for purposes of distributing votes and collecting taxes among the states. Washington, “the father of the country,” and many of the others who piously declared that “all men are created equal,” were themselves slave owners, as well as big landowners.
In the struggle against the British and their supporters, the rising ruling class of this country did contribute to progress, to the development of capitalism–at that time an important step forward for society. And to carry out this struggle they had to involve the common people in politics to a limited degree, to motivate and mobilize them to fight under difficult conditions.
But as soon as the British had been defeated, the new ruling class feared that if the people had too much to do with politics, they would “get out of hand,” they would not be content to work under wretched conditions for their capitalist–and slave-owning–masters. So the people’s rights remained really paper rights and their rebellions were crushed with brutal armed force.
This has been the case throughout the history of this country. At the time of the Civil War, for example, the industrialists and bankers of the North recognized that, for both political and military reasons, they had to declare the slaves emancipated in order to win the war. And for a short time after the war, during the period of Reconstruction in the South, the former slaves and poor whites fought for and won some rights.
But as their struggle for democratic rights, including the right to own land and property, conflicted more and more with the capitalists’ drive for profits, a reign of terror was unleashed against Black people and their allies among poor white farmers and laborers.
Since that time capitalism in the U.S. has developed into monopoly capitalism–small-scale operations have been taken over and combined within giant corporations like Standard Oil, General Motors, GE, U.S. Steel, etc. With this, the basic contradiction of the capitalist system–between the highly socialized character of productive labor and the concentration of ownership of the means of production and appropriation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, between the working class and the capitalist class–has grown more and more intense.
The capitalist class in the U.S. can no longer contribute to the development of society by overthrowing more reactionary forces like the British colonial rulers or the southern slave owners. Today the monopoly capitalist class itself is the greatest obstacle to progress which must be overthrown.
Since it is completely reactionary, the monopoly capitalist ruling class resorts more and more to open violence to suppress the people of the U.S., as well as people throughout the world. As the judges, police, troops, officials all are used to attack the people’s struggles, it becomes clearer and clearer that capitalist society means democracy and freedom for the capitalist minority and oppression and exploitation for the great majority of the people.
This situation can only be reversed by socialist revolution to overthrow capitalist rule. The first task of this revolution is to smash the power of the bourgeois state through the armed might of the workers and their allies. The bourgeoisie and its armed forces are disarmed. The political structure and the courts and bureaucracies of the bourgeois state–and all its rules and regulations aimed at enslaving the people–are abolished.
Once in power the working class moves to socialize the ownership of the means of production-making them the common property of society–to resolve the basic contradiction of capitalism, to break down the obstacles capitalism puts in the way of progress, and makes possible the rapid development of society. Socialism is a higher form of society than capitalism, and is bound to replace it all over the world, just as capitalism replaced the feudal system of landlords and serfs.
In the process of socialist revolution the working class and its allies builds up their own state machine, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Workers are armed and organized into people’s militias and armed forces. The capitalists and their enforcers are punished for their crimes against the people. This dictatorship imposed by the working class on the former exploiters and over new capitalist elements who arise under socialism is absolutely necessary in order to crush their resistance and prevent them from wrecking socialism and restoring their rule.
Although this country’s capitalists like to point to the Soviet Union today and say, “This is what communism means,” the dictatorship of the proletariat is not what exists in the Soviet Union today. The working class was once in power in the Soviet Union and was building a powerful socialist society which was the bright hope of workers around the world. But the capitalist class was able to stage a comeback, when a new bourgeoisie seized power in the mid-’50s and turned the Soviet Union back from a socialist country to a capitalist country. Today the Soviet Union, as well as Cuba and most Eastern European countries under its thumb, are examples of bourgeois dictatorships. They disguise themselves as socialist countries where the working class rules, but in reality a new capitalist class rules and enforces its strict dictatorship over the working class.
The dramatic events in China since the death of Mao Tsetung and the arrest of those most closely associated with him are signs of the fact that a new bourgeoisie has seized the reins in China and is attempting to steer this country, too, down the capitalist road.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is qualitatively different from the bourgeois state that exists in the U.S. and the Soviet Union and other capitalist countries. Its purpose is not to enforce exploitation and the rule of a tiny minority. The proletarian state for the first time in history means the rule of the majority, the working class, allied with all of the oppressed.
At the same time that there is a dictatorship over the former capitalist exploiters there is the unparalleled extension of real democracy for those oppressed by capitalism–the working people. The proletarian state is a million times more democratic than even the most democratic capitalist state. No longer do a handful of parasites run society for their own private profit and the working class sets out to transform all of society. To accomplish this the government is set up and run by workers, and the press, television stations, schools, etc., which the capitalists use to mold public opinion and shore up their rule, are stripped from them and become the common property of the working class and the masses of people.
Since the working class and the socialist society built under its leadership represent the interests of the great majority of society, the workers openly proclaim their rule and openly dictate to their former exploiters and tormentors. The rule of the working class cannot be exercised by deceiving the masses of people, but only by their active involvement in every part of the political life of society and raising their political consciousness.
From Socialism to Communism
But socialism is not a Utopia. It replaces capitalism, but cannot do away in one stroke with the inequalities, the old selfish ideas and the remnants of capitalism. Socialism itself is only the lower stage and transition to a still higher form of society, communism, where there will no longer be any classes, and, therefore, there will no longer be any need for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
During this entire transition period, the working class must maintain and strengthen its rule over the former exploiters and the new bourgeois elements that arise under socialism, prevent them from subverting the new society and restoring the old, and overcome the remaining influences of their dog-eat-dog, “look out for number one” philosophy.
When everyone in society can share equally in mental and manual work, in producing goods and services and managing the affairs of society; when the outlook of the working class, putting the common good above narrow, individual interests, has become “second nature” to members of society; when goods and services can be produced so abundantly that money is no longer needed to exchange them and they can be distributed to people solely according to their needs; then society will have reached the stage of communism.
Classes will have been completely eliminated, and the state as such will be replaced by the common administration of society by all its members. As this happens, throughout the world, mankind will have scaled a great mountain and will look out on a whole new horizon.
The experience of the socialist countries, the Soviet Union under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin and the People’s Republic of China during the lifetime of Mao Tsetung, has shown that the working class can overthrow the exploiters and run society in the interests of the masses of people. The fact that the rule of the working class was overthrown in the Soviet Union and now temporarily in China also shows how stubborn the class struggle is under socialism and the need for the proletarian dictatorship to be maintained. Communism will show that the people can do away completely and forever with the institutions and influences of capitalism and all other forms of class society.
Karl Marx, founder of communist philosophy and of the revolutionary workers movement, wrote, “The existence of classes is only bound up with particular phases in the development of production . . . the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. . . [and] this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of classes and to a classless society. ”
The two authors claim that in feudal times, society was much more stratified, with virtually every class having several levels, and that modern-day society has become boiled down to the haves and the have-nots. The formation of the bourgeois occurred when increased trade contributed to the fall of feudalism, and when growing trade markets continued to expand, the manufacturing system began to dominate the economy. Those controlling manufacturing were the bourgeois. The authors state that the bourgeois were egotistical, tossing aside “the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm,” and that they decreased the value of the individual worker, turning those who had previously held positions of prestige into mere wage-earners, simply because the bourgeois cared more about money. (Wadsworth, 2011) Furthermore, the authors tell us that the bourgeois consume other countries, causing unindustrialized countries to become dependent upon those that are industrialized. Other evils of the bourgeois included the concentration of property into the hands of a few, shrinking of family size, and destroying and polluting nature.
The proletariats, on the other hand, were in fact created from the oppression of the capitalists. These laborers were looked at as “appendages” of their machines, paid only enough to sustain themselves. (Wadsworth, 2011) However, as the development of industry continued the proletariat formed unions, which grew not only in number but in strength. The most interesting part of the essay is where the authors allude to Conflict Theory. They state,
“The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all times, with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries.” (Wadsworth, 2011, pg. 16)
So, not only was the bourgeois in conflict with the proletariat, it was also in conflict within its own population. The constant struggle between classes led Marx and Engels to suggest that the proletarians’ growing numbers and strength of their movement would lead to the eventual downfall of the upper-class capitalists; that the average laborer would emerge from turmoil and regain a state of equality in society. They predicted, “… the victory of the proletariat [is] … inevitable.”
In reading this essay, there are a few things worth noting. First was the mention of man’s colonization and industrialization of nature. Even today we struggle to find a balance between advancing our economy and maintaining standards for a healthy environment. The formation of the Green Party is an example of people gathering together to fight pollution, clearing of forests, etc. However, some technological innovations have become necessary to our modern society. Power lines, for example, supply energy for heat and lighting to billions of people worldwide; telephone lines provide a method of communication between homes; canals, railroads, and highways ensure safe transportation. On another note, the authors mention on page fifteen that, “Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class.” (Wadsworth, 2011) However, due to the issuance of child labor laws, and emerging research into workplace discrimination revealing that on average men are still making more money than women.