1976-05 The Dictatorship of the Proletariat [Rubel]
in Le Monde May 7, 1976. Translated by the author, translation revised at the request of the author by Adam Buick. Transcribed for first online at marxists.org by Adam Buick (2005).
In the current debate on the French Communist Party’s (PCF) “abandoning” of the dictatorship of the proletariat one essential point which merits our particular attention for its pre-eminence in clarifying the meaning and nature of this decision seems to have been overlooked: it is precisely the Party which has taken upon itself the right to determine whether or not the proletariat should exercise its dictatorship. It is the Party, or more correctly its First Secretary in collaboration with his ideologues, who, in substituting themselves for the class and mass of working men and women, have agreed to eliminate with a stroke of the pen a period in society’s evolution which Marx considered to be “transitional” but nonetheless necessary and inevitable, rather than accidental, to be accepted or rejected according to the tactical imperatives dictated by the most recent political strategy of the programme commun. The PCF has cautiously avoided the essential question, namely its right to act as the self-proclaimed representative of the working class. It is always the Party, through the intermediary of its leaders, which decides on behalf of the working class; it is the Party which determines the nature and form of the action to be taken by this class. And nothing guarantees that once the dictatorship of the proletariat has been abandoned this will lead to it renouncing the dictatorship over the proletariat – the only dictatorship that really counts for the PCF.
The concept of “the dictatorship of the proletariat” is an integral part of the theory of the development, whose “natural law” Marx stated he had revealed, of the capitalist mode of production and of bourgeois society. Engels considered this theory to be one of his friend’s two great scientific discoveries, the other being the Materialist Conception of History, and compared it with Darwin’s discoveries: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of’ organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history…” The political postulate of the dictatorship of the proletariat must be seen in the perspective of a fully developed capitalist society that has become the field of conflict between a tiny minority possessing class at the height of its power and the immense majority, the working class, economically and socially dispossessed but intellectually and politically mature and ready to establish their domination by the “conquest of democracy” through the use of universal suffrage. Once it has attained this position of dominance the proletariat will only use violence in answer to violence should the bourgeoisie act illegally in a bid to preserve the privileges of their domination. Capital ends with a description of the dictatorship of proletariat as the “expropriation of the expropriators,” as the “expropriation of’ a few usurpers by the mass of the people.”
Although specific to a definite stage in the world-wide evolution of the human race the laws and tendencies of capitalist economic development “work with iron necessity”; the industrially advanced countries show the less developed nations “the image of their own future.” Quoting the words of a Russian reviewer of Capital, Marx subscribed unhesitatingly to the latter’s interpretation which accentuated the implacable determinism of his social theory. According to the reviewer Marx’s social theory
“proves at the same time both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe it or not, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it.”
Marx himself is no less categoric on this:
“And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement … , it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs.”
What would be thought of a learned society which dared proclaim the “renunciation” of the Newtonian law of gravity or the Mendelian laws of plant hybridation and of heredity in vegetables? And to justify such a decision invoked the “undogmatic nature” of these laws without any effort to disprove them scientifically, under the pretext that there had been a profound change in the way of thinking of the non-intellectual classes? A “scientific” assembly of this sort would soon be the object of the most derisive ridicule. Such is nevertheless the attitude of that learned society which claims to be both Marxist and Communist. And although this society pretends to base itself on a theory which it never ceases to qualify as “scientific,” it rejects the central teaching of that theory, the very one which directly concerns the existence of the majority of mankind. The leaders and ideologues of this society, acting in the name of “scientific socialism,” have simply declared that the evolution of capitalist societies has rendered obsolete the imperative of a dictatorship of the proletariat. Which in fact is the same as challenging the validity of a thesis which Marx himself considered to be his chief contribution to scientific socialism.
It is of little importance to know whether the “abandoning of the dictatorship of the proletariat” derives from electoral tactics or was caused by other considerations. Essentially this “abandoning” signifies that those responsible for the policy of the PCF have excluded from the debate the principal body concerned: the proletariat, which alone has the “historical mission” of exercising its dictatorship and liberating society from the modern slavery of money and the State. This is the meaning we find for “f the dictatorship of the proletariat” in Marx’s science and it accords well with simple non-Marxist common sense. Since the dictatorship of the proletariat can only concern the exploited – consequently almost the whole of the human race – no decision of any Party to dispense with a postulate whose ethical significance vies with its scientific form can exert the slightest effect on society’s evolution or on the revolutionary and emancipatory vocation of today’s wage slaves. For, since in accordance with the Communist Manifesto the working class movement is defined as the “movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority,” the dictatorship of the proletariat can be thought of as the domination of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority; in other words, as the self-determination of the proletariat. In short, the proletariat is expected to realise the promises of complete democracy, of popular self-government, as opposed to partial (bourgeois) democracy, the institutions of which guarantee the dictatorship of the possessing class – of capital in control of political power and thus of a minority of society – over the non-possessing class, the immense majority of society. Given these factors, how can it be explained that a Party which refers to Marx and Communism has abandoned the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat which – whether rightly or not – announces the coming of complete democracy?
Before October 1917 Lenin envisaged a form of workers’ and peasants’ self-government for Russia. Following the take-over of political power he moved towards the conception of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” which could be exercised through the “dictatorship of several individuals” or even by the “will of a single individual.” His conception was perfectly in keeping with the economic and social conditions of a country able to “develop” anything except … Socialism. The dictatorship of the Party aimed to create not abolish a “Soviet” proletariat, and so to establish social relations compatible with the exploitation of wage labour and the domination of man by man. It is in this school, not the school of Marx, in which the leaders of the Communist Parties learned their politics. Moreover, they are pronouncing their own condemnation when they take their distance from a regime which has constructed for millions of peasants-turned-into-proletarians an archipelago of labour camps whose description defies all analogies except that of Dante’s Inferno.
The imperative of the dictatorship of the proletariat envisages the shortening and the lessening of the birth-pangs of a finally human society. The “Marxist” revolutions in Russia and China have only given rise to the suffering which they were supposed to eliminate. This is the mystification of our era. And if so-called working class parties can decree the “abandoning of the dictatorship of the proletariat,” is this not due to the fact that the proletariat has not (yet) acquired that revolutionary consciousness which the Materialist Conception of History holds to be the inevitable result of the catastrophic future which awaits the capitalist mode of production as it spreads all over the world?