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ETIENNE BALIBAR

ON THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT

    A Few Words in Conclusion

      
    These are some of the questions concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not the only ones, no doubt.

        Since the occasion of the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party, our comrades -- and the revolutionary working people and intellectuals who stand close to us -- have had to pose the question (because they did not really get a chance to pose it before the Congress): when the perspective and the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is 'abandoned', what changes actually take place in Marxist theory, in the theory which provides the labour movement with a scientific basis for analyzing reality and acting on it? The discussion on this question is now open.

        If the Leninist arguments are correct, and if it is not just a question of words that is at stake here -- which no-one really believes any more -- then the dictatorship of the proletariat is indeed a concept which constitutes an essential part of the Marxist theory of the class struggle, and cannot be separated from it without bringing this whole theory into question. The very idea that, in the history and the strategy of the Communist Parties, the dictatorship of the proletariat might be 'out of date' can have no meaning for a Marxist. For, as we have seen, the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a particular method, a particular model or a particular 'path of transition' to socialism. It is the historical tendency which leads from capitalism to communism, through the transition period of socialism, in the conditions of imperialism.

        That is why it is both possible and necessary to rectify and to enrich our understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat by studying the real history of the socialist revolutions which have taken place up to the present day. But this investigation, indispensable to the Communists of every country, can only be carried out

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    on the basis of the principles of analysis discovered by Marx and Lenin. Not by 'relativizing' the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, by trying to restrict it to a primitive, remote and defunct period -- that old epoch of imperialist wars, of violent revolutions and counter-revolutions -- but by developing the internal dialectic of its contradictions, by concrete analysis. The real history of socialism, which is, as I pointed out at the beginning of this book, the unspoken question haunting this whole discussion -- whether it is a question of 'socialist democracy', of 'peaceful co-existence' or of proletarian internationalism -- cannot be understood except in terms of this dialectic. Without the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, what today appear to us and tomorrow will appear to us as the errors and deviations of the socialist revolutions can only be seen as a sum of accidents, of strokes of bad luck, of inexplicable set-backs or as a new kind of infantile disorder from which our own maturity will, we hope, miraculously preserve us. Their victories, which have opened the way to our own, can only be looked on as lucky chances. But with the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we can analyze and rectify the errors of the past, and we can try to recognize and to correct in good time those of the future.

        Above all, it is possible and necessary progressively to work out, in the light of experience and the critical examination of that experience, the paths of revolutionary transformation in the conditions of our own capitalist country. The principles of Marxist theory, on which the arguments concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat are based, will no doubt undergo some unprecedented transformations as a result. That is precisely what makes them materialist principles, and not dogmas, 'fixed ideas' or common place 'catchwords'.

        Let us put it another way: it must today be obvious to anyone who has not closed his eyes on the world outside that we are experiencing a very grave historical crisis of Leninism, as a form of organization and as the principle of unity of the International Communist Movement, therefore as a form of the fusion of revolutionary theory and practice. This historical crisis has dramatically weakened the Labour Movement, at a moment when the imperialist system is itself entering a new period of general and acute crisis, thus opening revolutionary possibilities and demanding revolutionary solutions. But this historical crisis of Leninism

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    also has its positive side: it means that, at the level of practice, the elements of a new form of revolutionary theory and practice are already emerging. This crisis is so acute that it can hardly be resolved by a simple 'return' to previous forms of organization, to the old methods of political and theoretical work. Everyone is aware that it is necessary to work out new forms. And the whole effort, the whole of the constant pressure of bourgeois ideology is tending precisely to exploit this crisis in order to present Leninism as a gigantic 'historical error' of the Labour Movement, in order to liquidate it (and Marxism with it): and above all to liquidate the Leninist theory of the State, therefore the dictatorship of the proletariat, by replacing it with the ideology of reformist and technocratic socialism, with a dash of its eternal by-product, anarchism, thrown in for good measure.

        It seems to me that the importance of this offensive, coupled with the importance of the present tasks of the proletariat, clearly entails that the Communists have an urgent duty: to study Leninism in a critical manner, and to develop it.

        I have proposed some weapons for our struggle, some themes for collective and public consideration. The question, as we have seen, is by no means of mere historical interest: it is of immediate importance. It is by no means speculative: it is a practical question, like every real question in Marxist theory. But let us not forget: this question is not one for an armchair discussion, for a fire-side chat about the reasons for our preferences and desires. It arises in the course of a confrontation in which each of our errors, each of our retreats is immediately exploited by the enemy. And this enemy, imperialism, has already, a long time ago, chosen for us the position which suits its own ends. Its own class dictatorship, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, has no interest -- on the contrary -- in being called by its real name and understood in terms of its real historical power. To suppress the dictatorship of the proletariat is at the same time to suppress the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie . . . in words. Nothing could serve it better, in practice.

        It is never too late to draw the conclusion.