MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | ETIENNE BALIBAR

ETIENNE BALIBAR

ON THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT

4   
The Destruction of the  State Apparatus

 
'We are for [. . .] utilising revolutionary forms of the State in a revolutionary way.'

Lenin, Letters from Afar , XXIII, 325.


'The dictatorship of the proletariat means a persistent struggle bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative -- against the forces and traditions of the old society. The force of habit in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force.'

Lenin, 'Left-Wing' Communism-an Infantile Disorder , XXXI, 44 [p. 32].


The State rests on a relation of forces between classes, which it develops and reproduces. It could not otherwise continue to exist. But it is not purely and simply the same thing as this relation of forces. It needs a 'special organ', created and perfected for the purpose. This is the second argument of Marx and Lenin: there can be no State power without a State apparatus. The State power held by a class takes material form in the development and action of the State apparatus.


The opportunist deviation
We can explain right away, in a few words, the manner in which the opportunist deviation on the question of the State manifests itself within the labour movement and Marxism itself. We have seen that, seduced by the constant pressure of bourgeois legal ideology, it ends by taking over the terms of this ideology. Lenin constantly repeated and demonstrated that the essential point about opportunism was its position on the question of the State apparatus. That is, its position on the question of the revolutionary destruction of the existing State apparatus, and not on the simple, abstract question of the exercise of power, nor on that of the use of the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat' -- Social-Democratic opportunism, from Kautsky and Plekhanov to Leon Blum, always formally referred to the 'dictatorship of the proletariat', while at the same time emptying it of its practical content, the destruction of the State apparatus. Lenin wrote:

    'A gulf separates Marx and Kautsky over their attitudes towards the proletarian party's task of training the working class for revolution.'

    Kautsky had written a pamphlet dealing with the socialist revolution, on which Lenin comments:

    'Throughout the pamphlet the author speaks of the winning of State power -- and no more; that is, he has chosen a formula which makes a concession to the opportunists, in as much as it admits the possibility of seizing power without destroying the State machine. The very thing which Marx in 1872 declared to be 'obsolete' in the programme of the Communist Manifesto , is revived by Kautsky in 1902.[1]
And Lenin continues:

    'Kautsky abandons Marxism for the opportunist camp, for this destruction of the State machine, which is utterly unacceptable to the opportunists, completely disappears from his argument, and he leaves a loophole for them in that "conquest" may be interpreted as the simple acquisition of a majority.' (XXV, 484, 489-90. [The State and Revolution  pp. 128-29, 136])

    Let us leave aside the purely historical aspect of this criticism, even though it does not lack interest, for opportunism has always, right up to the present day, ignored the rectification of the Communist Manifesto, and explained that the concept of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' in Marx's writings in fact means 'nothing else' than the 'victory of democracy' referred to in very general terms in the Manifesto. More important is the theoretical aspect. What Lenin shows is that opportunism is not characterized by a refusal to talk about the conquest of State power, or about the need for the workers to take political power. On the contrary,


[1] This historical rectification of the Communist Manifesto -- if you ignore it, the Marxist theory of the State and of the dictatorship of the proletariat remains unintelligible -- I have tried to explain in ch. 2 of my Cinq études du matérialisme historique, published in the 'Theorie' series, Maspero, Paris, 1974.

opportunism is characterized precisely by the fact that it admits and proclaims that this is necessary, but without talking about the class nature of the State apparatus, therefore without talking about the absolute necessity for the proletariat to destroy the bourgeois State apparatus, and then to destroy every State apparatus, on the grounds that to argue for such a thing would be to take up an 'anarchist' (or 'ultra-left') position. In other words, opportunism consists precisely in the fact that it imagines that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat can exercize power by means of a similar kind of State apparatus, a State apparatus of the same historical type, perhaps at the cost of certain rearrangements, certain transformations in its institutions and their mode of operation, but without any historical break, without a revolutionary transition from one type of State to another. Against opportunism, Marxist theory does not do more than point this out; it does not make prophecies, it does not predict what form this historical break will take in each concrete situation, or how its forms will be modified with the development of the contradiction between imperialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. But it will not settle for less : it insists on the need for this break. This is the precise content of the argument which I just mentioned: that there exists a material threshold below which, even if the government is taken over by representatives of the workers, State power in fact remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which will either make use of a 'socialist' government for its own ends or overthrow it and crush the mass movement.

    Opportunism therefore consists in the belief and the argument that the State apparatus is an instrument which can be bent according to the will, the intentions and the decisions of a given class. It consists in the argument that the government is the master of the State apparatus. And of the actions which follow from this belief.

    But this is complete idealist gibberish. A social class does not 'decide' anything at all; it is not an individual, even a million headed individual. Which means that the State power of a class is not the product of a decision or of a subjective will: it is the organization, the objective practical activity of the State apparatus, a set of social relations independent of the will of the men who play a material role in the structure of the State apparatus and since this is exactly the point made by the Marxist theory of the State, opportunism is obliged to ignore this aspect of Marxist theory, which is precisely the most important aspect.

    But the consequences of all this are not simply theoretical. Opportunism acts on the basis of its idealist conception of the 'conquest of power'. The Communists must think hard about those historical experiences in the course of which the revolutionary vanguard did not succeed in casting off the illusion that it is possible to make use of the bourgeois State apparatus, or did not succeed in finding the means to construct a new apparatus. For the price of this illusion or this inability has to be paid by the masses, and they pay dearly and for a long time.

    But that is not all. For, as I said just a moment ago, the problem of the power of the working people, of the real exercise of power by the working people, is not settled once and for all with the first 'seizure' of power. And since this problem re-appears throughout the whole period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, opportunism also re-appears in the course of this period, re-born in new forms. It should therefore not be difficult to work out the consequences of the inability of a revolution to install a different State apparatus from the bourgeois State apparatus -- an apparatus tending not to perpetuate and to reinforce itself, but progressively to wither away in accordance with its own nature -- or of the inability simply to conceive of the need for such a thing, though it is explained in black and white in Marxist theory. It can only lead to the distortion, the retreat and the degeneration of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It leads in fact to the transformation of the dictatorship of the proletariat into its opposite, into what I shall call the dictatorship of a bourgeois State apparatus over the proletariat, in spite of the objections which this term might arouse among those who insist on denying the existence of the problem.

    I shall add just one brief remark on this point. You can ask the question: aside from the general cause -- the tendential division of the working class, a division which is exploited and aggravated by imperialism, and the unevenness of the historical process of the constitution of the proletariat -- does not the tendency to opportunism in the organizations of struggle of the working class also have an internal cause, related to the conditions of the class struggle under capitalism and to the form conferred by this struggle on the revolutionary party? Lenin develops precisely this hypothesis when he tries to analyze the reasons for the fact that 'German revolutionary Social-Democracy [. . .] came closest to being the party the revolutionary proletariat needs in order to achieve victory' (XXXI, 34 ['Left-Wing' Communism-an Infantile Disorder , p. 19]). It came closest, but it was not in fact that party: this finally had to be admitted. The point is that any political party of the working class is inevitably caught up within a contradiction which it may succeed in mastering, if it recognizes the contradiction, but from which it can never spontaneously escape. On the one hand, it represents a form (the only form) of access of the proletariat to political independence. It represents the form in which the proletariat can itself direct its own class struggle, with the support of its own social base, and on the basis of its own ideological class positions, breaking free from the hold of the dominant bourgeois ideology, instead of simply being the 'workhorse' of this or that variety of bourgeois politics. In this way, 'the emancipation of the working class will be the task of the workers alone' (Marx). But at the same time, because the class struggle of the proletariat is not fought out independently of existing social relations -- and in order to enable it to take on its full political dimensions, in the whole field of social activity -- the Party of the working class cannot remain outside of the bourgeois State 'machine': in particular of the political ideological State apparatus (the basis of the parliamentary system, the 'party system'). Now, once it is inside that machine, it can function either like a cog, or like the grain of sand which causes it to seize up. At the level of the history of capitalism and of imperialism, at the level of the historical process of the constitution of the proletariat as a class, the party of the working class is not, at least tendentially, a simple element of the ideological State apparatus of bourgeois politics. But we must admit that there exists an opposite tendency, a permanent risk to which the party is subjected, and from which it cannot escape without a constantly repeated internal struggle -- the tendency for it to become the prisoner of the State apparatus against which it is fighting.

    On this basis, it is possible to understand why the decisive aspect of the opportunist deviation is related precisely to this point, which involves both the historical objective of its struggle and the everyday practice of this struggle. This point is of vital importance for the question of the revolutionary party. It is precisely the point at which the two roads -- that of Communist politics and that of Social-Democratic politics -- diverge.


The organization of class rule
What then is the State apparatus? Essentially it is that material organization, the product of a particular 'division of labour', without which no State power can exist: at one and the same time both the organization of the ruling class and the organization of the whole of society under the domination of a single class. Before making a more detailed analysis we must first understand this double organizational function, which lies at the root of the historical efficacy of the State apparatus, but also of most of the resulting illusions concerning the nature of the State.

    To say that the State apparatus is the organization of the ruling class is to imply that, without this State apparatus -- the armed forces, the civil service, the legal apparatus imposing respect for the law, and all the ideological State apparatuses -- the ruling class (today the bourgeoisie) could never succeed in unifying its class interests, in conciliating or overcoming its internal contradictions and in pursuing a unified policy with regard to the other classes in society. Of course, this process of unification, which takes the form of the centralization of State power in the system of political institutions, is not the result of a contract to which the different fractions of the ruling class freely agree, or of a peaceful discussion between them. Or rather, such discussions do take place -- for example, when representatives of different parties work out a Constitution together -- but these contractual discussions only ratify an already established material relation of forces.

    But we must also pay attention to the second aspect: the organization of the whole of society within the State apparatus, in accordance with the needs of the reproduction of exploitation. If the State apparatus was only a closed-circuit organization of the ruling class, it would in fact produce considerable obstacles to the maintenance of the power of this ruling class, for it would immediately result in the isolation of the ruling class in the face of the mass of society. The point we made a moment ago concerning the law is the key to an understanding of how things work in this connexion, because the law is already, thanks to the operation of the legal apparatus (legal code, law courts, lawyers, jurisprudence . . .), an essential aspect of the State apparatus in capitalist society. This point could be illustrated in detail with reference to the history of the State. In feudal society, the State apparatus comprises both forms of organization proper to the ruling class (like feudal lineage relations and bondage), which constitute it as a relatively self-enclosed 'cast', and much more general forms of organization, which correct or compensate for this isolation by organizing the whole of the non-ruling classes, down to the humblest of wretches, in association with the ruling class, in a single order binding upon everyone. This is the religious order, which assigns to the Church a determinant role in the functioning of the feudal State apparatus.

    What, in this connexion, characterizes the State apparatus of the bourgeois epoch? What explains the fact that, in Marx's words, it represents a continuous 'perfectioning' of the State apparatus inherited from the old ruling classes? It is precisely -- apart from the enormous extension of the State apparatus, the increase in the number of its organs and the growth of its capacity for intervening in social life, together with the increase in the number of its specialized employees -- the fact that it carries out much better and more completely than previous forms the function of fusion or integration of the two functions which I mentioned: the organization of the ruling class and the organization of the whole of society. The bourgeoisie, as a result of course of its direct, internal role in the production and circulation of commodities, has absolutely no need to organize itself as a closed social 'caste'. On the contrary, it needs to organize itself as a class open to individual mobility, a class which individuals may enter and leave in the course of historical development. It is true that there are indeed forms of organization specific to the bourgeoisie, 'corporative' forms, for example the employers' organizations (like the CNPF ,in France or the CBI in Britain), professional associations and bourgeois political parties. But this last type of organization functions more as a means of subjecting entire masses of the petty-bourgeoisie and working people to the political and ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie than as a means of combining the fractions of the bourgeoisie in a co-operative relation and the bourgeois political parties themselves only constitute one aspect of the operation of the bourgeois political apparatus, with its parliamentary and municipal institutions, etc.

    It is important to realize that it is this double, simultaneous function of the State apparatus, brought to perfection by capitalism, which allows us to understand why the class struggle takes place not only between the State apparatus on the one hand and the exploited classes on the other, but also, in part, within the State apparatus itself. The State apparatus is held fast in the class struggle of which it is a product.

    These schematic remarks allow us above all to grasp a very important fact, which Lenin constantly emphasized: the fact that each great historical epoch, based on a determinate material mode of production, comprises tendentially one type of State, i.e. one general determinate form of State. A ruling class cannot make use of any type of State apparatus; it is obliged to organize itself in historically imperative forms, which relate to the new forms of class struggle in which it is held fast. The feudal-ecclesiastical type of organization is completely ineffective as a means of organizing the class rule of the bourgeoisie. The same general point is true of course with respect to the dictatorship of the proletariat. If the class struggle fought out by the proletariat is of a quite different kind from that of the bourgeoisie, it follows that, even if it does need some kind of State apparatus, it cannot purely and simply make use -- as if they were instruments which could be manipulated at will -- of the standing army, the law courts and their judges, the secret and special police forces, the parliamentary system, the administrative bureaucracy, immune from practically any form of control by the people, or the school system, which segregates the children and is cut off from the sphere of production, etc. To picture this in simple terms, let us say that, if State power is an instrument in the service of the class interest of the bourgeoisie, the State apparatus in which it takes material form is not itself a simple instrument: it is a 'machine' in which the ruling class is held fast, to which it is in a certain sense subjected, at least with regard to its general historical forms. And this 'machine' determines the possibilities of political action open to the ruling class, just as the need for profit, for accumulation, and the compelling force of capitalist competition determine its possibilities of economic action. There is no question of escaping from either constraint: the 'will' of the capitalists, like that of the people, plays no role here.

    In order to illustrate this point, let us take a small but significant example of present-day interest. A political question has recently arisen, in West Germany and in France, concerning the rights and duties of civil servants. The West German government and administration, in the tradition of the Prussian Empire and of Nazism, are identifying service to the State with service to the government in power and to its policies, and are sacking anyone opposed to these policies on the grounds that they are 'extremists' and 'enemies of the Constitution'. In France, in spite of the desires of men like Poniatowski to imitate this enticing example, the continuity of democratic struggles is still guaranteeing the distinction between 'service to the State' and service to this or that government, whose task is to carry out the policy of the dominant big bourgeoisie. This makes a big difference, which must not be underestimated, because it provides individuals living on one side of the Rhine with rights and guarantees of which those living on the other side are deprived. But this only means that these individuals, in their capacity as private citizens, are allowed to think what they like about the class policy which they have to carry out and not that they are allowed to oppose it; for, in France as in West Germany, they would in that case find themselves out of a job, not because of a Berufsverbot, but on the grounds of 'professional misconduct', and the result is the same. But that is not all: for what can 'service to the State' mean, historically, when it is distinguished from service to this or that particular government? A non-political form of service, above or beyond class politics? Not at all: it means service to any government whose policy is compatible with the maintenance of the existing order, that of bourgeois property relations and of bourgeois law. By keeping itself relatively independent of changes of government, the body of civil servants of the bourgeois State, whatever the ideas which any of its members might have in his head, guarantees precisely the primacy of the State apparatus over the government itself. Thus the bourgeoisie's hold as a class over State power, instead of being exposed to the hazards of an election, or of a motion of non-confidence, or to the whims or errors of appreciation of a President of the Republic, can lean for support on the firm foundation of the 'sense of duty' and of the 'professional ethics' of thousands of civil servants (and of course also, more prosaically, on their total financial dependence on the State).

    But let us take another example which relates to this point. In replying to the provocative remarks of a Minister of Public Order, who had accused high civil servants sympathetic to the Socialist Party of having used 'for partisan purposes' information which they had acquired in the exercise of their function, i.e. of publishing official secrets, a leader of that party retaliated with the accusation that the examination results of the students of the National Administration School had been manipulated in accordance with their political opinions. The resulting argument is extremely revealing: for behind this 'left-wing' criticism you find precisely the same ideology of the civil service as a body independent of class politics and class antagonisms. You find it in this special modified form: since non-political civil servants do not exist in reality, it is only right that the different political tendencies should be fairly represented in the administration, corresponding to their national importance! But since this ideology is precisely the one professed by top civil servants, precisely the one fed into them at the National Administration School, the accusation whether true or false -- turned out to be a blunder: it was met by a general outcry of indignation, even among the Socialist students themselves! The next part of the story is even more interesting: L'Humanité (May 31st, 1976) decided to explain what was really at stake in this debate; it concluded that 'one thing is certain: the social origin of the students does not reflect the class composition of the nation. The number (practically zero) of students of working class origin is ironic proof of the extent to which the vast majority of the producers of wealth is excluded from the management of the affairs of State.' Two days later, a Socialist Professor of Law put forward the same line of argument in Le Monde (June 2nd, 1976):

    'The creators of the National Administration School (ENA) claimed that they wanted to make it an instrument for democratizing recruitment into the top levels of the civil service. This policy is a total failure. The ENA is recruiting its students from a very narrow fringe of French society, from the economically and culturally most privileged groups; and since these students will later be entrusted with the reality of economic and political power both inside and outside of the State sphere, the School appears to be one of the instruments for the preservation of the power of what we must call the ruling class. This is not a matter of opinion, but an observable fact. [. . .] This makes it easier to understand who the top civil servants educated at the ENA really are, and to guess what use they will make of their power. [. . .] This system has provided the State with civil servants of high quality, [. . .] but such a narrowly based recruitment policy necessarily leads to a profound gulf between the top levels of the administration and the

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great mass of citizens.'

    I have quoted these texts at length because they illustrate the point so well: you see the development first of the utopian idea of an administration which would be independent of the government thanks to the counterweight exerted by the presence of civil servants holding a different opinion, and then of the utopian idea of an administration standing at the service of the people thanks to the democratization of its recruitment policy, reformed so as to reflect the 'class composition of the nation'. And in consequence you are, if I may say so, forced to admit the absence of a revolutionary position on the question of the civil service and of the State apparatus: for any sons of workers or former workers who became civil servants would thereby cease, by definition, to be workers. The 'class origin' which they carried with them would change absolutely nothing with regard to the basic characteristic of the State apparatus: the 'division of labour' between the civil service, the administration of public affairs, the government of men, and material production; the separation between the State apparatus and productive labour. When someone argues that, since the 19th century, the number of civil servants has increased, so that these civil servants have ceased to constitute a 'privileged' stratum supposing that most of them ever did - and today make up a mass of employees more or less badly paid by the State, and concludes that it is now possible that the State apparatus might therefore as such swing over one day to the side of the revolution, he quite simply 'forgets' that this increase in numbers represents an enormous extension of the 'division of labour' in the State. This division of labour is a material social relation, made up of institutions, of practices and of ideological 'habits' (as Lenin put it): it must be 'broken' by a long, difficult and persistent class struggle if a political and social revolution of the working people is ever to become a reality,. The problem of the proletarian revolution does not lie in the recruitment of the members of the government and top civil servants from among the working people or from former workers; it is rather, tendentially, the problem of how the working people can 'govern' and 'administer' themselves.

    Lenin drew the necessary conclusion when he asked: what type of State does the proletarian revolution need in order to seize and to hold power? Not the bourgeois type of State, of which the parliamentary republic represents the highest, most developed historical form, whatever the extent of the 'reforms' which might be envisaged within this type of State. But a new type of state 'of the Commune type, the Soviet type, or perhaps of some third type' (XXVIII, 237, 246, 255-57, 321, etc. [The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky , pp. 13, 24, 37-39, 133]). Lenin constantly stressed (in particular in connexion with the famous question -- whose role in Stalin's writings I have already mentioned -- of the Soviet Constitution, and of the exclusion of the bourgeoisie from the right to vote) that the particular institutions developed by the Soviet Revolution do not themselves constitute a 'model' State. They are only an effect of the general tendency of proletarian revolutions to produce this new type of State. Their importance -- the importance of the Soviets -- is that they proved the reality of this tendency. All subsequent revolutions, even if they were defeated by a more powerful enemy, even if they were only 'dress rehearsals', have provided in their own way illustrations of this tendency: from the Italian 'factory councils' and the Chilean 'workers' cordons' to the Chinese 'People's Communes'.


What has to be 'destroyed'
The dictatorship of the proletariat means the destruction of the bourgeois State apparatus, and the construction of a State apparatus of a new type; but not all the aspects of the bourgeois State apparatus can be destroyed in the same way, by the same methods, and at the same rhythm.

    We know that Lenin (following Marx) particularly insisted on the fact that the core of the State apparatus lies in the State repressive apparatus, and that in consequence the absolute priority for every socialist revolution is precisely to attack this repressive apparatus, using the objective possibilities offered in this connexion by every really revolutionary situation, in which the masses of working people are involved in the struggle for the conquest of power, against the background of a grave crisis of capitalism.

    Why did Lenin pay so much attention to the repressive State apparatus, therefore to its immediate destruction, which he considered both the condition and a first consequence of the revolution? For two reasons, which are really one and the same.

    First, because -- in moments of open and acute class struggle -- it is the repressive apparatus in which the relation of forces favouring the bourgeoisie, on which its (absolute) State and class power rests, takes material form and is guaranteed. And the same is true every time when, even on a limited scale -- strikes, demonstrations, for example -- the class struggle becomes open and acute. The law must have power in order that the ruling class, standing above the law, may retain its power.

    Secondly, because the repressive apparatus is tendentially the same in all the particular forms of the bourgeois State, in all the particular political régimes whose form it takes, whether we are talking about 'democratic' republican regimes, or 'authoritarian' régimes -- dictatorial, monarchical or, in the present day, fascist. Of course, it is not an 'invariant' aspect of the State apparatus, standing outside of the development of history: but it is, in any given epoch, an aspect whose development and reproduction is not dependent on the different kinds of political regime. It is the armies of democratic republics which take part in fascist coups d'etat. And the principles of organization of the French and the German police do not differ from those applied in Franco's Spain: it is not the police itself which determines whether or not these principles can be put into operation in the same way, nor does it determine the extent of its own freedom of action.

    To say that the repressive apparatus is the core of the bourgeois State apparatus is not to imply that enormous differences do not exist between 'democratic' regimes and openly 'dictatorial' regimes, in the sense which bourgeois 'political science' itself gives to these terms, with regard to the forms of political and ideological domination, to the relative 'weight' of the role played by open repression on the one hand and ideological hegemony on the other, or finally to the possibilities open to the proletariat in its class struggle to develop this struggle 'freely' as a political struggle. But as far as the forms of organization of the repressive State apparatuses are concerned, the 'last resort' of the ruling class, the differences are insignificant.[2]

    As Lenin says: 'It is quite easy (as history proves) to revert from a parliamentary bourgeois republic to a monarchy, for all the


[2] What does it mean to talk about the 'last resort' of the ruling class? It means, first, that this is the means to which the ruling class resorts in the moment of its greatest danger, when the State of the bourgeoisie finds itself faced with a mortal revolutionary danger, and second, that it can only resort to this means at the last moment, when its use has been prepared for by suitable tactics of class struggle. I want to quote in this connexion from Dominique Lecourt's commentary on a [cont. onto p. 101. -- DJR] remarkable film, entitled The Spiral, dealing with the Chilean Popular Unity movement: 'The Chilean bourgeoisie [. . .] succeeded in creating the mass base which it quite lacked in 1970 [. . .] Though for a short time isolated, [it] worked out and applied its "mass line" in order to undermine the positions conquered by its enemies . . .' (Le Monde, 13.5.1976).

machinery of oppression -- the army, the police, and the bureaucracy -- is left intact. The Commune and the Soviets smash that machinery and do away with it.' (XXIV, 69. [The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution ]) History also shows, under our very eyes, from Greece to Chile, via Spain and Portugal, that to move back from a totalitarian and fascist regime to the 'normal' bourgeois parliamentary republic is extremely difficult. This is because, in the epoch of imperialism, there is an enormous development of the class struggle and of the threat posed to the power of the bourgeoisie, while the contradictions in the struggle for the political and economic division of the world become ever more acute, the result being that the process of militarization and more generally the development of the repressive aspect of the State apparatus receive a new impetus. Thus, as Lenin pointed out with far-sighted insistence: 'The more highly developed democracy is, the more imminent are pogroms or civil war in connexion with any profound political divergence which is dangerous to the bourgeoisie.' (XXVIII, 245. [The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, p. 23]) The reason does not lie in the 'strength' or 'weakness' of the democratic conditions of a country: for democratic traditions are always strong among the common people, and especially within the proletariat, and always weak within the ruling class. The reason lies precisely in that aspect of bourgeois democracy which makes it a reality (a reality with a price): in the fact that bourgeois democracy allows the 'free' development of the political class struggle, the 'open' formation of political organizations of the proletariat which may, provided that they maintain their ideological independence, carry out propaganda and mass action for the abolition of capitalist exploitation. This is the immense advantage of the democratic republic from the proletarian point of view, this is the reason why the fight to establish or to defend it is always an aim of the proletariat - and not, as opportunism believes, the supposed fact that under this system the State apparatus takes on a form such that it can be made use of, as it stands, by the proletarian revolution. It is simply -- though this is of great importance, and may even be historically decisive that the struggle for political democracy, when it becomes a class struggle against the reactionary bourgeoisie, allows the proletariat to organize itself, to educate itself, and enrol the masses of the people in the struggle for a more advanced objective.

    The argument that the repressive apparatus is the core of the State apparatus implies neither that the State can be reduced to this single aspect, nor that the repressive apparatus can function alone. And it certainly does not mean that all the aspects of the State apparatus can be 'destroyed' in the same way, as implied by the vulgar and mechanical image of a series of hammer blows, an image which the bourgeoisie turns against Marxism by using it as a bogy to frighten the people. The historical destruction of the State apparatus is indeed an uncompromising struggle, which can finally leave no stone of the bourgeois State apparatus standing, for the existence of this apparatus is incompatible with the real liberation of the working people. But the destruction of a whole State apparatus, and its replacement by new political forms of organization of the material and cultural life of society, cannot be carried out immediately, it can only be immediately begun. It cannot be carried out by decree or by a single violent attack, but only by making use of all the political contradictions of capitalist society, and turning them to the service of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    Lenin already pointed out in 1916, in opposition to the mechanistic conceptions of a section of 'left-wing' Social-Democracy:

    'Capitalism in general, and imperialism in particular, turn democracy into an illusion -- though at the same time capitalism engenders democratic aspirations in the masses, creates democratic institutions, aggravates the antagonism between imperialism's denial of democracy and the mass striving for democracy. Capitalism and imperialism can be overthrown only by economic revolutions. They cannot be overthrown by democratic transformations, even the most "ideal". But a proletariat not schooled in the struggle for democracy is incapable of performing an economic revolution. Capitalism cannot be vanquished without taking over the banks, without repealing private ownership of the means of production. These revolutionary measures, however, cannot be implemented without organizing the entire people for democratic administration of the means of production captured from the bourgeoisie, without enlisting the entire mass of the working people, the proletarians, semi-proletarians and small peasants, for the democratic organization of their ranks, their forces, their participation in State affairs. [. . .] The awakening and growth of socialist revolt against imperialism are indissolubly linked with the growth of democratic resistance and unrest. Socialism leads to the withering away of every State, consequently also of every democracy, but socialism can be implemented only through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which combines violence against the bourgeoisie, i.e., the minority of the population, with full development of democracy, i.e., the genuinely equal and genuinely universal participation of the entire mass of the population in all State affairs and in all the complex problems of abolishing capitalism.

    It is in these "contradictions" that Kievsky, having forgotten the Marxist teaching on democracy, got himself confused. [. . .] The Marxist solution of the problem of democracy is for the proletariat to utilize all democratic institutions and aspirations in its class struggle against the bourgeoisie in order to prepare for its overthrow and assure its own victory. Such utilization is no easy task. [. . .] Marxism teaches us that to "fight opportunism" by renouncing utilization of the democratic institutions created and distorted by the bourgeoisie of the given, capitalist, society is to completely surrender to opportunism!' (XXIII, 24-26. ["Reply to P. Kievsky (Y. Pyatakov)"])

    If you need confirmation of this point, this time written on the eve of the seizure of power itself, re-read the State and Revolution, that supposedly 'utopian' and 'anarchist' text:

    'The way out of parliamentarism is not, of course, the abolition of representative institutions and the elective principle, but the conversion of the representative institutions from talking shops into "working" bodies.' (XXV, 428 [p. 55].)

    And referring back to the example of the Paris Commune, he adds:

    'The Commune substitutes for the venal and rotten parliamentarism of bourgeois society institutions in which freedom of opinion and of discussion does not degenerate into deception, for the parliamentarians themselves have to work, have to execute their own laws, have themselves to test the results achieved in reality, and to account directly to their constituents. Representative institutions remain, but there is no parliamentarism here as a special system, as the division of labour between the legislative and the executive, as a privileged position for the deputies. We cannot imagine democracy, even proletarian democracy, without representative institutions, but we can and must imagine democracy without parliamentarism, if criticism of bourgeois society is not mere words for us . . .' (XXV, 429 [pp. 56-57].)

    In the same way, with regard to the bureaucracy:

    'Abolishing the bureaucracy at once, everywhere and completely, is out of the question. It is a utopia. But to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once and to begin immediately to construct a new one that will make possible the gradual abolition of all bureaucracy -- this is not a utopia, it is [. . .] the direct and immediate task of the revolutionary proletariat.' (XXV, 430 [p. 57].)

    Many ironic and cheap remarks have been made, from apparently very different sides, on Lenin's argument to the effect that the aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a situation in which even cooks would take part in running the State. There is something which smells bad in this irony, not only because it shamelessly exploits, to the benefit of counter-revolution, the millions of victims sacrificed by the Soviet proletariat and people in the course of their revolution, but also because it displays an obvious contempt for cooks. And since I have just quoted the passage from The State and Revolution on the destruction of bureaucratism, I will quote another passage, written a few months later (and which, at root, is still just as relevant):

    'We are not utopians. We know that an unskilled labourer or a cook cannot immediately get on with the job of State administration. [. . .] However [. . .] we demand an immediate break with the prejudiced view that only the rich, or officials chosen from rich families, are capable of administering the State, of performing the ordinary, everyday work of administration. We demand that training in the work of State administration be conducted by class-conscious workers and soldiers and that this training be begun at once, i.e., that a beginning be made at once in training all the working people, all the poor, for this work. [. . .] The chief thing now is to abandon the prejudiced bourgeois-intellectualist view that only special officials, who by their very social positions are entirely dependent upon capital, can administer the State.' (XXVI, 113-14. ["Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?"])

    Lenin returns to this question again in 1920, when he attempts to explain what it is, in the development of the Russian Revolution, that has a universal relevance, taking account of the differences in the political history of the different countries of Europe. What is particularly interesting here is the fact that Lenin, precisely because he never retreated an inch on the question of the need for the destruction of the bourgeois State apparatus, entirely rejects the idea that this process of destruction could take any other form than that of a lengthy class struggle, a class struggle which is already in its preparatory stages before the revolution, and which becomes fully acute afterwards, under the dictatorship of the proletariat of which it is the condition of existence. The 'ultra-left' idea of the immediate abolition of bourgeois institutions and of the appearance out of the blue of new, 'purely' proletarian institutions is not only a myth, useless in practice; it also leads to a mechanical inversion of the parliamentary cretinism governing opportunism: it is no exaggeration to talk in this connexion about an 'anti-parliamentary' cretinism, for which particular forms of organization (Soviets, 'workers' councils', workers' control, etc.) becomes panaceas, whose 'introduction' and immediate 'application' is supposed to allow a direct transition from capitalism to socialism, finally abolishing the need for the political class struggle. It is this complex struggle, whose detours are imposed by the radical nature of its own tendential development, which now takes first place in Lenin's analyses. Thus a remarkable dialectic is introduced between the discovery of the immense political tasks confronting the dictatorship of the proletariat, following the Russian Revolution, and the analysis of the conditions of the seizure of power in the European 'bourgeois democracies'.

    It is worth quoting these texts at length, for they clearly contradict the dogmatic and simplistic image of Leninism too often evoked.

    'The experience of many, if not all, revolutions [. . .] shows the great usefulness, during a revolution, of a combination of mass action outside a reactionary parliament with an opposition sympathetic to (or, better still, directly supporting) the revolution within it. [. . .] The "Lefts" in general, argue in this respect like doctrinaires of the revolution, who have never taken part in the real revolution, have never given thought to the history of revolutions, or have naïvely mistaken subjective "rejection" of a reactionary institution for its actual destruction by the combined operation of a number of objective factors. The surest way of discrediting and damaging a new political (and not only political) idea is to reduce it to absurdity on the plea of defending it.' (XXXI, 62. ["Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder , pp. 56-57])

    And it is at this point that Lenin introduces the argument according to which 'it was easy for Russia, in the specific and historically unique situation of 1917, to start the socialist revolution, but it will be more difficult for Russia than for the European countries to continue the revolution and to bring it to its consummation.' Not in the framework of an abstract comparison between 'backward', 'uncivilized' Russia and 'advanced' 'developed' Europe, which might today be triumphantly developed in order to discover proof of the congenitally barbarian and primitive character of Russian socialism (peasant socialism!), from which our democratic and civilized culture will, thank God, preserve us (as long as we can just get started . . .). But in order to demonstrate the concrete historical link between the tasks of the Russian proletariat, attempting to find the material form of its power and constructing an effective 'proletarian democracy', and those of the European proletariat, attempting to take State power in the frame work of a 'bourgeois democracy'. Both faced the problem of the existence of this bourgeois State apparatus, which can never disappear as a consequence of the simple will to 'repudiate' it, to destroy it, but only through patient revolutionary activity.

    'If it wants to overcome the bourgeoisie, the proletariat must train its own proletarian "class politicians", of a kind in no way inferior to bourgeois politicians.

    The writer of the letter [Lenin is referring to a letter from "Comrade Gallacher, who writes in the name of the Scottish Workers' Council in Glasgow"] fully realizes that only workers' Soviets, not parliament, can be the instrument enabling the proletariat to achieve its aims; those who have failed to understand this are, of course, out-and-out reactionaries. [. . .] But the writer of the letter does not even ask -- it does not occur to him to ask whether it is possible to bring about the Soviets' victory over parliament without getting pro-Soviet politicians into parliament, without disintegrating parliamentarianism from within, without working within parliament for the success of the Soviets in their forthcoming task of dispersing parliament.' (XXXI, 80 [p. 57].)

    It is therefore necessary to be able to adopt in turn and to combine several forms of action, several tactics for educating the masses in the struggle, precisely because the State apparatus (and especially the ideological State apparatuses, including the political apparatus) is not a simple 'organization of the ruling class', but also an organization of class domination within which the exploited, oppressed classes are objectively caught, but within which the 'development of their class consciousness' and their struggle for socialism must in the first instance take place. Their task is historically to 'destroy' something which is however not purely external to themselves: it is the structure of the world in which they live. But it must be destroyed, to make place for a new one.

    Lenin is addressing the revolutionaries of other European countries at the moment when the new Communist Parties are being set up. But he is also addressing the Russian Communists, he is also talking about the tasks of the dictatorship of the pro letariat, tasks which have turned out to be more difficult than anyone could have imagined. Between these two struggles there is no Great Wall of China, to use one of his favourite expressions. The struggle to take power includes a struggle against parliamentarism, involving the attempt to introduce a 'Soviet form of politics' into the heart of the parliamentary system, thus bringing its contradictions to a head (a form of politics which is not restricted to the parliamentary benches: it is even more important for Communists to 'go into the public houses [. . .] and speak to the people', and. to work in the factories and in working class districts!), but this struggle is not such a simple one: for parliamentarism may re-appear in the Soviets themselves. Lenin continues:

    'You think, my dear boycottists and anti-parliamentarians that you are "terribly revolutionary", but in reality you are frightened by the comparatively minor difficulties of the struggle against bourgeois influences within the working class movement, whereas your victory -- i.e., the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the con quest of political power by the proletariat -- will create these very same difficulties on a still larger, and infinitely larger scale. [. . .]

    Under Soviet rule your proletarian party and ours will be invaded by a still larger number of bourgeois intellectuals. They will worm their way into the Soviets, the courts, and the administration, since communism cannot be built otherwise than with the aid of the human material created by capitalism, and the bourgeois intellectuals cannot be expelled and destroyed, but must be won over, remoulded, assimilated and re-educated, just as we must -- in a protracted struggle waged on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat -- re-educate the proletarians themselves, who do not

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abandon their petty-bourgeois prejudices at one stroke, by a miracle, at the behest of the Virgin Mary, at the behest of a slogan, resolution or decree, but only in the course of a long and difficult mass struggle against mass petty-bourgeois influences. Under Soviet rule, these same problems, which the anti-parliamentarians now so proudly, so haughtily, so lightly and so childishly brush aside with a wave of the hand -- these selfsame problems are arising anew within the Soviets, within the Soviet administration, among the Soviet "pleaders". [. . .] Among Soviet engineers, Soviet school-teachers and the privileged, i.e., the most highly skilled and best situated, workers at Soviet factories, we observe a constant revival of absolutely all the negative traits peculiar to bourgeois parliamentarianism, and we are conquering this evil -- gradually only by tireless, prolonged and persistent struggle based on proletarian organization and discipline.' (XXXI, 114-15.["Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder, pp. 122-23])

    There are several striking aspects in these remarkable formulations of Lenin, dating from 1920. They are of an essentially descriptive character: Lenin is discovering, for the first time, the concrete forms of a question which is decisive for the revolution, of which up to that time he had only developed an abstract notion; he had first of all to describe these forms, to grope his way towards an understanding of the tendency which they represent. With hindsight, we can say that the fact that these formulations have only a descriptive character -- beyond which Lenin did not have the time, the material possibility of advancing -- that this fact had a very grave result; it allowed Stalin, by relying on the letter of certain formulae, and deliberately ignoring the others, to introduce what are prudishly called 'administrative methods' of resolving the political problems of the dictatorship of the proletariat: purging the Party and the State administration as a method of ideological struggle, then combining police terror with privileges of office in order to guarantee the 'loyalty' of the intellectuals of every kind to the Soviet government. And of course, as Lenin foresaw, these methods did not resolve the historical problem at issue, they only made it worse, up to the day when, in pursuance of Stalin's policy, the reference to the dictatorship of the proletariat -- i.e., the recognition of the objective reality of the problem -- had in its turn to be abandoned in a new attempt to exorcize and camouflage this contradiction.

    Lenin's formulations are descriptive, but at the same time they are extremely illuminating, in so far as they show clearly that the problem of the resurgence of parliamentarism and of bureaucratism within the Soviet institutions themselves, in other words the problem of the resistance of the bourgeois State apparatus to its revolutionary destruction, is not a problem of individuals. It is useless to raise a hue and cry about the bourgeois intellectuals, to send them to concentration camps, to replace them by workers, immunized against contamination by the old society . . . The contradiction arises from within the 'system'. The problem does not concern individuals, but the masses, the practices in which the masses are held, which they must learn to understand and to master in order to be able to transform them. Consequently -- but this is perhaps precisely the concept which Lenin lacked in order to crystallize his analysis -- it concerns the social relations in which the masses are held, from the intellectuals and civil servants to the workers themselves, social relations which oppose them to one another and yet at the same time associate them by the ideological force of 'habit'. It is today clear that the different aspects of the division of manual and intellectual labour, constantly reproduced and deepened in every class society, and inherited by socialism together with the 'human raw material' about which Lenin speaks, is in fact the material basis of this system of social relations which provides the bourgeois State apparatus with its astonishing capacity for resistance. And it is therefore clear that the struggle ('violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative', as Lenin said) against the forms of this division of labour, within production and outside of production, is the key to the revolutionary transformation which will finally liberate the working people from centuries of oppression.

    But Lenin's thoughts on this question involve another consequence, one which brings us back to the present-day situation. In abandoning the reference to the dictatorship of the proletariat, you necessarily evade, whether you want to or not, the problems posed by the real exercise of political power by the workers, or at least you give the impression that these problems will resolve them selves, 'at the behest of the Virgin Mary', that all you need is a good 'democratization' of the State apparatus: of the army, of the civil service, of the legal system, of the education system, etc. Thus you create a mechanical gap between the revolutionary struggles of today and the problems of tomorrow: and consequently you obscure for the workers the question of the conditions and of the stakes of their future struggle. You encourage thousands, tens of thousands of Communist militants to believe that the obstacles which they come up against every day, in practice, in the fight to unite the working class, to unite all manual and intellectual workers in the struggle against the big bourgeoisie, are only problems of individual consciousness, and therefore to be solved by propaganda. The idea thus grows that if each Communist would only re-double his efforts to convince everyone around him of the superiority of socialism over capitalism, and of the unshakeable devotion of the Communists to the ideal of the happiness of humanity, then the masses would finally swing over to the good side and, by an application of their will, would sweep away the obstacles to the enjoyment by everyone of the benefits of civilization. Unfortunately, however, things never follow this ideal order, nor can the masses ever be won for the struggle against capitalism by a simple process of argument, on the basis of promises or of a beautiful dream of the future, but only on the basis of their experience of the antagonism between their own vital interests on the one hand and the existing economic and political relations on the other. But at the same time it is precisely in this struggle that they progressively discover, as the size of the tasks confronting them grows, the practical means to carry them out. After the seizure of State power, these tasks become even more difficult and decisive, but they are not of a completely different kind. By main taining, in spite of all opposition, that a revolutionary party cannot content itself with recognizing the existence of the class struggle, but must 'extend this recognition to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat', Marx and Lenin provided each Communist with the means of evaluating the importance of his everyday work of organizing the mass struggle: for this work is not only the technical means of ensuring the seizure of power by the workers' party; it is also a first step in and a first experience of a new type of political practice, unprecedented in history, quite different from the operation of the bourgeois State apparatus, without which this apparatus could never be 'destroyed'. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not provide Communists with a ready-made answer, with a clearly marked road; it only provides them with the possibility of posing an unavoidable problem. But well-posed problems will always be more valuable than dozens of imaginary answers.


The main aspect of the dictatorship of the proletariat
In spite of the brevity of these remarks, they do draw our attention to what will turn out to be the main aspect of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a new type of State, incompatible with the maintenance of the old State apparatus. This main aspect -- as Lenin indicates in the clearest possible fashion, and as the experience of all revolutions has confirmed -- does not consist in the establishment of a certain type of institutions, in the legal sense of the term, which might be considered to possess a universal validity, and above all which might live on unchanged, and continue to fulfil their revolutionary role throughout the whole period of transition to the classless society. Such institutions are necessary to the dictatorship of the proletariat, since this is still a State, and they provide it with a determinate 'political form', which depends on the historical conditions under which it is established and on the stages of its development. Such-and-such a type of institution (the Soviets, for example, once they have taken a general form and been officially recognized as organs of the new revolutionary State) can only partly reflect, and sometimes in a contradictory manner, the requirements of the dictatorship of the proletariat during a given phase of the revolution, and in given historical conditions. But the necessary political foundation and the principal aspect of all these forms is what we can call mass proletarian democracy. Now this kind of democracy cannot be decreed, it can not be 'guaranteed', in short, it does not depend mainly on institutions, however much freedom may characterize them; but it can be won, at the cost of a hard struggle, if the masses intervene in person on the political scene.

    Since this point is really the heart of the Marxist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat (with respect to its repressive aspect, too, its struggle against counter-revolution: the 'people in arms'), I shall look at it more closely.

    First of all I want to remind those comrades who have 'forgotten' it, with the self-interested encouragement of the whole bourgeoisie, that no real socialist revolution has ever been a 'minority' revolution, a forcible takeover by the minority. Every socialist revolution in history, beginning with the Russian Revolution and continuing with the Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions, which are epoch-making events in the history of the dictatorship of the proletariat, has necessarily been a majority revolution, a revolution made by the movement of the masses and by mass organi- zations, armed and unarmed, which generally arose in the course of the revolution itself and changed with it. If this had not been so, no socialist revolution would have been able nor would it ever be able to overcome the material force of the bourgeois State apparatus, its repressive and its ideological power (the ideological influence which it exercizes on the masses themselves). And it was precisely when, in the course of the Soviet Revolution, the mass movement began to weaken and fade out, above all under the pressure of an unprecedentedly violent attack by a coalition of all the internal and external forces of imperialism, and also as a consequence of the errors of the Russian Communists themselves, when it was diverted from its revolutionary objectives, when the mass organizations were emptied of their content and in their turn became bureaucratic instruments for the control of the masses, that counter-revolutionary tendencies were able to develop at the level of the State.

    The experience of the Russian Revolution did however enable Lenin to show concretely that proletarian democracy, revolutionary mass democracy, is infinitely more real, infinitely more democratic than any kind of bourgeois democracy.

    It is one of the most widespread follies and calumnies of the enemies of Leninism, already spread by the 'right-wing' and 'left-wing' theoreticians of the Social-Democratic movement of his own time, that Lenin always 'underestimated democracy', the value and the usefulness of democratic institutions. This foolishness, which is in fact a complete falsification, was even recently repeated, I am sorry to say, by our comrade Jean Elleinstein, who tried to use it as one explanation of the 'Stalin phenomenon', i.e. of the destruction of proletarian democracy in the Soviet Union. And the same folly is unfortunately not unconnected with the constantly re-appearing idea that it is impossible to talk about the dictatorship of the majority of the people, that the notion of dictatorship is synonymous with the dictatorship of a minority. We must be careful in our use of words. To say that the dictatorship of the proletariat is impossible is to imply, like it or not, that the State power of the majority is impossible, that 'the lowest mass, the real majority' (XXIII, 120 ["Imperialism and the Split in Socialism"]) cannot itself exercize State power. It is to imply that the power of the masses will always be limited, and therefore that the proletarian revolution is impossible.

    The question of the majority and the minority cannot be a formal question for a Marxist and a Communist. Which means that it cannot be answered independently of the question; who constitutes the majority of the population? What classes constitute the majority and how are they to be unified in a single mass movement? Every bourgeois democracy already relies on the fact that any of its governments represents a majority, is elected by a majority, necessarily including millions of working people. But that does not of course in any way mean that the majority classes in society, the classes making up the working people, and in particular the proletariat, in any sense hold or exercize State power: on the contrary, it means that they remain in subjection to the State. Because between the masses on the one hand and parliament or the government on the other there is all the distance and the opacity of the State apparatus and the ideological State apparatuses.

    When Lenin says that proletarian democracy is infinitely more real than any bourgeois democracy, however progressive or advantageous the latter may be, compared with the open, brutal forms of bourgeois class dictatorship (for example, in our own day, fascism) he means that the difference between them is not simply one of degree, the difference between a narrow and limited democracy and a broad or extended democracy, but a difference of nature: the difference separating on the one hand the legal democratic forms realizing the power of a minority class, and thus excluding the possibility that the popular masses themselves have any hold, however precarious, on State power, and on the other hand a democracy which realizes the power of the majority class, and therefore demands the permanent intervention, the leading role of the masses of the people in the State.

    In this connexion, the lessons of the Russian Revolution, as reflected in Lenin's analyses, constantly draw our attention to two great practical questions, always open and always being re-opened, never finally settled, on which the development of revolutionary mass democracy depends.

    1. The first question, and it is a well-known question, concerns the alliance of the proletariat and the petty-bourgeoisie of intellectuals, producers (small peasants and artisans) and employees. This alliance can only be created by a struggle, a battle to overcome the contradictions opposing the proletariat to the petty-bourgeoisie, a battle to detach the petty-bourgeoisie, in the course of the class struggle itself, from the hegemony exercized on it by the capitalist and imperialist bourgeoisie, in order to develop the hegemony of the proletariat and of its revolutionary vanguard over the petty-bourgeoisie. We must never forget that Lenin was, in the Marxist tradition of his time, the only theoretician -- I repeat: the only one, because on this point his position is distinguished both from Kautsky's right-wing opportunism and from ultra-leftism, and even from the position of genuine revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg -- he was the only theoretician who never held a 'ouvrierist' ('workerist') conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is in the last analysis an economistic and mechanistic conception of the State power of the working class. There can be no dictatorship of the proletariat if the working class does not carry with it, in the seizure and the maintenance of power, not only the poor peasantry, and the petty-bourgeois strata which are already being absorbed into the proletariat, but the masses of the petty-bourgeoisie, even though their historical interests are contradictory. There can be no dictatorship of the proletariat if the working class does not succeed in welding solid political, economic and ideological links with these masses.

    In other words, there can be no dictatorship of the proletariat if the proletarian revolution is not at the same time a people's revolution. On this point too, even before October, Lenin was repeating the true lesson learned from Marx and from the Paris Commune: 'Particular attention should be paid to Marx's extremely profound remark that the destruction of the bureaucratic military State machine is "the precondition for every real people's revolution". This idea of a "people's" revolution seems strange coming from Marx', continues Lenin; and he shows that this is because of the mechanical way in which most Marxists envisage the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of proletarian revolution, for they are simply waiting for that mythical moment when the proletariat, conceived of as a naturally homogeneous and revolutionary class, will itself constitute the great majority of society and find itself faced by no more than a handful of capitalists superfluous to production (XXV, 421 [The State and Revolution , pp. 45-46]). Elsewhere he points out: 'From the point of view of science and practical politics, one of the chief symptoms of every real revolution is the unusually rapid, sudden, and abrupt increase in the number of "ordinary citizens" who begin to participate actively, independently and effectively in political life and in the organization of the State .' (XXIV, 61. [The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution ])

    The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot mean the isolation of the proletariat: this idea is a contradiction in terms and in the facts -- the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot overcome the counter-revolution, it cannot succeed in disorganizing the mass base of the bourgeois State unless it extends the real hegemony of the proletariat to the masses of the people, unless it constructs a revolutionary alliance of the proletariat, peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie. The fact that this alliance is constantly threatened, that its break-up constitutes a mortal danger to the revolution, is a fact which explains, as we know, many tragic aspects of the present history, of socialism. But whoever has really read Lenin, and followed the trials and errors, the upsets of real history, whose tendency is manifested even in the contradictions of which it is made up, will understand what is going on. He will in any case understand much better than those Communists who, in order to resolve the problem of class alliances, a problem which, ever since 1917, especially in France, has proved a stumbling block to so many revolutionary struggles, think that the proletariat should be drowned in an undifferentiated mass of 'working people' having 'an interest in socialism'. The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat certainly does not exclude the question of alliances and of the allies of the proletariat in the revolutionary process; on the contrary, it urgently poses this question. And it shows that it is a political question, in the strong sense of the term, a question of mass politics, which goes far beyond the simple framework of constitutional decisions and guarantees.

    Unity between the proletariat and its allies cannot emerge spontaneously from the economic interests which they have in common, and from an appeal to those interests. 'Propaganda and agitation alone are not enough. [. . .] The masses must have their own political experience.' (XXXI, 93. ["Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder, p. 97]) This question is central for Communist Parties today. If the emergence of the contradictions between the revolutionary struggle in the capitalist countries and the defence of the interests of the Soviet State apparatus is the negative cause of the tendency now appearing in France to 'abandon' without further ceremony the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, it should not lead us to ignore another, just as obvious cause: the search for a positive solution to the problem of class alliances, of the union of the people against imperialist capital.

    It is because it was not possible, in spite of the efforts of the Popular Front and of the Resistance, to find an answer to this question in the period when the dictatorship of the proletariat (as it was then generally conceived) figured as a sacred principle, that the conclusion is drawn: the way forward is to abandon it. But this solution is illusory; and it can only result in self-deception if it leads the Communists to believe that the union of the people already exists, potentially, in the economic and sociological evolution of capitalism, and that it only needs to be brought out into the open, to be revealed by a patient effort of explanation or propaganda. The economic foundations of a revolutionary class alliance do exist in all the imperialist countries, including the most 'developed'. But as long as capitalism continues to develop (and imperialist, monopolist capitalism is developing more quickly than ever before), the foundations of the hegemony of big capital also continue to exist. The contradictory process leading to the isolation of big capital, to the class unity of the proletariat and its alliance with the whole of the working people, and even with certain fractions of the bourgeoisie, is not pre-determined, nor is it the simple political translation of a process of economic evolution. It is the stake of a practical struggle between the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces in which the revolutionary forces proletariat, peasantry and those manual or intellectual workers who are in course of being absorbed into the proletariat -- must exploit the contradictions of the class enemy. Lenin wrote in 1920:

    'To carry on a war for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie, a war which is a hundred times more difficult, protracted and complex than the most stubborn of ordinary wars between States, and to renounce in advance any change of tack, or any utilization of a conflict of interests (even if temporary) among one's enemies, or any conciliation or compromise with possible allies (even if they are temporary, unstable, vacillating or conditional allies) -- is that not ridiculous in the extreme? Is it not like making a difficult ascent of an unexplored and hitherto inaccessible mountain and refusing in advance ever to move in zig-zags, ever to retrace one's steps, or ever to abandon a course once selected, and to try others? [....] The more powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skilful and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies, any conflict of interests among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries, and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional. Those who do not understand this reveal a failure to understand even the smallest grain of Marxism, of modern scientific socialism in general. Those who have not proved in practice, over a fairly considerable period of time and in fairly varied political situations, their ability to apply this truth in practice have not yet learned to help the revolutionary class in its struggle to emancipate all toiling humanity from the exploiters. And this applies equally to the period before and after the proletariat has won political power.' (XXXI, 70-71. ["Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder, pp. 66-68])

    I would put it like this: it is by carrying out this policy in the period which precedes and prepares for the seizure of power that the proletariat can learn to resolve the problem in the best possible way in the period which follows it. But it is by understanding why this is necessary even and especially after the seizure of power that we can also understand why it is necessary beforehand, if the idea of the 'seizure of power' does not simply imply for us a moment of adventure for which the future does not exist. That is why the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the historical conditions existing in each country, is not a concept in spite of which the vital question of class alliances can be posed: it is in fact the concept with the aid of which this question can be posed in real terms, so that the objective foundations of this alliance and the nature of the obstacles which it comes up against can be analyzed in a critical way.

    2. But, within this notion of mass democracy, there lies a second question, a different question which however determines the answer to the first: it is the question of the mass organizations of the proletariat. What made possible the seizure of power in the Russian Revolution, what enabled the Bolshevik Party to give tactical leadership to the seizure of power, was the existence of an unprecedented mass movement of workers, peasants and soldiers, and the fact that this movement found in the Russian revolutionary tradition the forms of organization which it needed: the 'Soviets'. This therefore is the double, dialectical aspect of the Soviets; both, in contradictory fashion, the embryo of a new State, of a new type of State apparatus, and the direct organization of the masses, distinct from every State, transforming political activity, on the scale of the most general questions (first of all that of war and peace) from the affair of specialists or representatives quite distant from the masses into an affair of the masses themselves. That is why the October Revolution was able to set about destroying the bourgeois State apparatus, both 'from above' and 'from below'. And that is why the Soviets are historically revolutionary, coming after the Paris Commune, and before other forms most of which are still to be invented.

    As we know, this question was constantly posed throughout the Russian Revolution, as it is posed in every revolution. The nature of the problems changes, the 'front' of struggle moves, the organizations which have played this revolutionary role become incapable of carrying it through, partly because they tend, like the Soviets themselves, to be reduced to the role of simple State, administrative institutions. Now in practice you can see that some thing is at stake here, something whose importance, as experience shows, can never be overestimated by Communists: quite simply the 'leading role' of the Communist Party in the dictatorship of the proletariat. What can be done to ensure that this role of political leadership does not lead to the identification of Party and State, but to the constantly expanding control of the operation of the State by the masses themselves?

    What characterizes Lenin's position in this period, against both 'right-wing' and 'left-wing' deviations, is on the one hand that he never fell into the illusion of believing that the dictatorship of the proletariat would be able, except after a very long time, to do without a centralized State apparatus, in which the functions of organizing the economy would have to be in large part carried out by specialists, thus perpetuating the division of manual and in tellectual labour.

    But at the same time, on the basis of the experience of the masses themselves, on the basis of an analysis of the obstacles which this experience ran up against, Lenin was constantly searching for the means of abolishing the State's monopoly -- even that of the State of a new type -- in the administration, management and political control of public affairs, in order to transfer these tasks in part to organizations of the masses of the people, which of course must not be confused with the Communist Party, which are distinct from the Party and much wider.

    The first aspect of Lenin's answer is often interpreted as an illustration of his relentless political 'realism': not the slightest concession must be made with regard to the need for the concentration of proletarian State power; and here the reference is not simply to the 'military' necessities of a civil war, for the latter are only one of the forms of an acute class struggle characterizing every revolution.

    The second aspect of his answer is often interpreted as an illustration of his 'utopianism' or even of his 'anarchism', whether in order to try to play down its importance, or on the contrary to isolate it in order to exploit it for certain specific purposes. But what must not be lost from view is that Lenin's realism lies in the unity of the two aspects: it is a dialectical, i.e. critical and revolutionary realism only because it constantly relates the two sides of this contradiction, in spite of the gigantic practical difficulties involved.

    And here you find a key with which to unravel the enigmas of the history of the Soviet revolution. I shall give just a single example: Lenin's changes of position on the question of the trade unions, which have been abundantly commented upon. In the space of a year, from the end of 1919 to the beginning of 1921, Lenin moved from the slogan 'Governmentalization of the Trade Unions', i.e. the transformation of the Trade Unions into organs for managing the economy (and in particular for organizing the distribution of labour power and for guaranteeing discipline in production), organs integrated into the State apparatus, to the slogan of the independence of the Trade Unions from the State, for the Trade Unions, under socialism, must always represent the interests of the workers in the face of the State, even against the proletarian State itself. It is of course true -- and I shall return to this point -- that this change of views can be explained by the relative failure of a particular policy, by the self-criticism which this made necessary, and by the transition to the 'New Economic Policy', in which a certain 'return to capitalism' also implied that the Trade Unions would return to the role of fighting for the workers' demands. But if you look closer, these sudden changes are themselves not simple 'accidents' of socialism, and beneath Lenin's position you can discern a constant tendency, all the more persistent for the fact that it comes up against so many obstacles. To transform the Trade Unions into an element of the State apparatus and even of the civil service is to attempt to make use of their irreplaceable function in the direct organization of the masses -- a function developed in the course of decades of struggle under capitalism both in order to transmit and explain State policy to the masses, and genuinely to involve them in the exercise of power, in order little by little to create in their midst the 'leaders' of an historically new type of politics and economics. One single phrase sums up this outlook: 'the Trade Unions are schools of communism' (and are indeed, in part, the type of school which communism needs). A little later, Lenin explained, in opposition to Trotsky's militaristic attitude -- but also, it should be noted, in a struggle against the anarcho-syndicalist deviation of the so-called 'Workers' Opposition' -- that 'we, for our part, must use these workers' organizations to protect the workers from their State, and to get them to protect our State', and that we must 'be able to use measures of the State power to protect the material and the spiritual interests of the massively organized proletariat from that very same State power' (XXXII, 25 ["The Trade Unions. The Present Situation and Trotsky's Mistakes"). It is now a question of wielding against the 'bureaucratic deformation' the only weapon which can attack it at its root: the initiative, culture and organization of the masses, the real control over politics which they must establish in order for these politics to be their own. This was also Lenin's objective in his last efforts to reorganize the 'Workers' and Peasants' Inspection',[*] made up of direct representatives of the working people, and to transform it into an organ for the permanent control of the administrative apparatus. And above all, this was Lenin's objective in his attempts to counteract the tendency for the Party to transform itself into a new body of State and ideological functionaries. For the 'bureaucratic deformation' is not a simple accident, not a simple inheritance from ancient times, which disappears in advanced capitalism (on the contrary -- we have before our eyes proof of the enormous development of bureaucracy to which this leads!): it is, in different degrees and in different, evolving forms, inherent in every State, in the 'division of labour' which it involves. In fact, the contradiction is located within the proletarian State itself.


[*] [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "How We Should Reorganize the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection". -- DJR]

    One last word on the question of democracy. Having understood the sense in which revolutionary mass democracy thus constitutes the main aspect of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the condition of its existence, or rather of its development, we can finally take a look at two apparent contradictions.

    First of all, the fact that the objective of 'destroying the State apparatus' seems to be a purely negative aim, while in reality it implies an historically unprecedented effort of innovation and of organization, for its source lies, for the first time, in the broad masses themselves.

    Secondly, the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat, in so far as it bears on the State apparatus, cannot be defined simply in terms of the replacement of one State apparatus by another, but must be defined in a complex manner both as the constitution of a new State apparatus, and as immediately setting in motion the long process of the disappearance or extinction of every State apparatus. This second aspect, as we shall see, determines the meaning of the first.

    Let us put the same point in another way. As long as it is pre sented only in abstract fashion, this idea of the 'destruction of the State apparatus' remains difficult, and open to any number of arbitrary interpretations (and of outbursts of sham indignation). It is precisely this idea which leads certain people to claim that the concept of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is 'contradictory', even dangerously mystifying, that it plays on two images at the same time, pushing forward the bad side under cover of the good: Statism behind the mask of democracy. But this is to ignore the real contradictions of which the dictatorship of the proletariat is the product, and which the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat allows us to analyze. In order to make such an analysis, however, we must provide the concept with a concrete definition, that is, we must avoid splitting up the two aspects. These two questions -- that of the 'destruction' of the bourgeois State apparatus, and that of the 'extinction' or 'withering away' of every State -- are recognized in the Marxist tradition. But as long as they remain artificially separated, they remain equally scholastic and insoluble. And Marx's definition, taken over by Lenin, according to which the State of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the State which allows the proletariat to 'constitute itself as the ruling class', is at the same time already a 'non-State', becomes a mystery or what is even worse -- appears to be a trick. A State (a State apparatus) which is not from the very first moment in course of 'withering away', i.e., of handing over political leadership -- by various means which can only be learned from experience -- to the masses themselves, has no chance of ever being a new kind of State apparatus: it can only result in the resurgence or the extension of the old one. In this sense, the notion of the proletarian State itself designates, not an absurdity, but a contradictory reality, as contradictory as the situation of the proletariat in its role as the 'ruling class' of socialist society. The proletariat has to turn against the bourgeoisie a weapon forged by the bourgeoisie itself, a double-edged weapon. The experience of the socialist revolutions shows that this is possible. It also shows that it is terribly difficult, always more difficult than anyone believes, and that you can never rule out mistakes, or deviations, or reverses. It is a real contradiction, which develops in history and in practice, which grows deeper until it is finally solved; a contradiction which it is impossible, except in utopian ideology, to resolve except by developing it to its final point.

    The existence of every State apparatus is linked to the continued existence of classes, i.e. of class struggle, of antagonistic social relations. It is held fast within this antagonism. Every State apparatus is (always) bourgeois, even when the workers succeed in using it against the capitalists. Communism means the end of the State, and not the 'State of the whole people', an expression which is nonsense for a Marxist. Between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie there is both a relation of symmetry (both need the State), and a relation of dissymmetry (the proletariat aims at the destruction of every State, it practises class struggle with a view to the abolition of classes). What defines the dictatorship of the proletariat is the historical tendency of the State which it establishes: the tendency to its own disappearance, and not towards its reinforcement.

    Lenin explains that the dictatorship of the proletariat must push democracy 'to its limits' -- which means: it must push it forward to the point where there is no longer any State, not even a democratic State. Lenin never claims that proletarian democracy is a 'pure' democracy, an absolute democracy; he never falls into the least legal, liberal illusion in this connexion: he always insists, following Marx and Engels, that every democracy, including proletarian

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democracy, is a form of the State, deriving from the fact that class relations still exist, and that in consequence this democracy is not freedom. Freedom can only be equated with the disappearance of every State, in other words, only with communism, which has its own social foundations. But communism is already present, as an active tendency, within socialism: socialism cannot really be constructed except from the standpoint of communism. The proletarian revolution already entails, right from the beginning, the development of communist social forms, in particular in the shape of the political intervention and organization of the masses themselves, without which it would never have been possible to make the transition from the bourgeois State to proletarian democracy. In other words, proletarian democracy is not the realization of full liberty for the working people, but it is the struggle for liberation, it is the process and concrete experience of liberation as materialized in this very struggle.

    From this point of view it is possible to explain why the dictatorship of the proletariat is feared or rejected. The reason does not lie in a principled attachment to democracy, in a determination to preserve democracy while bringing about socialism by democratic means. On the contrary, it lies in the fear of democracy, the fear of the mass forms of democracy which overshoot and explode the extraordinarily narrow limits within which every bourgeois State confines democracy. Or perhaps in despair that history will ever make it possible for these forms to develop.

    Let us not forget that what defines opportunism is not too great an attachment to democracy but, behind the abuse of the term democracy (understood in accordance with the legal conception of democracy), its revulsion in the face of the extension of democracy represented by the dictatorship of the proletariat, even when this dictatorship has to defend itself in the face of imperialist counter revolution by mass revolutionary violence. In the last analysis, opportunism means the defence of bourgeois democracy, which is a form of Statism, and conceives the intervention and organization of the State as a means of overcoming social antagonisms.

    At least, that is undeniably the way in which Lenin presented the question. So let no-one say, after that, that he ever 'underestimated' the value of democracy!