Lenin: The workers' organizations must 'protect the workers from their State'; XXXII, 25. ["The Trade Unions. The Present Situation and Trotsky's Mistakes".]
Or, if it is sometimes still used in the Marxist sense, this shows only that the 'theory' of State Monopoly Capitalism is, as I pointed out, not homogeneous, but an internally contradictory combination of Marxist and non-Marxist 'elements'.
of these two classes, namely the bourgeoisie. Therefore, once you abandon the notion, basic to Marxism and Leninism, that State power always lies in the hands of a single class, i.e. that every State is the dictatorship of a class, you are naturally led to drop the idea that present-day capitalism is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie; but since you have ceased to define the bourgeoisie in a Marxist sense, and therefore the proletariat too, you will naturally conclude that the conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat is also quite superfluous and indeed wrong, because the proletariat does not really exist any more, except as a sociological category ('core of the working class', etc.). It is for all these reasons that there is a close connexion between the emergence of the theory of State Monopoly Capitalism and the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that this abandonment cannot be considered (as some sections of the bourgeois press have maliciously but stupidly contended) as a tactical electoral manoeuvre.
But at the same time we cannot therefore identify the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat unequivocally with a process of 'de-Stalinization'. On the contrary, it is rather a question of ironing out discrepancies in Stalin's picture, for Stalin, following immediately upon Lenin, could not at once abandon all the aspects of the latter's position (and certainly not all of the words: in particular, the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat' was retained for certain purposes). It is worth remembering (see ch. 1 below) that the trials, purges, labour camps, etc. for which the Stalin period is renowned for the most part followed the introduction of the 1936 Constitution, i.e. followed the effective abandonment by Stalin of the dictatorship of the proletariat as applied to the Soviet Union.
It is of course quite obvious that, in abandoning the dictatorship of the proletariat in their turn, Westem European Communists do want and intend to break with (the remnants of) 'Stalinism', not to reproduce or to reinforce them. In a certain sense, it must be admitted that they have done so. Their new positions are certainly not, in spite of what has been said above, identical with those defended by Stalin, and the practical consequences of these new positions, in what are in any case different historical conditions, will certainly not be the same. Yet their positions remain in another important sense structurally equivalent to Stalin's. In what sense ? In the sense, as I said, that they defend an analogous
conception of socialism. This may sound like an astonishing claim, given that so much attention has been paid (e.g. in the French Communist Party's 22nd Congress) to defining a form of socialism apparently as different as you can possibly imagine from the Soviet variety, and especially from the pre-1956 Soviet variety. But the point here is not that the contents of the two packages are different; it is that both conceptions picture socialism as a form of society in its own right, which can be defined in terms of public ownership of the means of production, planned growth, economic justice, etc. The fact that individual and collective liberty is now added to the list as an essential element changes nothing of the fact that in both cases you find a conception of the socialist State (N.B.) not as a contradictory phenomenon, both a vital necessity and yet a mortal danger to the struggle of the working class for communism, but as a simple instrument for the administration of a society without antagonistic contradictions (except with regard to the remnants of the old ruling classes, destined in any case to die out), an instrument for the 'satisfaction of the people's needs'. Yet this is not only Stalin's but -- strangely exactly the typical Social-Democratic conception of socialism! Since it is a Social-Democratic conception, it should be no surprise to discover that it is also a typically bourgeois conception.
Bourgeois ideology can imagine (a fact which is reflected in its classic contrast between democracy and dictatorship) two forms of the exercise of State power: the democratic form (parliamentary institutions, multi-party system, freedom of speech and assembly, etc.) and the dictatorial form (single-party system, fusion of party and state, refusal to tolerate opposition, and so on). It can imagine these two forms of the exercise of State power, and it classifies existing States accordingly. What it cannot imagine is a State of the kind portrayed by Lenin, a genuinely proletarian State, a State whose function is to exercize power only and precisely in order to prepare the conditions for its own disappearance, a State whose very existence is based on a contradiction, a State which itself recognizes that it must finally 'wither away', a State which accepts that it cannot achieve its goal unless it ceases to exist -- and all this not in any formal or merely verbal sense, but in the material practice of the class struggle. Such a State would have to recognize that it can never be 'universal', for if, impossibiliter, it were ever to become universal, its material reason for existence would have
been eliminated. It can only exist as long as society is divided by the class struggle. But bourgeois ideology cannot imagine such a thing. For bourgeois ideology the State is, on the contrary, essentially universal, serving the whole of the people. Marxism says: such a State cannot exist; it is literally a nonsense. But our old (Stalin-type) and brand-new 'Marxists' say, turning bourgeois ideology to their own ends: such a State as you, the bourgeoisie, dream of can be realized -- under socialism. It is our (projected) socialist State! The socialist State is thus represented as the first truly universal State, the first genuine 'State of the whole people'. What separates our old, Stalin-type Marxists from the brand-new variety is that the latter have swallowed a little bit more of the bourgeois line: they have swallowed the whole story about democracy versus dictatorship, too, which Stalin -- and the Communist Parties, up until recently -- for their own (different) reasons always refused. So, applying this contrast, they assure the world: we no longer want a dictatorial socialist State but a democratic socialist State.
Of course this process of ideological evolution must not be exaggerated. There is all the world of difference between a Communist Party and any bourgeois political formation. What we are talking about is an ideological and political tendency (what lies behind it?) and the resulting contradictory forms of theory and practice. Our task is however not to congratulate any Communist Party on the fact that its theory and practice are in part Marxist, but to draw attention to the respects in which they are not. For in a number of important respects, in particular in their conception of socialism, the Communists of whom we spoke are, consciously or unconsciously, still following Stalin in his departure from Marxism.
The struggle of the Communist Parties cannot be a struggle for socialism, in its own right, but must be a struggle for communism (see ch. 5, below). To suppose, as Stalin did and as many present-day Communists do, that there is a particular form of society called socialism naturally leads you to try and define it - e.g. in terms of a so-called 'socialist mode of production', in terms of the replace ment of the anarchy of capitalist production by the planned expansion of socialist production, in terms of the transformation
Cf. e.g. M. Decaillot, Le Mode de production socialiste, Editions sociales, 1973.
of the State from an instrument of class rule into an instrument for the satisfaction of the needs of the people, etc. Thus the contradictory nature of the socialist State tends to be lost from view. This in turn opens the way to bourgeois propaganda, which accuses the Communists precisely of fighting for a form of society in which the State will be allowed to crush the individual, to destroy his creative talents and initiative and steal his freedom. What do our up-to-the-minute comrades answer? Accepting the false bourgeois theory of the State and of its potential function in the universal satisfaction of the people's needs (while disagreeing of course as to which or whose State can realize this potential) they now simply answer: but our State, the socialist State, will actually provide the individual and the community with an unprecedented 'liberty'! What is astonishing is that the bourgeoisie and its propagandists should thus be allowed to get away so easily with their conjuring trick. They of course accuse communism of elevating the State to an unprecedentedly powerful position vis-à-vis the individual (thus the constant reference to Police States, 'dictatorships', totalitarianism, etc.). The 'modern' (or new-fangled) Communists reply: our socialist State, unlike the USSR, will meet all your demands -- there will be a genuine parliament (unlike those in Eastern Europe), a multi-party system, all the freedom of speech and association that you could imagine, and so on. But this is a very curious answer, not so much in the detail of its proposals -- and we are not suggesting instead the 'other alternative' within the same framework, a 'model' of socialism based on the single-party system! -- but in its basic assumptions, including its assumption that these proposals satisfactorily deal with the main point at issue. It is certainly not Lenin's answer.
Lenin says: parliamentary democracy is one form of the State, and therefore a form of dictatorship -- of a given class. There is no 'pure democracy', no 'democracy in general'. The struggle of the Communists is not in the end to establish a 'democratic State' but to abolish the State. Their tactics and their strategy must be adapted to this end. The aim of the Communists is thus infinitely more radical than that of the most radical Social-Democrat or liberal, and their struggles must be directed to this aim. But since the road to this end is not necessarily a direct or straight one, since it may involve the most difficult detours, it cannot be conceived of simply in terms of the ever-expanding development of 'liberty'. There can be no
easy answer to the question of what strategy a Communist Party ought to follow in any concrete set of national and historical conditions, and this book certainly cannot provide one. But it is possible, under certain circumstances, to try and establish a little theoretical clarity with respect to the basic problems of socialism and communism.
It would for instance certainly be false and even absurd to claim that the struggle to establish (in Spain) or maintain (in France, Britain, etc.) a functioning parliamentary system is unimportant. It may even be crucial at certain moments. But it does not follow that the State power of the bourgeoisie is any less absolute in such a system than in what is popularly called a 'dictatorship', or that in such a system, even when it succeeds in electing 'representatives' to the national parliament (Socialists or even Communists), the working class thereby gains the slightest grasp of State power, that it thereby holds the slightest scrap of State power. It does not! The struggle to establish or defend parliamentary democracy is for the Communists a struggle to strengthen the forces of democracy, in the Marxist sense of the term, to give them room and opportunities in the fight and a greater chance of one day seizing State power i.e. of establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, whatever governmental forms this may take. The reason for seizing State power is that, one day, it may thereby be possible to cause State power to disappear, and with it class struggle and exploitation. The fight for socialism makes no sense if it is interpreted as a fight to establish a 'universal' State, satisfying the interests of the whole people; it only makes sense as a fight to establish a State -- a dictatorship of the proletariat -- which will itself pave the way to the abolition of every State. Such an idea, as I already pointed out, is incomprehensible to bourgeois ideology, which has classified communism as an ideology of unlimited State power; but that is no reason why it should be incomprehensible to a Communist.
I said earlier that a debate on the dictatorship of the proletariat might appear to be outlandish in present-day Britain. But there is a very good material reason for this. Every such debate, which touches on questions of real importance to the struggle of the working class is bound to appear 'unreal', because it has to take place
Nor therefore any reason why he should now classify it instead as a doctrine of limited State power!
outside the boundaries set by the dominant ideology, the ideology of the capitalist State, therefore outside the boundaries of 'common sense'. Since these boundaries are rather narrower in Britain than in France, because of the past and present history of the labour movement in the two countries, and in particular of the relative weakness of a Marxist tradition in Britain, the effect produced by such a debate may appear correspondingly more disconcerting. That is no reason to refuse the debate, and even less is it a good reason to throw overboard the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. No-one suggests that the explanation, defence and development of this concept does not have its 'difficult' side, that it does not involve serious contradictions, that it cannot be exploited by the propagandists of the ruling class for their own purposes. No-one is suggesting that Marxists should play into their hands by plastering the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat' over all their pamphlets and leaflets, in conditions where its real meaning cannot be explained and where, in consequence, it is bound to be misunderstood. But that does not mean that all efforts should cease to explain its meaning to the masses and to develop the reality of that meaning by learning from the experience of the masses, so that this concept can finally become their own. To insist on the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat does not mean to condemn or to abandon hope of all other social groups than the proletariat; on the contrary, it means to insist on the development of the only concept which can provide the foundation of a materialist analysis of the concrete possibilities of alliances between the proletariat and other groups and social strata (see ch. 4), which can do more than refer us to some abstract notion of the convergence of 'objective interests' uniting all sections of the population outside of monopoly capital (cf. p. 230).
I already pointed out that the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat (together with its accompanying theory of the 'socialist State') is infinitely more radical than the most radical liberal or Social-Democratic theory of the State, since it insists not on the 'widest possible liberty' for the individual and community in the face of the State but on the disappearance of the State itself, of every State, precisely through the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat, which must itself develop the contradiction which will lead to its own disappearance. I would add: it also provides for an infinitely more genuine, an infinitely deeper form of democracy
than the most radical liberal or Social-Democratic theory, precisely because it works to 'overcome democracy'. And therefore we are obliged to conclude with Etienne Balibar that those who want to abandon the dictatorship of the proletariat are consciously or unconsciously -- motivated not by a desire to preserve and extend democracy but by a fear of what genuine mass democracy might mean, unless it be that they have simply given up hope, under the constant pressures and problems which every Marxist must face, that such a form of democracy, therefore communism, could ever really be on the agenda in Britain. But that is not a reason for accepting the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat -- on the contrary, it is a reason for continuing the fight not simply to defend it, but to develop it and thereby finally to bring about real freedom (Lenin: 'So long as the State exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no State'), however impossible that may now seem. Because if the arguments contained in this book are well-founded, then the dictatorship of the proletariat is indeed an historical reality which no-one and nothing can abolish.
Cf. Lenin, The State and Revolution, ch. V, [§]
4 (XXV, 479 [pp. 121-22]): 'The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it becomes unneccssary.'
Op. cit., XXV, 473 [p. 114].