MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | ETIENNE BALIBAR

ETIENNE BALIBAR

ON THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT


 
Paris (1976)-   Moscow (1936) 


In order for a discussion to get to the bottom of a question, it needs clear starting-points. A correct, Marxist definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the first of these starting-points, in the theoretical field. It is not sufficient in itself: you cannot settle political questions by invoking definitions. But it is necessary. If you do not pay explicit attention to it, you run the risk of implicitly adopting not the Marxist definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat but a definition imposed by the constant pressure of the dominant bourgeois ideology. That is what happened at the 22nd Congress, whatever is said to the contrary. I am not going to quote or sum up the details of the debates: everyone remembers them, or can look them up. I shall be as brief as possible, in order to direct attention to what seems to me most important, namely the way in which the problem was posed; this more or less, leaving aside details, underlay the reasoning presented at the Congress. To many comrades it seems to be the only possible way of posing the problem, it seems 'obvious' to them today. We shall therefore begin by examining it.


'Dictatorship or democracy'
The question was first of all posed within the framework of a simple alternative: either 'dictatorship of the proletariat' or the 'democratic road to socialism'. The choice was between these two terms: no third solution, no other alternative. Given the definitions used, this choice is imposed more by 'logic' than by history. The historical arguments in fact are only introduced after the event, they only ornament and illustrate a logical schema so simple that it seems unavoidable. We are told that the choice is not between a revolutionary path and a reformist path, but between two revolutionary paths, both based on mass struggle, a choice between two kinds of means to make revolution. There are 'dictatorial' means of struggle and 'democratic' means: they are suited to different circumstances of place and time, and they produce different results. The Congress thus had to demonstrate what distinguishes the democratic from the dictatorial means, and did so by borrowing three common contrasts.
(a) First, the contrast between 'peaceful' political means and 'violent' means. A democratic road to socialism, it is said, excludes on principle armed insurrection against the State as a means of taking power. It excludes civil war between the classes and their organizations. It therefore excludes both white terror, exercised by the bourgeoisie, and 'red' counter-terror, exercised by the proletariat. It excludes police repression: for the workers' revolution does not tend to restrict liberties but to extend them. In order to maintain themselves in power democratically, the workers must not primarily use constraint, the police and 'administrative methods', but political struggle -- i.e., in the event, ideological propaganda, the struggle of ideas.
(b) Secondly, the contrast between 'legal' and 'illegal' means. A democratic road to socialism would allow the existing system of law to regulate its own transformation, without recourse to illegality. The transformation of the existing system of law -- for example, in the form of the nationalization of enterprises -- is only to be carried out according to the forms and norms contained in (bourgeois) law itself, according to the possibilities which it opens up. Such a revolution would therefore not contradict the law; on the contrary, it would simply realize in practice the principle of popular sovereignty to which it constantly refers. Conversely it is the legality -- therefore the legitimacy -- of this revolutionary process which is supposed to authorize and strictly to limit the use of violence. For every society and every State, so the argument goes, have the right (and the duty) forcibly to repress 'crimes', the illegal attempts of minorities to oppose by force and by subversion the abolition of their privileges. Thus, if the need for constraint arises, this will be considered no fault of the new regime itself. And this use of violence will not be a form of class violence, but a constraint on particular individuals, just as bourgeois law itself now provides.
(c) Finally, the contrast between union and division, which is linked to the contrast between majority and minority. In the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is said, political power is exercized by the working class alone, which itself is still only a minority. Such a minority is and remains isolated: its power is clearly fragile, it can only maintain itself by violence. The situation, so the argument goes, is exactly opposite when, in the new historical conditions, the socialist State represents the democratic power of a majority. The existence of the union of the majority of the people, the 'majority will', expressed by universal suffrage and by the legal government of the majoritarian political parties, is therefore supposed to guarantee the possibility of peaceful transition to socialism -- a revolutionary socialism, certainly, with respect to its social content, but gradual and progressive with respect to its means and forms.

    Once you accept and reason according to these contrasts (I have only mentioned the most important ones), contrasts which become more and more closely linked to and dependent on one another, then at each stage you are forced to choose one of the two poles: civil war or civil peace; legality or illegality; union of the majority or the isolation of the minority and the division of the people. At each step you have to work out which choice is 'possible' and which is not; which is the one that you 'want' and which is the one that you 'do not want'. A simple choice between two historical roads for the transition to socialism, a choice between two conceptions of socialism, two systematically opposed 'models'. On the basis of these choices, the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is implied, must be defined as the violent political power (in both senses of the term 'violent': repression and recourse to illegality) of a minoritarian working class, bringing about the transition to socialism by a non-peaceful road (civil war). To this, one last argument -- and it is not the least important -- may be added, since it is a natural consequence: that such a road would lead to the political domination of a single party and end by institutionalizing its monopoly. Many comrades demand of us: if you do not want to abandon the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, at least admit frankly that you are for a one-party system, against the plurality of parties. . . .

    But what are we to think of these pairs of alternatives?

    Their first characteristic is that they do not make a real analysis possible, because they contain the answer to every question ready-made. Posed in these terms, the problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat already implies its solution. It is an academic exercise. To define the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes a simple matter of listing its disadvantages, compared with the democratic road. To analyze the concrete conditions of the transition to socialism in France becomes a simple matter of self-congratulation on the fact that the evolution of history now (finally) allows us to take the good road, that of democracy, and not the bad road, that of dictatorship. You can be very optimistic about socialism when you know that history itself is looking after the job of creating the conditions which will impose precisely the choice preferred in the first place. It only requires one more step in order to draw the conclusion: when a capitalist country has a non-democratic State (as in the case of Tsarist Russia), it cannot make the transition to socialism except in a non-democratic manner, with all the risks attached. But when a capitalist country is also (as in the case of France) a country of an 'old democratic tradition', it can make the transition to socialism in a manner which is itself democratic. Better: the transition to socialism will slowly appear to the immense majority as the only means of preserving democracy, which is under attack by big capital. Better still: the socialism which can be established in this case will be right from the first a superior form, rid of the contradictions and dangers represented by dictatorship (of the proletariat).

    This line of argument is indeed seductive, but that does not explain how Communist militants, involved for years in the class struggle, have nevertheless allowed themselves to be taken in by it and to adopt its 'common sense' language. To understand why they have done so, we must look into the question of what -- in the history of the Communist movement itself and in the interpretation of Marxist theory which has prevailed in the movement for many years -- could have produced this kind of 'common sense'. In this connexion the arguments of the 22nd Congress are dominated by three ideas which are by no means new, and which are clearly present. First: the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat is, in its essential characteristics, identical to the road followed in the Soviet Union. Secondly, the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat represents a particular 'political regime', a set of political institutions which guarantee -- or fail to guarantee -- the political power of the working class. Finally -- and this is the decisive point at the theoretical level -- the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a means or a 'path of transition' to socialism. It must now be shown why these three simple ideas, though they are the product of real historical causes, are nevertheless incorrect.


Three simple and false ideas
A few words on these three ideas.

It is enough to read the reports of the debates of the 22nd Congress, and earlier contributions,[3] in order to recognize that behind the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat there lies first of all the problem posed by the historical evolution of the Soviet Union. It is no accident if, at the very same time that the Party is claiming that socialism is on the agenda in France, its leaders are also publicly raising their voices to pose the question of its 'differences' with the policy of the Soviet Communists, in terms such that it is clear that a real contradiction is involved. Look at the facts, which the careful selection of words cannot hide: disagreements on 'socialist democracy' (therefore on the structures of the Party and State); disagreements on 'peaceful co-existence' (which our Party refuses to accept as implying the status quo for capitalist countries like France, as overshadowing the class struggle, or -- even worse -- as requiring the socialist countries to give political support to the power of the French big bourgeoisie); disagreements on 'proletarian internationalism' (which our Party refuses to interpret in terms of 'socialist internationalism', an interpretation dramatically illustrated by the military invasion of Czechoslovakia). Such contradictions demand a thoroughgoing explanation. This question clearly lay behind the deliberations of the Congress. And it is this question, and no other, which underlies the argument several times advanced by Georges Marchais: 'The phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat" today has an unacceptable connotation for the workers and for the masses.' This is the vital question, and not the example of the fascist dictatorships which have appeared since the


[3] Cf. the series of articles published by Jean Elleinstein in France Nouvelle (September 22, 1975, and following issues) on 'Democracy and the Advance to Socialism'. With admirable foresight Elleinstein was already advancing arguments used a few weeks later to oppose the principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

time of Marx and Lenin. The workers and the masses obviously expect nothing from fascism but increased oppression and exploitation. The existence of fascist dictatorships only gives increased weight to Marx's and Lenin's thesis: that the proletariat must oppose the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with its own class dictatorship.

    What the Communists are concerned with above all is the old idea which expressed their hopes during decades of difficult struggles: that the dictatorship of the proletariat is possible, since it is simply the historical road taken, the road taken in history, by the socialist countries making up the present 'socialist world' or 'socialist system', and above all by the USSR. Which implies something very simple and concrete: 'If you want to understand the dictatorship of the proletariat, its conditions, why it is necessary, then look at the example of the USSR!' So it turns out that something which for so long has served as a guarantee and as an inspiration must now, without changing its character, serve as a warning and as an example to be avoided. Which means that the same idea is shared by many comrades, though they draw different conclusions: the idea that the essence, the fundamental characteristics of the dictatorship of the proletariat are directly realized and manifested in the history of the USSR, therefore in the role played by the State in the USSR and in the kind of institutions which exist or have existed in the USSR.

    I have presented this idea in schematic form, but I think that no-one will seriously deny that many of our comrades did see things in this way. That does not mean that they would not, if necessary, add a number of nuances and corrections. Many would say that the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it existed in the USSR, had its 'peculiar' side (very peculiar, indeed . . .): its imperfections, its faults, its deviations, its crimes; and that in consequence you have to be able to 'extract' from this imperfect reality the essential characteristics of the dictatorship of the proletariat. What does not occur to them is the idea that the history of the USSR, before, during and after the Stalin period, might represent a process and a tendency in contradiction with the dictatorship of the proletariat. It does not occur to them that the history of the Soviet Union might demonstrate not just the possibility of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its emergence in history but also and perhaps above all the obstacles faced by the dictatorship of the proletariat, the very real and very present power (not just a power inherited from the 'feudal' past . . .) of historical tendencies opposed to the development of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Now their representation of Soviet history, in spite of its lack of any dialectical materialist and therefore of any Marxist quality, is today shared by comrades, some of whom use it to argue for the dictatorship of the proletariat, others to argue against. Which means, to put it clearly: both by comrades who still, even if with qualifications, believe in the universal validity of the Soviet 'model' of politics and society, and by others who reject this claim to validity (either absolutely, or because of their view of the evolution of historical conditions). But this idea is an obstacle both to any critical and scientific analysis of Soviet history and to any treatment of the theoretical problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat, while nevertheless providing 'historical' arguments to justify, after the event, a hasty decision.

    Of course, there are powerful historical reasons for the direct identification of the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat with Soviet history. They are related to the determinant place of the Soviet revolution and to its objective role in the history of the international labour movement. In a certain sense this identification is a fact, an irreversible fact, which binds us, for there is no theory whose meaning is independent of the conditions of its practical utilization. But if it is an irreversible fact, that does not mean that it is immutable.

*       *       *

To this first idea, a second is closely linked -- an idea which also underlies the arguments of the 22nd Congress -- according to which the dictatorship of the proletariat is only a particular 'political régime'. In Marxist (or apparently Marxist) terminology, the word 'politics' refers to the State, to its nature and its forms. But the State does not exist in a vacuum: everyone knows that it is a 'superstructure', i.e. that it is connected to an economic base on which it depends, to which it reacts. Yet it is precisely not that base and must not be confused with it. 'Democracy' and 'dictatorship' are terms which can apparently only designate political systems. Did not Lenin go so far one day as to say that 'Democracy is a category proper only to the political sphere. . . . Industry is indispensable, democracy is not'?[4] Why not, with even better reason,


[4] In the rest of the book, the references to Lenin's works will be given in the following way: XXXII, 19, means volume 32, page 19 of the Collected Works, [cont. onto p. 45. -- DJR] English edition, published by Lawrence and Wishart, London, and Progress Publishers, Moscow. ["The Trade Unions. The Present Situation and Trotsky's Mistakes".]

extend this formulation to the symmetrical opposite, in everyday language, of democracy: i.e., dictatorship? The State, the level of political action and institutions, is quite distinct from the other levels, in particular from the economic level, is it not?

    I want to concentrate on this idea, even though I have had to present it schematically, because it plays a crucial role in the thinking of many Communists. And here again the question of the Soviet Union arises. It is this idea for example which might lead us to say: from the 'economic' point of view, essentially, socialism is the same everywhere, its 'laws' are universal; but from the 'political' point of view, it can and must be very different, since Marxism teaches the relativity of the superstructures, the relative independence of the political superstructures and of the State vis-à-vis the economic base. And it is this idea too which might lead us to say: the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union resulted in catastrophic consequences from the point of view of the political régime, it resulted in the establishment of a political régime which is not really socialist, which contradicts socialism, because, from the political point of view, socialism implies the widest possible liberty and democracy. But, it will be argued, this did not prevent the development of socialism as an 'economic system', or at least it only held it back a little, hindered it, made it more difficult, without affecting its 'nature', its essence. The proof: in the Soviet Union there is no exploiting bourgeoisie, monopolizing property in the means of production, no anarchy in production; there is social, collective appropriation of the means of production, and social planning of the economy. Thus the anti-democratic political regime has, it is argued, nothing to do with the 'nature' of socialism; it is only a historical 'accident'. To which it is added, with an apparently very materialist air, that there is nothing astonishing about the fact that the superstructure is 'lagging behind' the base -- such is the law of the history of human societies, which guarantees that, sooner or later, the political regime will come into line with the mode of production, will come to 'correspond' with the mode of production.

    But it has to be pointed out that we are dealing here with an extraordinarily mechanistic caricature of Marxism, linking a mechanistic separation between State and means of production with a mechanistic dependency of politics on the economic base (in the form of the talk about the 'nature' of socialism, about 'accidents', about things which are 'in advance' of others which are 'lagging behind'). In such a perspective it is already impossible to explain the history of the capitalist State. It is a fortiori impossible to pose the problem of what changes, in the relation of politics and of the State to the economic base, when a transition is made from capitalism to socialism and to the dictatorship of the proletariat.[5]

    Now this idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a simple 'political régime' directly determines the terms in which the problem of the political power of the working class, or of the working people, is posed. The dictatorship of the proletariat becomes a special form of the political power of the working people, and a narrow form at that (since not all working people are proletarians). In fact, this amounts to saying that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a form of government (in the legal, constitutional sense), that it represents a particular system of institutions. To choose between a number of paths of transition to socialism, for or against the dictatorship of the proletariat, is -- according to this idea -- to choose between a number of systems of institutions, notably between institutions of a parliamentary or so-called 'pluralist' type (containing several political parties) and institutions of a non-parliamentary type, in which the power of the working people is exercized through a single party. Socialist democracy differs from the dictatorship of the proletariat, in this view, as one political regime differs from another; it is conceived of as another form of the political power of the working people, in which other institutions organize in a different way the choice of the 'representatives' of the working people who run the government, and the 'participation' of individuals in the functioning of the State.

    According to this picture the transition to socialism could be conceived, in theory at least, either in terms of a dictatorial form of politics or in terms of a democratic form. It would depend on the circumstances. It would depend in particular on the degree of development, on the level of 'maturity' of capitalism: in a country where capitalism is particularly developed, where it has reached the stage of State Monopoly Capitalism, big capital would already be practically isolated, the development of economic relations


[5] I am not making all this up. This caricature of Marxism can be found throughout the book by Jean Ellenstein, The Stalin Phenomenon, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976.

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would itself provide the outline for a broad union of all working people and non-monopoly social strata, and the dictatorial road would become impossibie and futile, while the democratic road would become possible and necessary.

    But this way of posing the problem supposes that there exist in history very general forms of the State, régimes of different kinds like 'dictatorship' or 'democracy', which pre-date the choice of a society, the choice of a path of transition to socialism and of a political form for socialism. To put it bluntly: the alternative dictatorship/democracy would be exterior to the field of class struggle and its history, it would simply be 'applied' after the event, from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie or from that of the proletariat. Which means that revolutionary Marxism would be subordinated to the abstract categories of bourgeois 'political science'.

    But here we touch on the most deeply rooted of the theoretical ideas which dominated the arguments of the 22nd Congress -- and yet the least controversial idea in appearance, since the terms of our ordinary language directly express it, since these terms have entered everyday usage to such a degree that no-one any longer asks whether they are correct or not. I am referring to the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat is only a 'path of transition to socialism', whether or not it is considered a good one, whether or not it is considered as the only possible road or as a particular (political) road among others. It is only by bringing this idea into question that we can understand the way in which the other ideas force themselves on us, the power of ideological 'obviousness' from which they benefit.

    But someone will ask me: if the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be defined in this way, then how can it be defined? I will reply to this question later, at least in principle. But we have to understand what the first definition implies. If the dictatorship of the proletariat is a 'path of transition to socialism', this means that the key concept of proletarian politics is the concept of 'socialism'. This means that it is enough to refer to socialism in order to study these politics and put them into practice. The transition to socialism and the so-called construction of socialism -- these are the key notions. But what now becomes of the problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat? It becomes the problem of the means necessary for this transition and for this construction, in the different senses of this term: intermediate 'period' or 'stage'

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between capitalism and socialism, therefore the whole of the strategic and tactical, economic and political means capable of bringing about the transition from capitalism to socialism -- of 'guaranteeing' it, according to the expression which spontaneously occurs to certain comrades. And how are these means to be defined, how are they to be organized into a coherent strategy, objectively based in history? Quite naturally, by confronting present and past, the point of departure and the point of arrival (i.e. the point where one wants, where one hopes to arrive . . .). By defining, on the one hand, the decisive, universal 'conditions' of socialism -- classically: the collective appropriation of the means of production, coupled with the political power of the working people -- and by examining the way in which these conditions can be fulfilled, given the existing situation and the national history of each country. Good old Kant would have called it a 'hypothetical imperative'.

    This would mean that proletarian politics is dependent on the definition of a 'model' of socialism by which it is inspired -- even when (indeed, above all when) this 'model' is not borrowed from other, foreign experiences, but worked out independently as a national 'model'. Even when (indeed, above all when) this model is not a sentimental vision of a future golden age of society, but is presented as a coherent, 'scientific plan' for the reorganization of social relations, coupled with a meticulous computation of the means and stages of its realization.

    And it would mean, more fundamentally, that the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat can no longer be posed, nor can the dictatorship of the proletariat be defined, except from the point of view of socialism, according to a certain definition of socialism and with a view to its practical realization. On this point everyone apparently is agreed: if, up to very recently, Communists used to insist on the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat, it was in order to make the transition to socialism, in one country after the other; if they have now decided to abandon the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to set out a different strategy, it is nevertheless still in order to make the transition to socialism.

    But when Marx discovered the historical necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, he did not refer simply to socialism: he referred to the process which, within the very heart of the existing class struggles, leads towards the society without classes, towards communism. Socialism, alone, is a half-way dream house, where everyone can choose his own menu, where the demarcation line between proletarian politics and bourgeois or petty-bourgeois politics cannot be drawn in a clear way. The classless society is the real objective whose recognition characterizes proletarian politics. This 'shade of meaning' changes everything, as we shall see. By defining the dictatorship of the proletariat in terms of 'socialism', one is already trapped within a bourgeois framework.


A Precedent: 1936
Let us stop there for a moment. Before undertaking the study of the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat for its own sake, we must briefly look at the historical antecedents of the situation which I have just described. Such a situation does not just drop out of the sky. It is not so much that the decision of the 22nd Congress was the logical consequence, or the recognition after the event, of a long political evolution which had led the Party towards an original revolutionary strategy; it is rather that the particular conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat to which it referred had already, in all essentials, been for a long time accepted and even dominant in the International Communist Movement. The decision of the 22nd Congress does have an historical precedent, without which it would remain in part incomprehensible.

    We ought at this point to recall a fact of which most young Communists are unaware, or whose importance with regard to the present debate is not clear to them. It was the Soviet Communists themselves, under Stalin's direction, who first historically 'abandoned' the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in a quite explicit and reasoned way. They did so in 1936, on the occasion of the introduction of the new Soviet Constitution. The 1936 Constitution solemnly proclaimed, less than twenty years after the October Revolution, the end of the class struggle in the USSR .[¥] According to Stalin, who inspired and laid the foundations of what is even today the official theory of the State in the USSR, distinct classes still existed in the Soviet Union: working class, peasantry of the State farms and collective farms, intellectuals,


[¥] [Transcriber's Note: See Stalin's On the Draft Constitution of the U.S.S.R. -- DJR]

 

industrial managers and State administrators.[6] But these classes were no longer antagonistic, they were equal members of a union, of an alliance of classes, which constituted the foundation of the Soviet State. From that moment on, the Soviet State was no longer concerned with classes as such, but, beyond the differences which separate them, with the individuals, with all the citizens, with all the working people. It became the State of the whole people.

    Even then it was possible -- and it is still possible in retrospect to ask questions about the validity (and even about the good faith) of the statement: 'Class antagonisms have disappeared'. This statement came for example only a few years after the collectivization of agriculture, which witnessed an outbreak of class conflict as acute as the conflicts of the revolutionary period, in which the socialist State had to break the resistance of the capitalist peasantry (the kulaks) and also, no doubt, of whole masses of the poor and middle peasantry, by using every available means, both propaganda and force. Above all, the statement came at the very moment when there began to develop in the whole country, and among all classes, what we now know to have been a bloody mass repression, of which the great 'Moscow trials' were only the visible and spectacular facade. How are we to explain this repression (which was then only in its first phase!) in a materialist way, unless we relate it to the persistence and development of a class struggle which, though it was perhaps unforeseen and uncontrolled, was nevertheless quite real? How are we to interpret the proclamation of the 'end' of the class struggle, and the administrative decision to finish with the dictatorship of the proletariat, except as an amazing refusal to look the existing state of things in the face, that in turn, by the mystifying effects which it produced, then reinforced and crystallized a tragic theoretical and practical deviation? This example, if there was need of it, would already be sufficient to warn us that the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat is no historical guarantee against violence; in fact it might even suggest that, in this case, such violence only becomes more cruel and damaging to the people and to the revolution.

    Stalin did not of course retrospectively reject the past applic-


[6] The question whether the basic 'classes' are two or three in number has never been clearly settled. An inexhaustible field of studies was thereby provided for 'Marxist sociology'.

ability of the dictatorship of the proletariat (he even used the concept in order to justify and idealize en bloc the whole history of the preceding years): he simply argued that the Soviet Union had no more use for it. And so, he insisted, it remained absolutely necessary . . . for everyone else, for all other countries which still had to make their revolutions. The particular way in which he proclaimed the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat thus allowed him, at the same time, to develop the idea that the Soviet Union constituted a 'model' for all socialist revolutions, present or future.

    If Stalin's justification of the notion of the 'State of the whole people' ignored -- and for a good reason -- the existence of acute forms of class struggle in the USSR, it nevertheless did recognize, formally, the importance of the theoretical problems raised by such a decision, from a Marxist point of view. Now Marx, Engels and Lenin had shown that the existence of the State is linked precisely to class antagonism, and they spoke of the disappearance of class divisions and of the 'withering away of the State' as of two inseparable aspects of a single historical process. From their standpoint, the dictatorship of the proletariat -- the necessary transition to the disappearance of classes -- could only come to an end when classes really had disappeared; it could not be followed by the strengthening and eternalization of the State apparatus, but on the contrary only by its disappearance, even if this process would necessarily take a long time.

    In order to counter this objection, Stalin advanced two arguments.

    The first tackled the problem obliquely. Stalin made use of the correct thesis of 'socialism in one country', verified by the October Revolution and by the foundation of the USSR. But instead of inferring from it the possibility for socialist revolution to develop in one country after another, as 'breaks' occurred in the imperialist chain, depending on the conditions existing in each country, he argued that the socialist revolution could achieve final victory in the USSR independently of the evolution of the rest of the capitalist world. Thus a socialist country (and later the 'socialist camp') was considered to constitute a closed world, which however was at the I same time threatened from outside -- but only from outside. The State had no reason for existence as an instrument of class struggle inside the country, since this class struggle no longer existed; but it remained absolutely necessary as an instrument of class struggle directed to the exterior, as a means of protection for socialism against the threat and the attacks of imperialism. Neither Marx, nor Engels, nor Lenin himself (though on this point Stalin was more prudent) could, it was argued, have foreseen such a situation: and what better opportunity could there have been, in passing, to issue a wise reminder that Marxism is not a fixed dogma, but a science in the course of development and a guide to action?

    However, this first argument could not do the whole job. Even admitting its validity (that is, even leaving completely aside the question of what type of State is suitable for defending the country against external enemies -- and it is true that Stalin used the opportunity to condemn every opponent of his policies as a 'foreign agent'), it presupposes another argument: that of the complete victory of socialism in the USSR.

    Stalin claimed in his Report on the Draft Constitution of the USSR:

    'The total victory of the socialist system in all the spheres of the national economy is now an established fact. This means that the exploitation of man by man has been suppressed, abolished, and that the socialist property of the instruments and means of production has developed into the unassailable foundation of our Soviet society. [. . .] Is it still possible to call our working class a proletariat? Obviously not [. . .] The proletariat of the USSR has become an absolutely new class, the working class of the USSR, which has destroyed the capitalist economic system and reinforced socialist property in the instruments and means of production, and is steering Soviet society on the road to communism.'

    This second thesis is the most important aspect of the argument developed by Stalin, because it brings to light the theoretical deviation underlying the 1936 decision. It is a deviation of an evolutionist type, in which the different aspects of the revolutionary process are isolated from one another, and presented as moments which simply follow one another, distinct historical 'stages'. Revolution, as Stalin presents it, begins by overthrowing the power of the bourgeoisie, by eliminating capitalist property, by replacing the old State apparatus by a new one: this is the first transitory stage, the stage of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once this period has been completed, a new stage is entered, that of socialism: socialism is based on a particular 'mode of production',

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and brings with it a stable State, the socialist State, which is no longer a class State, but a State of the whole people, a people made up of different classes of working people collaborating peacefully together. And it is within socialism, under the direction of the socialist State, that the 'foundations' of a future society, communism, are being laid, more or less quickly according to the rhythm of the development of the productive forces; under communism, the State will become superfluous, just as classes themselves will disappear. In all, therefore, three successive stages, each one of which can only begin when the preceding stage has run its course; and the links between them, according to Stalin's theory, can be explained by the great historical necessity of the development of the productive forces, to which Stalin's mechanical materialism attributes the role of the motor of history.

    As a consequence, two essential factors were eliminated, or at least pushed to one side: the dialectic of historical contradictions, and class struggle.

    The dialectic disappeared, because Stalin, in his theory of successive stages, purely and simply suppressed the tendential contradiction brought to light by Marx and Lenin: the proletarian revolution is both the 'constitution of the proletariat as a ruling class', the development of a State power which makes this a reality, and the revolution which undertakes, on the material foundations created by capitalism, the abolition of all forms of class domination, and therefore the suppression of every State. What Marx and Lenin had analyzed as a real contradiction, Stalin dissolved in a scholastic manner (in the strict sense of the term), by distinguishing mechanically between separate aspects and stages: first the abolition of antagonism, then the abolition of classes; first the construction of a 'new type' of State, a socialist State, then the disappearance of every State (Stalin did not answer the legitimate question: why should the State now disappear, since the 'socialist State' already represents the power and the interests of the whole people? Or, at least, he was content to point out that 'Marx had foreseen' its disappearance). One more example can be added to this list of mechanical distinctions: the idea that first comes dictatorship (dictatorship of the proletariat, transition to socialism), then comes democracy (socialism).

    The class struggle ceased, at the same time, to represent in Stalin's theory the motor of historical transformations, and in particular of revolutionary transformations. It represented no more than a particular aspect of certain stages. There is thus a necessary connexion between Stalin's general argument (cfDialectical and Historical Materialism, 1938), according to which the motor of history is the development of the productive forces, the class struggle being only an effect or a manifestation of this, and his theory of socialism: socialism is the transition to the classless society, which takes place not as an effect of the class struggle itself, but after the completion of the class struggle, as an effect of a different kind of necessity, a technical-economic necessity directed by the State. And there is a necessary connexion between this conception of socialism, the proclamation of the 'total victory of socialism' in the USSR, and the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which coincided with a strengthening of the bureaucratic and repressive State apparatus. In the same way there is a necessary connexion, in Marxist theory, between the opposite theses: the recognition of real contradictions in the historical relation of the proletariat to the State, and the demonstration that it is impossible to abolish class divisions except through the development of the class struggle itself, since classes are, historically, nothing but the effects of antagonistic class relations, effects which appear, are transformed and disappear together with these relations. The 1936 decision (and it was no accident that it took the Statist form of a constitutional decision, and thus bore the profound imprint of bourgeois ideology) therefore put the seal on the link, then the intimate fusion, between a particular practice and a particular theory. Anyone who is surprised that the 'freest', most democratic (restoring universal suffrage) constitution in the world should have been accompanied by the establishment of the most anti-democratic bureaucratic and police apparatus, and a fortiori anyone who reassures himself by interpreting all this as a proof that, 'at the level of principles at least', socialism maintained its links with democracy, thereby permanently blinds himself with regard to the real history of socialism, with its contradictions and retreats. You must take account of this paradox: that the tendential fusion of Marxist theory and the Labour Movement, which is the great revolutionary event of modern history, also extends to their deviations. The misunderstanding or underestimation of the class struggle in theory does not prevent it from unleashing itself in practice: for the precise reason, one which deserves to be recalled today for the benefit of all those who seem to doubt it, that the class struggle is not an idea but an unavoidable reality. Yet the theoretical misunderstanding of the class struggle is not simply a theoretical event: its result is that the proletariat can lose the practical initiative bought at a high price, it can become the pawn of social relations of exploitation and oppression instead of the force capable of transforming them.[7]

*       *       *

There can of course be no question here of making a direct comparison between the decision taken by Stalin and the Soviet Communists in 1936 and that just taken by the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party. Neither the intentions (which however count for little in history), nor especially the historical conditions, and therefore the anticipated effects, are the same. However, the decision of the 22nd Congress can neither be understood nor seriously discussed independently of this precedent.

    The first reason is that it does in fact constitute one of the remote consequences of the decision of 1936. To restrict ourselves to the theoretical level, it is this decision, and more generally the whole of the ideological output which prepared for it and surrounded it, that imposed on the whole International Communist Movement a dominant mechanistic and evolutionist conception of Marxism, based on the primacy of the development of the productive forces, within which the dictatorship of the proletariat only functioned as a means, or even as a political 'technique' for the establishment of the socialist State (in spite of the fact that the Guardians of the Dogma insistently repeated and even hammered in the fact that it was a necessary means). For this decision provided -- at the cost of a gigantic effort of idealization and thus of misinterpretation of Soviet reality, for which millions of Communists in every land were enrolled, willingly or unwillingly -- the means


[7] It is certain that the mechanistic deformation of Marxism which occurred after Lenin was not invented by Stalin, nor did it suddenly appear in 1936. As far as the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is concerned, it can be shown that this deformation is already present in the famous texts of 1924 [ i.e., The Foundations of Leninism. -- DJR] and 1926 [ i.e., Concerning Questions of Leninism. -- DJR] on the 'principles of Leninism': in particular, in the very significant form consisting of the transposition onto legal terrain of Lenin's analyses concerning the role of the Soviets and of the Party in the Russian Revolution, and of the definition of their 'historical superiority' over the bourgeois parliamentary system as the effect of a certain system of institutions. But it is not my purpose here to study the problems raised by these texts. It is also interesting to examine the Manual of Political Economy published by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

for its own immediate 'verification'. The proof that Marxism, in its evolutionist and technicist Stalinian version, was 'true' and 'scientific' was precisely that the dictatorship of the proletariat had come to an end, that a 'definitive' victory had been won over capitalism, that a socialist society and State had been constructed which were now confronting other tasks -- fundamentally peaceful, technical, cultural and economic tasks. In other words, this proof on the omni-historical scale was in reality nothing more than an imaginary projection, onto the 'facts', of the very theory which it was supposed to verify.

    We are therefore obliged to state that the French Communist Party -- at the very moment when, in order to respond to the demands made by its own revolutionary struggle, it is trying to fight its way out of this mystification and at last to take a critical look at socialist history -- is nevertheless trapped more firmly than ever in the theory on whose basis the critique is being developed: it is posing, in the same general form, the same question of the 'transition to socialism', even if it has tried to provide a different answer. Unfortunately, it is the question itself which is wrong, and it is this question which has to be rejected.

    But the decision of the 22nd Congress is not therefore simply a remote consequence of its 1936 precedent: it also constitutes, in the changed conditions, its repetition. It is simply that what Stalin and the Soviet Communists applied to socialism in the period following the seizure of power by the workers, the 22nd Congress applied to the period before the seizure of power, to the very process of the 'transition to socialism'. But the procedure is the same: having argued that ecqnomic and social conditions have now 'matured' in this respect, the Party declares that the moment has come to renounce the use of dictatorship, which was always irregular, and adopt democratic means, espousing legality and popular sovereignty. The same rectification (or revision) of the Marxist conception of the State is therefore necessary: the State, it is said, is not only and not always an instrument of class struggle; it also has 'another' aspect, one which is repressed under capitalism, but which allows it to become an instrument for the management of public affairs in the common interest of all citizens. The same restriction of the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat to its repressive aspect is involved, together with its immediate identification with the institutional peculiarities of the Russian

Revolution (the single party, the limits on universal suffrage and on individual liberties for representatives of the bourgeoisie). The same restriction is placed on the role of the class struggle and of the antagonism between capital and the proletariat in the historical process of the disappearance of classes. It is therefore impossible to avoid asking the question: can you really hope, when you repeat the precedent of 1936 in this way, to rectify the deviation which it represents? Is it not more likely that this deviation will be retrospectively reinforced, within the framework of a nowadays untenable compromise? And above all: are you not exposing yourself once more to the nasty surprises reserved by the class struggle for those who do not take full account of the contradictions which it involves and of the antagonisms which lie hidden within it during the historical period of the socialist revolutions?

    These questions must be asked, and will become more and more urgent. Only through practice will satisfying answers be found. But this will only happen if we succeed in 'settling accounts' with the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which has been passed on to us in its Stalinian form in a truncated and deformed image that is today being in all innocence reproduced. And because fifty years of the history of the Communist Parties and of revolutionary struggles, marked with victories and with defeats, have brought their own objective and contradictory sanction to Leninism, which the same Stalin was not wrong to define, formally, as 'Marxism in the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution', it is also and necessarily a question of settling accounts with Leninism. Therefore, in order to begin, we must re-establish what it is and study it, so that we can discover the real questions which it raises.