IV. THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT
by Josef Stalin
from Foundations of Leninism  (1924)

From this theme I take three fundamental questions:

a) the dictatorship of the proletariat as the instrument of the proletarian revolution;

b) the dictatorship of the proletariat as the rule of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie;

c) Soviet power as the state form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

1) The dictatorship of the proletariat as the instrument of the proletarian revolution. The question of the proletarian  dictatorship is above all a question of the main content of the proletarian revolution. The proletarian revolution, its  movement, its sweep and its achievements acquire flesh and blood only through the dictatorship of the proletariat. The  dictatorship of the proletariat is the instrument of the proletarian revolution, its organ, its most important mainstay,  brought into being for the purpose of, firstly, crushing the resistance of the overthrown exploiters and consolidating the  achievements of the proletarian revolution, and, secondly, carrying the proletarian revolution to its completion, carrying  the revolution to the complete victory of socialism. The revolution can defeat the bourgeoisie, can overthrow its power,  even without the
 

[1] "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky," October-November 1918.


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dictatorship of the proletariat. But the revolution will be unable to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, to maintain its  victory and to push forward to the final victory of socialism unless, at a certain stage in its development, it creates a  special organ in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat as its principal mainstay.

"The fundamental question of every revolution is the question of power." (Lenin.) Does this mean that all that is  required is to assume power, to seize it? No, it does not. The seizure of power is only the beginning. For many reasons,  the bourgeoisie that is overthrown in one country remains for a long time stronger than the proletariat which has  overthrown it. Therefore, the whole point is to retain power, to consolidate it, to make it invincible. What is needed to  attain this? To attain this it is necessary to carry out at least three main tasks that confront the dictatorship of the  proletariat "on the morrow" of victory:

a) to break the resistance of the landlords and capitalists who have been overthrown and expropriated by the  revolution, to liquidate every attempt on their part to restore the power of capital;

b) to organize construction in such a way as to rally all the working people around the proletariat, and to carry on this  work along the lines of preparing for the elimination, the abolition of classes;

c) to arm the revolution, to organize the army of the revolution for the struggle against foreign enemies, for the  struggle against imperialism.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is needed to carry out, to fulfil these tasks.

"The transition from capitalism to communism," says Lenin, "represents an entire historical epoch. Until this epoch has terminated, the  exploiters

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inevitably cherish the hope of restoration, and this hope is converted into attempts at restoration. And after their first serious defeat. the  overthrown exploiters -- who had not expected their overthrow, never believed it possible, never conceded the thought of it -- throw themselves  with energy grown tenfold, with furious passion and hatred grown a hundredfold. into the battle for the recovery of the 'paradise' of which they  have been deprived, on behalf of their families, who had been leading such a sweet and easy life and whom now the 'common herd' is condemning to  ruin and destitution (or to 'common' labour . . .). In the train of the capitalist exploiters follow the broad masses of the petty bourgeoisie, with  regard to whom decades of historical experience of all countries testify that they vacillate and hesitate, one day marching behind the proletariat and  the next day taking fright at the difficulties of the revolution; that they become panic stricken at the first defeat or semi-defeat of the workers,  grow nervous, rush about, snivel, and run from one camp into the other." (See Vol. XXIII, p. 355)[1]

The bourgeoisie has its grounds for making attempts at restoration, because for a long time after its overthrow it  remains stronger than the proletariat which has overthrown it.

"If the exploiters are defeated in one country only," says Lenin, "and this, of course, is the typical case, since a simultaneous revolution in a  number of countries is a rare exception, they still remain stronger than the exploited." (Ibid., p. 354)

Wherein lies the strength of the overthrown bourgeoisie?

Firstly, "in the strength of international capital, in the strength and durability of the international connections of the bourgeoisie." (See Vol.  XXV, p. 173.)[2]   Secondly, in the fact that "for a long time after the revolution the exploiters inevitably retain a number of great practical advantages: they still  have money (it is impossible to abolish money all at once); some movable property -- often fairly considerable; they still have various  connections, habits of organization and management, knowledge of all the 'secrets' (customs, methods, means and possibilities) of management,  superior education, close connections with the higher technical personnel (who live

[1] Ibid.  [2] "'Left-Wing' Communism, an Infantile Disorder," April-May 1920.


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and think like the bourgeoisie), incomparably greater experience in the art of war (this is very important), and so on, and so forth." (See Vol.  XXIII, p 354)[1]   Thirdly, "in the force of habit, in the strength of small production. For, unfortunately, small production is still very, very widespread in the  world, and small production engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale" . . . for "the  abolition of classes means not only driving out the landlords and capitalists -- that we accomplished with comparative ease -- it also means  abolishing the small commodity producers, and they cannot be driven out, or crushed; we must live in harmony with them, they can (and must)  be remoulded and re-educated only by very prolonged, slow, cautious organizational work." (See Vol. XXV, pp. 173 and l89.)[2]

That is why Lenin says:

"The dictatorship of the proletariat is a most determined and most ruthless war waged by the new class against a more powerful enemy, the  bourgeoisie, whose resistance is increased tenfold by its overthrow, . . ."

and:

"The dictatorship of the proletariat is a stubborn struggle -- bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and  administrative -- against the forces and traditions of the old society." (Ibid., pp. 173 and 190)

It scarcely needs proof that there is not the slightest possibility of carrying out these tasks in a short period, of  accomplishing all this in a few years. Therefore, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the transition from capitalism to  communism, must not be regarded as a fleeting period of "super-revolution ary" acts and decrees, but as an entire  historical era, replete with civil wars and external conflicts, with persistent organizational work and economic  construction, with advances and retreats, victories and defeats. This historical era is needed

[1] "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky."  [2] "'Left-Wing' Communism, an Infantile Disorder."


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not only to create the economic and cultural prerequisites for the complete victory of socialism, but also to enable the  proletariat, firstly, to educate itself and become steeled as a force capable of governing the country, and, secondly, to  re-educate and remould the petty-bourgeois strata along such lines as will assure the organization of socialist production.

"You will have to go through 15, 20, 50 years of civil wars and international conflicts," Marx said to the workers, "not only to change existing  conditions, but also to change yourselves and to make yourselves capable of wielding political power." (See Marx and Engels, Works, Vol. VIII, p.  506.)[1]

Continuing and developing Marx's idea still further, Lenin wrote:

"It will be necessary under the dictatorship of the proletariat to re-educate millions of peasants and small proprietors, hundreds of thousands of  office employees, officials and bourgeois intellectuals, to subordinate them all to the proletarian state and to proletarian leadership, to overcome  their bourgeois habits and traditions," 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 abandon their petty bourgeois prejudices at one strcke, by a miracle, at the bidding of the  Virgin Mary, at the bidding of a slogan, resolution or decree, but only in the course of a long and difficult mass struggle against mass  petty-bourgeois influences." (See Vol. XXV, pp. 248 and 247.)[2]

2) The dictatorship of the proletariat as the rule of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. From the foregoing it is  evident that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a mere change of personalities in the government, a change of the  "cabinet," etc., leaving the old economic and political order intact. The Mensheviks and opportunists of all countries,

[1] "Revelations About the Cologne Communist Trial," October-December 1852.  [2] "'Left-Wing' Communism, an Infantile Disorder."


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who fear dictatorship like fire and in their fright substitute the concept "conquest of power" for the concept dictatorship,  usually reduce the "conquest of power" to a change of the "cabinet," to the accession to power of a new ministry made  up of people like Scheidemann and Noske, MacDonald and Henderson. It is hardly necessary to explain that these and  similar cabinet changes have nothing in common with the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the conquest of real power  by the real proletariat. With the MacDonalds and Scheidemanns in power, while the old bourgeois order is allowed to  remain, their so-called governments cannot be anything else than an apparatus serving the bourgeoisie, a screen to  conceal the ulcers of imperialism, a weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie against the revolutionary movement of the  oppressed and exploited masses. Capital needs such governments as a screen when it finds it inconvenient, unprofitable,  difficult to oppress and exploit the masses without the aid of a screen. Of course, the appearance of such governments is  a symptom that "over there" (i.e., in the capitalist camp) all is not quiet "at the Shipka Pass";[14] nevertheless,  governments of this kind inevitably remain governments of capital in disguise. The government of a MacDonald or a  Scheidemann is as far removed from the conquest of power by the proletariat as the sky from the earth. The dictatorship  of the proletariat is not a change of government, but a new state, with new organs of power, both central and local; it is  the state of the proletariat, which has arisen on the ruins of the old state, the state of the bourgeoisie.

The dictatorship of the proletariat arises not on the basis of the bourgeois order, but in the process of the breaking up  of this order, after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, in the process of the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists,

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in the process of the socialization of the principal instruments and means of production, in the process of violent  proletarian revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a revolutionary power based on the use of force against the  bourgeoisie.

The state is a machine in the hands of the ruling class for suppressing the resistance of its class enemies. In this  respect the dictatorship of the proletariat does not differ essentially from the dictatorship of any other class; for the  proletarian state is a machine for the suppression of the bourgeoisie. But there is one substantial difference. This  difference consists in the fact that all hitherto existing class states have been dictatorships of an exploiting minority over  the exploited majority, whereas the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the exploited majority over the  exploiting minority.

Briefly, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the rule -- unrestricted by law and based on force -- of the proletariat  over the bourgeoisie, a rule enjoying the sympathy and support of the labouring and exploited masses. (Lenin, The State  and Revolution.)

From this follow two main conclusions:

First conclusion : The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be "complete" democracy, democracy for all, for the  rich as well as for the poor; the dictatorship of the proletariat "must be a state that is democratic in a new way (for*  the proletarians and the non-propertied in general) and dictatorial in a new way (against* the bourgeoisie)." (See Vol.  XXI, p. 393.)[1] The talk of Kautsky and Co. about universal equality, about "pure" democracy, about "perfect"  democracy, and the like, is a bourgeois disguise of the indubitable fact that equality between the

* My italics. -- J. St.  [1] "The State and Revolution," August-September 1917.


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exploited and exploiters is impossible. The theory of "pure" democracy is the theory of the upper stratum of the working  class, which has been broken in and is being fed by the imperialist robbers. It was brought into being for the purpose of  concealing the ulcers of capitalism, of embellishing imperialism and lending it moral strength in the struggle against the  exploited masses. Under capitalism there are no real "liberties" for the exploited, nor can there be, if for no other reason  than that the premises, printing plants, paper supplies, etc., indispensable for the enjoyment of "liberties" are the  privilege of the exploiters. Under capitalism the exploited masses do not, nor can they ever, really participate in governing  the country, if for no other reason than that, even under the most democratic regime, under conditions of capitalism,  governments are not set up by the people but by the Rothschilds and Stinneses, the Rockefellers and Morgans. Dcmocracy  under capitalism is capitalist democracy, the democracy of the exploiting minority, based on the restriction of the rights  of the exploited majority and directed against this majority. Only under the proletarian dictatorship are real liberties for  the exploited and real participation of the proletarians and peasants in governing the country possible. Under the  dictatorship of the proletariat, democracy is proletarian democracy, the democracy of the exploited majority, based on  the restriction of the rights of the exploiting minority and directed against this minority.

Second conclusion : The dictatorship of the proletariat can not arise as the result of the peaceful development of  bourgeois society and of bourgeois democracy; it can arise only as the result of the smashing of the bourgeois state  machine, the bourgeois army, the bourgeois bureaucratic apparatus, the bourgeois police.

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". . . The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes," say Marx and Engels in a  preface to The Communist Manitesto. The task of the proletarian revolution is "no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military  machine from one hand to another, but to smash it and this is the preliminary condition for every real people's revolution on the continent," says  Marx in his letter to Kugelmann in 1871.[15]

Marx's qualifying phrase about the continent gave the opportunists and Mensheviks of all countries a pretext for  clamouring that Marx had thus conceded the possibility of the peaceful evolution of bourgeois democracy into a  proletarian democracy, at least in certain countries outside the European continent (Britain, America). Marx did in fact  concede that possibility, and he had good grounds for conceding it in regard to Britain and America in the seventies of the  last century, when monopoly capitalism and imperialism did not yet exist, and when these countries, owing to the  particular conditions of their development, had as yet no developed militarism and bureaucracy. That was the situation  before the appearance of developed imperialism. But later, after a lapse of 30 or 40 years, when the situation in these  countries had radically changed, when imperialism had developed and had embraced all capitalist countries without  exception, when militarism and bureaucracy had appeared in Britain and Amcrica also, when the particular conditions for  peaceful development in Britain and America had disappeared -- then the qualification in regard to these countries  necessarily could no longer hold good.

"Today," said Lenin, "in 1917, in the epoch of the first great imperialist war, this qualification made by Marx is no longer valid. Both Britain  and America, the biggest and the last representatives -- in the whole world -- of Anglo-Saxon 'liberty' in the sense that they had no militarism  and bureaucracy, have completely sunk into the all-Europcan filthy, bloody morass of bureaucratic-military institutions which subordinate  everything to themselves and trample everything underfoot. Today,

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in Britain and in America, too, 'the preliminary condition for every real people's revolution' is the s m a s h i n g, the d e s t r u c t i o n of the  'ready-made state machinery' (perfected in those countries, between 1914 and 1917, up to the 'European' general imperialist standard)." (See  Vol. XXI, p. 395.)[1]

In other words, the law of violent proletarian revolution, the law of the smashing of the bourgeois state machine as a  preliminary condition for such a revolution, is an inevitable law of the revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries  of the world.

Of course, in the remote future, if the proletariat is victorious in the principal capitalist countries, and if the present  capitalist encirclement is replaced by a socialist encirclement, a "peaceful" path of development is quite possible for  certain capitalist countries, whose capitalists, in view of the "unfavourable" international situation, will consider it  expedient "voluntarily" to make substantial concessions to the proletariat. But this supposition applies only to a remote  and possible future. With regard to the immediate future, there is no ground whatsoever for this supposition.

Therefore, Lenin is right in saying:

"The proletarian revolution is impossible without the forcible destruction of the bourgeois state machine and the substitution for it of a new  one." (See Vol. XXIII, p. 342.)[2]

3) Soviet power as the state form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The victory of the dictatorship of the  proletariat signifies the suppression of the bourgeoisie, the smashing of the bourgeois state machine, and the substitution  of proletarian democracy for bourgeois democracy. That is clear. But by means of what organizations can this colossal  work be carried

[1] Ibid.  [1] "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky."


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out? The old forms of organization of the proletariat, which grew up on the basis of bourgeois parliamentarism, are  inadequate for this work -- of that there can hardly be any doubt. What, then, are the new forms of organization of the  proletariat that are capable of serving as the gravediggers of the bourgeois state machine, that are capable not only of  smashing this machine, not only of substituting proletarian democracy for bourgeois democracy, but also of becoming the  foundation of the proletarian state power?

This new form of organization of the proletariat is the Soviets.

Wherein lies the strength of the Soviets as compared with the old forms of organization?

In that the Soviets are the most all-embracing mass organizations of the proletariat, for they and they alone embrace  all workers without exception.

In that the Soviets are the only mass organizations which unite all the oppressed and exploited, workers and peasants,  soldiers and sailors, and in which the vanguard of the masses, the proletariat, can, for this reason, most easily and most  completely exercise its political leadership of the mass struggle.

In that the Soviets are the most powerful organs of the revolutionary struggle of the masses, of the political actions  of the masses, of the uprising of the masses -- organs capable of breaking the omnipotence of finance capital and its  political appendages.

In that the Soviets are the immediate organizations of the masses themselves, i.e., they are the most democratic  and therefore the most authoritative organizations of the masses, which facilitate to the utmost their participation in the  work of building up the new state and in its administration, and which bring into full play the revolutionary energy,  initiative and

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creative abilities of the masses in the struggle for the destruction of the old order, in the struggle for the new, proletarian  order.

Soviet power is the union and constitution of the local Soviets into one common state organization, into the state  organization of the proletariat as the vanguard of the oppressed and exploited masses and as the ruling class -- their  union in the Republic of Soviets.

The essence of Soviet power consists in the fact that these most all-embracing and most revolutionary mass  organizations of precisely those classes that were oppressed by the capitalists and landlords are now the "permanent  and sole basis of the whole power of the state, of the whole state apparatus"; that "precisely those masses which even  in the most democratic bourgeois republics," while being equal in law, "have in fact been prevented by thousands of tricks  and devices from taking part in political life and from enjoying democratic rights and liberties, are now drawn unfailingly  into constant and, more over, decisive participation in the democratic administration of the state."* (See Lenin, Vol.  XXIV, p. 13.)[1]

That is why Soviet power is a new form of state organization different in principle from the old bourgeois-democratic  and parliamentary form, a new type of state, adapted not to the task of exploiting and oppressing the labouring masses,  but to the task of completely emancipating them from all oppression and exploitation, to the tasks facing the dictatorship  of the proletariat.

* All italics mine. -- J. St.  [1] First Congress of the Communist International, March 2-6, 1919. "2. Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of  the Proletariat."


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Lenin is right in saying that with the appearance of Soviet power "the era of bourgeois-democratic parliamentarism has  drawn to a close and a new chapter in world history -- the era of proletarian dictatorship -- has been opened."

Wherein lie the characteristic features of Soviet power?

In that Soviet power is the most all-embracing and most democratic state organization of all possible state  organizations while classes continue to exist; for, being the arena of the bond and collaboration between the workers and  the exploited peasants in their struggle against the exploiters, and basing itself in its work on this bond and on this  collaboration, Soviet power is thus the power of the majority of the population over the minority, it is the state of the  majority, the expression of its dictatorship.

In that Soviet power is the most internationalist of all state organizations in class society; for, by destroying every kind  of national oppression and resting on the collaboration of the labouring masses of the various nationalities, it facilitates  the uniting of these masses into a single state union.

In that Soviet power, by its very structure, facilitates the task of leading the oppressed and exploited masses by the  vanguard of these masses -- by the proletariat, as the most united and most politically conscious core of the Soviets.

"The experience of all revolutions and of all movements of the oppressed classes, the experience of the world socialist  movement teaches us," says Lenin, "that the proletariat alone is able to unite and lead the scattered and backward strata  of the toiling and exploited population." (See Vol. XXIV, p. I4.)[1] The point is that the structure of Soviet power facili-

[1] Ibid.


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tates the practical application of the lessons drawn from this experience.

In that Soviet power, by combining legislative and executive power in a single state organization and replacing  territorial electoral constituencies by industrial units, factories and mills thereby directly links the workers and the  labouring masses in general with the apparatus of state administration, teaches them how to govern the country.

In that Soviet power alone is capable of releasing the army from its subordination to bourgeois command and of  converting it from the instrument of oppression of the people which it is under the bourgeois order, into an instrument for  the liberation of the people from the yoke of the bourgeoisie, both native and foreign.

In that "the Soviet organization of the state alone is capable of immediately and effectively smashing and finally  destroying the old, i.e., the bourgeois, bureaucratic and judicial apparatus." (Ibid.)

In that the Soviet form of state alone, by drawing the mass organizations of the toilers and exploited into constant and  unrestricted participation in state administration, is capable of preparing the ground for the withering away of the state,  which is one of the basic elements of the future stateless communist society.

The Republic of Soviets is thus the political form, so long sought and finally discovered, within the framework of which  the economic emancipation of the proletariat, the complete victory of socialism, must be accomplished.

The Paris Commune was the embryo of this form; Soviet power is its developrnent and culmination.

That is why Lenin says:  

"The Republic of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies is not only the form of a higher type of democratic institution . . . , but is  the only form capable of ensuring the most painless transition to socialism." (See Vol. XXII, p. 131.)