Establishing and Maintaining the Proletarian Dictatorship



In a period when, due to the intense marginalisation of Marxism, a farrago of all sorts of Trotskyism, academic angst and revisionism is being passed off as Marxist-Leninism it is absolutely necessary to ensure that any discussion of the dictatorship of the proletariat proceeds from solid Marxist-Leninist foundations. This explains the structure of our document. We proceed from the classic Marxist texts, give an interpretation of those texts and finally a concrete application of what this theoretical discourse might mean in contemporary terms.



“Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, April-May 1875)

The proletariat and its allies do not simply take over the old bourgeois state apparatus but rather they systematically destroy it in all of its organisational aspects. The proletarian state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, is not simply the old form with a new content but rather an entirely new political structure both in its form and content. The aim is new wine and new bottles.

Unfortunately, on the left there is a a certain fetishism with the events of 1917 which leads to a tendency to concentrate only on the overtly repressive apparatus of the state. The situation in advanced industrial countries will be far more complex. In an advanced capitalist state the old apparatus of power will be extremely difficult to destroy because the tentacles of a modern state extend into almost every aspect of public and civil life. Broadly speaking, we can characterise the advanced capitalist industrial state as consisting of three major interrelated levels which are increasingly becoming more integrated.

The repressive apparatus. The armed forces, the police, the intelligence services and the courts, etc. There is no problem, at least for the orthodox Marxist, with this aspect of the state. Their intention is to subdue the working class, by means ranging from surveillance through imprisonment to murder. The repressive apparatus must be physically smashed by revolutionary armed force.

Agencies with dual aspects. Whilst the repressive apparatus is clearly and blatantly aimed at suppressing the working class, agencies with dual aspects have a more contradictory nature. For example, social workers may marginally alleviate the problems of some of their clients but they also: i. play a “soft cop” policing role, ii. help to perpetuate a culture where people are dependent on the state and increasingly manipulated into a position where they are unable to oppose it and iii. divert the focus of attention away from social inequality and onto the clients as individual failures. Education embodies similar contradictions. On the one hand all Marxists are in favour of education insofar as it contributes to the ability to engage in rational discourse, but on the other we recognise that a significant part of contemporary educational output is ideological and nothing more than propaganda for capitalism.

Ideological apparatus. Education occupies a place here also but, of course, the mass media is the main object of attention. Even as ownership of the mass media becomes increasingly concentrated technological innovation tends to obscure this process by, for example, allowing the consumption of a vast range of television channels. The growing use of interactive technology will ensure that the mass media reaches into every aspect of everyday life .

The modern imperialist state is not going to simply disintegrate as in Tsarist Russia or Batista’s Cuba, but will require a protracted period of political, military and ideological struggle to overthrow it. A major difference between the situation in the imperialist zone and revolutions in the underdeveloped sector of the world economy is that it will be much more difficult to establish any red base areas to operate in relative freedom from military suppression. The military equation of trading space for time may not so easily be available to us. In addition, at least in the first instance, there will be no help from any countries attempting socialist construction. A serious study of radical organisations which have attempted to operate in predominantly urban areas – Ireland, West Germany and the United States – is required.


“…a proletarian dictature would become necessary, and the first condition of that was a proletarian army.” (Karl Marx. Speech at the Seventh Anniversary of the International)

“…during every transition from capitalism to socialism, dictatorship is necessary for two main reasons, or along two main channels. Firstly, capitalism cannot be defeated and eradicated without the ruthless suppression of the resistance of the exploiters, who cannot at once be deprived of their wealth, of their advantages of organization and knowledge, and consequently for a fairly long period will inevitably try to overthrow the hated rule of the poor; secondly, every great revolution, and a socialist revolution in particular, even if there were no external war, is inconceivable without internal war, i.e. civil war, which is even more devastating than external war, and involves thousands and millions of cases of wavering and desertion from one side to another, implies a state of extreme indefiniteness, lack of equilibrium and chaos.” (V.I. Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, March-April 1919)

The dictatorship of the proletariat will be established in conditions of extreme difficulty and hardship arising out of revolutionary civil war and possibly international war as well. Many leftists believe that if a revolution does occur in an advanced capitalist country then the revolutionary government will take over a high level of productive forces and the sophisticated communication and culture which such a level implies. Far from it. In the revolutionary struggle many productive forces will be destroyed.

“For orthodox Marxists it is axiomatic that proletarian socialist revolution necessarily, centrally and unavoidably involves violent insurrection to overthrow the bourgeois state.” This initial application of organised physical force plays a part also in the dictatorship of the proletariat which, in its early stages, will of necessity remain on a war footing to defend itself against both internal and external enemies. The dictatorship of the proletariat must be very firm in its early stages and not tolerate any opposition from reactionary elements. The proletarian state needs to make a clear distinction between potential friends and enemies. For the working class and progressive elements in the middle strata democratic methods of persuasion to win them over to the proletarian dictatorship must be used. For the former capitalists and their committed supporters severe dictatorship should be exercised although they should be given the opportunity to remould themselves. Suggestions by such people as Ernest Mandel that the dictatorship of the proletariat is some kind of multi-party talking shop are a travesty of the issue.

The people’s army must continue to be a popular force consisting of politically advanced workers bearing arms. A professional army distinct from the masses must not be formed because this opens up the possibility of a reactionary coup d’etat at some future date. To prevent such a possibility there must be no separation between the people and the army, with security duties being carried out by sections of the People’s Militia consisting of the politically advanced sections of the masses.

The policy of the proletarian dictatorship must be one of progressively revolutionising the relations of production and all other relations in society. The failure of the attempts at socialist construction which relied mainly on increasing consumer goods, ie., socialism as some kind of better capitalism, are far too obvious to be ignored. Environmental concerns and finite resources add additional layers of redundancy to crude “productive forces” and “superabundance” theories which one sidedly neglect the necessity for ideological and political struggle. The politically advanced sections of the working class will, of necessity, have to engage in intense ideological struggle with the less advanced and backward sections of the masses so as to mobilise them to bring about the socialist transformation of society. As this process develops an increasing proportion of the population will come to actively participate in the exercise of proletarian dictatorship. At the same time this provides an increasingly effective defence against the ingrained reactionaries in society whose attempts to undermine proletarian rule become more desperate and intense as socialist transformation accelerates. The diehard enemies of socialism must be ruthlessly dealt with, as the experience of China and the Cultural Revolution demonstrates, and this is best done by the politically conscious masses themselves dealing with the matter.

The revolutionary proletarian party must not see itself and the state it initially establishes as something permanently demarcated from the masses. If the proletarian state with the revolutionary party at its core remains, in the long term, distinct from the rest of society then it will come to constitute a new ruling class engaging in the oppression and exploitation of the rest of society. By definition the state is an instrument by which one class in society exercises its rule over the rest of society. Thus paradoxically it will be precisely at the moment when the proletarian state becomes coextensive with the whole of society that the state will disappear and a classless, communist society will have been created.


“The dictatorship of the proletariat is a most determined and ruthless war waged by the new class against a more powerful enemy, the bourgeoisie, whose resistance is increased tenfold by its overthrow (even if only in one country), and whose power lies not only in the strength of international capital, in the strength and durability of the international connections of the bourgeoisie, but also in the force of habit, in the strength of small production. …the dictatorship of the proletariat is essential, and victory over the bourgeoisie is impossible without a long, stubborn and desperate war of life and death, a war demanding perseverance, discipline, firmness, indomitableness and unity of will.” (V.I. Lenin. “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, April-May 1920)

Given that the victory of proletarian revolution will occur within only one or several countries at first the fledgling proletarian state will face implacable opposition from the bourgeoisies in other countries. For this reason alone, quite apart from any others, the new proletarian state must practice a thoroughgoing internationalism by giving wholehearted practical support to revolutionary struggles taking place elsewhere.

There may be a tension here in that practical support to other revolutionaries may place at grave risk the state power of the initial revolutionary state by increasing the likelihood of imperialist intervention. The long-term interests of the revolutionary state can only be guaranteed by promoting international revolution, but this does not mean that suicidal, and ultimately counter-productive, adventures of the Trotskyist type need be engaged in: quite the opposite. A study of the conflicts between Lenin and Trotsky during the early Soviet period is very relevant here.

Ted Talbot & Harry Powell.