Dictatorship of the Proletariat

   This term is used by Karl Marx to refer to the transitional period between capitalism and communism. A specific definition of the term is lacking, but from various references in The Class Struggles in France (1850), The Civil War in France (1871), Critique of the Gotha Program (1875) and elsewhere a picture can be constructed. During this period classes still exist and the state still exists, but the proletariat has taken control, smashing the existing bourgeois state and replacing it with a workers’ state. This workers’ state is the rule of the immense majority and retains coercive powers to use against the old economically privileged classes which might seek to restore capitalism and the rule of a minority. The dictatorship is temporary, only existing so long as significant vestiges of capitalism and capitalist consciousness remain. The term is misleading insofar as it implies an authoritarian government. For Marx, dictatorship of the proletariat meant a temporary concentration of political power in the hands of a single class, but, given that the class in question is composed of the overwhelming majority of the people, this is not a case of a minority of people wielding dictatorial power over the masses. Furthermore, Marx suggests that the dictatorship of the proletariat will resemble the Paris Commune of 1871, a revolutionary organization with democratic features, and he also explicitly mentions decentralized, local and regional communes as possible structures for it. The 10-point program given in the Communist Manifesto (1848) indicates the kind of measures the dictatorship of the proletariat will implement, and these include: abolition of private ownership of land; the use of all rents for public purposes; the implementation of a heavy, progressive income tax; abolition of the right of inheritance; nationalization of factories and instruments of production; centralization of powers of credit in the hands of a national bank; state control of the means of communication and transport; and free education for all children in state schools. In addition, the dictatorship of the proletariat will be characterized by the requirement that all must work and distribution of income and rewards will be according to how much people work.
   Vladimir Ilich Lenin wrote about the dictatorship of the proletariat in The State and Revolution (1917), and elsewhere discussed the use of violence by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. This developed into the use of violence and repression by the state justified by its aim of maintaining proletarian power. This repressive dimension has come to be identified with the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the exclusion of all its other features.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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