Friday, September 27, 2019

Letter: Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. (1946)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard
In our January issue we replied to a letter from W. D. B. (Cardiff). We have received a further letter.
Cardiff, Glamorgan.

Your remarks in the January issue on the "dictatorship of the proletariat" smack somewhat of the bourgeois, legalistic idea of "freedom." Compare Engels' letter to Bebel (Marx-Engels Correspondence, page 337): "As, therefore, the state is only the transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, in order to hold down one's adversaries by force. . . .  So long as the proletariat still uses the State, it does not use it in the interests of freedom, but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom, the State as such ceases to exist." (My italics.)

Even though a majority may declare for Socialism, it by no means follows that Socialism will be established without the use of force, or that freedom for a powerful minority will not have to be drastically curtailed.
Yours faithfully,
W. B. D.

In our correspondents first letter he complained that “the S.P.G.B. does not attempt to deal with Marx’s and Engels’s repeated reference to the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' . . . nor does it attempt to reconcile this conception with its own conception of 'democracy.' ’’

On the first point we showed that this question has often been dealt with in our columns.

On the second point we quoted Engels’s statement that you could see what the "dictatorship of the proletariat" looks like by looking at the Paris Commune, and we stated that the Paris Commune was an instance of majority control based upon democratic elections and that there was no suppression of newspapers or of the propaganda of the minority or  of their right to vote.

Our correspondent in his further letter does not dispute these statements, but makes the assertion that to him our remarks "smack somewhat of the bourgeois legalistic idea of 'freedom,' " and proceeds to quote from a letter written by Engels to show that Engels held that the working class so long as it uses the State would use it to hold down its adversaries.

We are quite unable to see the point of this quotation from Engels since that matter is not disputed by us. Of course, if a minority should seek to use force to overthrow Socialism against the wishes of the majority, the majority through the control of the machinery of government will prevent the minority from so doing.
We repeat, therefore, that we accept Engels’s statement that when he talked of "dictatorship of the proletariat" he meant majority rule based on democratic elections as in the Commune.

The particular passage from Engels’s letter to Bebel should be read in conjunction with what preceded it, and with the passage omitted by our correspondent. Engels was attacking a German organisation’s programme, which contained reference to a "free people’s state," and the passage omitted from the middle of the statement quoted by our correspondent reads: "it is pure nonsense to talk of a 'free people’s state.' "

As we have not talked the nonsense of a "free people’s state" Engels’s criticism does not apply to us.
Editorial Committee

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