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In the Light of Marxism

Questioning of an Historical Period

Elif Çağlı

May 1991





II. The Question of State in Marxism

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The Historical Course of State

On the subject of the evolution of human society and the formation of state there had been a commonly shared prevailing understanding of history in contemporary Western thought (from Hobbes to Hegel) before Marx and Engels developed the historical materialism as a scientific theory. According to this understanding of history, which is a reflection of philosophical idealism, pre-state society (natural society) was overwhelmed by passions and instincts and it was an irrational society in which everyone is in war with one another. On the other hand state represented the transformation of this reign of uncontrolled power into a controlled freedom, a transcending of passions and instincts. Thus state had to be regarded as the highest and final stage of the common and collective life of humankind who was assumed to be a rational being.

In the history of Western political thought, all idealist thinkers, from those who described the state in a realistic way as it is (Machiavelli) to those theoreticians of “natural law” (Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant) who suggested ideal state models in order to achieve the ends, agreed on the idea that the only sphere in which humankind can live a rational life was the state. This understanding of the role of state in the life of human societies and its place in history, of course, flowed from the philosophical idealism that regards the pre-state society as a “negative” stage and the state as a “positive” stage reached as a result of the evolution of human mind.

This way of thinking culminated in the German philosopher Hegel. In his Philosophy of Right state is presented not only as a necessity (a consciously conceived necessity) or an ideal model, but as the consciousness of real historical movement. In other words it represents the embodiment of universal mind (rationalisation of state). The Hegelian state embraces the whole sphere of material-economic relations of individual (civil society), and therefore dissolves the civil society into the state (political society). Thus the Hegelian state, in a sense, coincides with the society and turns into a being which is society itself. That means that the state is conceived not as a special organisation (instrument) as a means of political rule, but as the final aim of the social-historical evolution, and consequently it claims to be absolute and eternal. Of course, this idea was in accordance with the philosophical reflection of the bourgeois social development of 18th century. In this context, Hegel’s philosophy of right is essentially a defence of bourgeois society and bourgeois state.

This idealist conception of history culminated in Hegel has been reversed with the development of the theory of historical materialism by Marx. Marx’s effort to work out the theory of historical materialism begins with his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843). Continuing with 1844 Manuscripts and The German Ideology (1845-6) this effort culminates with his colossal preparatory work (Grundrisse) to criticise the political economy of bourgeois society.

The scientific explanation of state-society relationship in Marxism

Marx set out to criticise the idealist connection established by Hegel between civil society (sphere of material-economic relations) and state (sphere of political relations). To him this idea of Hegel was entirely false and displayed the reality upside down. On the contrary it was the civil society itself that conditioned and determined the state, and not the other way round.

Civil society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of the development of productive forces. It embraces the whole commercial and industrial life of a given stage and, insofar, transcends the State and the nation, though, on the other hand again, it must assert itself in its foreign relations as nationality, and inwardly must organise itself as State.[1]

Marx said that the historical pre-condition and the elementary basis of civil society was simple family or combined family which is called clan and that the civil society is “the real bedrock, real stage of history”. And the political formation called state came into being as the direct product of social division of labour, classes and class struggles developing in the heart of civil society. Being secondary and dependent with respect to civil society, state, in the final analysis, is not a determining but a determined phenomenon. As a consequence, state is an organisation that is not the final stage of the process of social evolution or “an absolute and eternal being”, but a transient and doomed one which has come into being as a result of certain historical conditions and will disappear.

This historical materialist conception developed by Marx and Engels was in fact entirely an anti-thesis of the tradition of philosophy of natural law which had culminated in Hegel. Marx and Engels put forward their materialist conception of history for the first time in a systematic way in their German Ideology against the idealist philosophy and the conception of history prevailing in bourgeois political thought. In this work the historical conditions of the birth of social division of labour, property forms, classes and forms of class rule (state-law-ideology) are explained in the framework of materialist conception of history. At that time they could essentially examine the Western line of historical evolution and the formation of economic-social forms on this line of evolution. Their knowledge on property forms and modes of production, at this early stage, was limited to the data on Western line of development. “The schema of societal evolution” presented in German Ideology thus bears a certain limitation.

In German Ideology the formation of class society and state is explained on the basis of the development of division of labour, private property and exchange in the heart of primitive communal society, and thus of the dissolution and disintegration of primitive commune, and of the replacement of commune by a new social formation organised along class lines. This abstraction of Marx and Engels is crucial to understand the historical conditions of the emergence of class society and state in the West. According to this explanation, the presence of private property on land is regarded as the pre-condition for the social division of labour, exchange and the development of the relations of exploitation, and on this basis the dissolution of equalitarian primitive communal society, the transition to class society and state. Of course this idea in German Ideology was correct from the point of view of explaining the Western line of historical evolution and thus the formation of the Western class societies. However it was inadequate as far as the development line of Eastern civilisation is concerned. Because the emergence of state and the establishment of the exploitative class rule in the East had happened under such historical conditions that there was no private property on land, where division of labour and exchange relations are not developed, and where primitive agrarian communes still exist. The state in the East was not based on private property and individual exploitation, but on collective exploitation of Asiatic agrarian communes. This fact implied the existence of an entirely different line of historical evolution from that of Western civilisation. Moreover the transition to civilisation, that is class society and state, in the East had happened nearly 2500 years before in Ancient Sumer and Egypt) than the West. Therefore the Western line of evolution might have been a peculiar route, which have emerged into history on a later stage, rather than a universal-historical model for the development of human society.

Marx has filled this gap subsequent years (1853-59) by working out a wider and detailed study of history so as to include the development line of Eastern civilisation. This detailed study of history by Marx (Grundrisse) to examine the origins of capitalism and criticise the political economy of bourgeois society provided a great contribution to the development of the theory historical materialism. With this work Marx provided –in the framework of the materialist conception of history– a more accurate and perfect explanation of the historical evolution of the Eastern and Western society since the early ages. He explained the conclusion of his efforts in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, embraces within the term “civil society”; that the anatomy of this civil society, however, has to be sought in political economy. … In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society.[2]

From barbarity to civilisation: from classless society to class society and state

Marx and Engels describe the phases that humankind passed through from savagery up until to civilisation as the pre-history of humankind. They explain that the basic social unit that existed throughout the whole of this period is “primitive communist” community which does not know class antagonisms and state. This community which had natural origins at first, based on the unity of blood, language, custom etc., is a not yet a settled community (tribe). And the first form of property we have in these primitive classless societies is the tribal property (collective communal property).

[The first form of ownership is tribal (Stammeigentum) ownership.] It corresponds to the undeveloped stage of production, at which a people lives by hunting and fishing, by the rearing of beasts or, in the highest stage, agriculture.[3]

In this historical stage of social evolution the division of labour could not develop further much and it represents merely a further extension of natural division of labour that existed within family. In this stage a hidden slavery within family slowly develops by the increase of population and needs, and the spread of wars between tribes. By the unification of relative clans, marriages between clans etc. this primitive communal community develops into tribe and a union of tribes. However this organisation does not go beyond the framework of relationships between relatives (chain of descent) and does not spoil the “primitive communist” structure. Neither in clan level nor in tribe level there is no room neither for private property nor antagonistic classes, and state. The owner of the land that has been temporarily settled on is the community itself (collective ownership). The members of the community, individuals (or families), are not entitled to private ownership on land. Individuals can merely be entitled to posses the land. And the prerequisite for the individuals to posses the land is to be a member of the community. The individual can only posses the land through the community. Apart from the existence of the collective property on land, in some communes, even the production itself is carried out collectively. And in some others, families produce independently in a piece of land allotted to them by the community, and the products that remain after the necessary funds are collected (religious rituals, building temples, war preparations, auxiliary reserves etc.) are shared among the individuals of the patriarchal family. But in any case the production is for sustaining the existence of the members of commune and thus that of commune.

The oldest, simplest and purest forms of these primitive communes are “archaic Asiatic” communes seen in ancient Eastern societies. Stating that the very origin of all pre-capitalist socio-economic formations is this primitive Asiatic commune, Marx established the following on the historical evolution of these communes:

When they finally do settle down, the extent to which this original community is modified will depend on various external, climatic, geographic, physical etc. conditions as well as on their particular natural predisposition – their clan character.[4]

Accordingly, in the subsequent stages of social evolution, especially during the process of transition from barbarity to civilisation, this primitive communal community appears in a state that it has moved very far from its original state and undergone structural changes.

Marx distinguishes three different forms of both property and communal organisation in the primitive communal societies that have reached to settled agriculture depending on the relationships of the individuals of commune to the land and to one another. First is the Asiatic form wherein the ownership of land is entirely collective. Secondly, the Ancient form which appears in the ancient ages of the West. It involves both collective ownership and individual private ownership of land. Thirdly, the Germanic form in which individual ownership on land is predominant. But in all these three forms, in order an individual to be able to claim anything about land (either possession or private ownership) he must be a member of the community as a prerequisite.

All these three primitive communal forms represent equalitarian societies which leave no room for class distinctions and exploitation yet. In all of them the purpose of production is to sustain the existence of community. Here, to produce value is not an end in itself. Within community there is no exchange and commercial activity that flows from division of labour. Although a differentiation of wealth begins among the members of community, this does not lead to exploitation yet. Because every individual member of community, or of the family unit, has the objective conditions of his labour and does not make someone else’s labour the objective condition of his own production. However in the subsequent periods of history –in the course of transition to civilisation– these communal societies underwent different processes of evolution and led to different types of class societies and states.

One of the most important discoveries introduced by Marx’s investigations into the science of history was the following: instead of just one form of transition from barbarism to civilisation, or from classless society to class society and state, there are two forms. The first one represents the line of evolution of Eastern civilisation and the second one that of Western. This at the same time shows that there are two different ways of the formation of state instead of just one.

The urban communes of ancient age (Greek and Roman) and German rural communes at the beginning of the middle ages were on the Western line of development and therefore represented Western type of transition. The evolution of both of these communal societies led to the victory of private property and therefore out of both these societies flowed class societies (slave and feudal) and states based on private property. On the other hand, the Asiatic agrarian communes that were on the Eastern evolution line remained thousands of years without change and formed the material foundation of the class societies of Eastern despotic type. The transition to class society in the east, contrary to the west, did not happen on the basis of private property but on the basis of collective state property. Marx and Engels were the first to discover that this historical difference between the evolution lines of the west and the east flowed from the difference in the property forms, the production relations and the mode of communal organisation.

The essential factor that determines the evolution line of the west has been the private ownership on land, the development of the division of labour and exchange, and the spreading of individual exploitation (the use of slave labour). As an example of this development Marx points to the ancient urban communes (ancient Greece and Rome) which are on the Western line of development and which represent the classic form of transition to Western type of class society. We have the purest and most exact form of ancient communal community and ancient mode of production, which is prior to slave society and represents the transition to slave society, and ancient mode production in the Roman history. Here the primitive urban community (city) was not formed by a natural process but as a result of the unification of the agrarian-warrior communities (many tribes) as a city, either by agreement or conquest. Being more alive and organised in a more democratic way in comparison with the Asiatic communes the Ancient city commune was a volunteered company of the free individuals having private property. Contrary to the East, there was no “sacred” being, a higher unity (a supreme authority), above this city community, appropriating the surplus. With the deduction of common expenditures (for religious ceremonies, building temples, defence, war preparations, etc.) necessitated by the common interests of the city, all the remaining surplus were being accumulated in the hands of free producers (who had the private ownership of land). This accumulation of surplus led to a rapid development of division of labour and exchange of products within the commune. The development of exchange stimulated the production for market leading to making use of slave labour on a wide scale by the landowners. Creating, on the one hand, a differentiation in terms of riches and accumulation of wealth among the members of society (free citizens) this process, on the other hand, led to an increase in the number of slaves, who had become the basic element of the production, making them the most crowded class of society. This amounted to the dissolution of old equalitarian communal traditions and a division of society into classes in the form of “rich and poor” and “masters and slaves”.

Having become economically stronger and dominant on the basis of new production relations the big landowners and slave owners started to reorganise society according to their rules. Although they were wealthy and powerful from an economic point of view, they constituted a minority. In order to be able to preserve their economic superiority they needed another organisation apart from their economic organisation. An organisation that would defend the common interests of the big landowners and slave owners and assure the permanence of their economic superiority. Thus special political organisation of the ruling class which is called state came out.

Consequently, in the case of Western development of civilisation this special political organisation called state has come onto the stage of history as an inevitable result of division of society into classes on the basis of relations of exploitation based on private property. In this context the state in ancient Greece and Rome was based on big landowners and slave owners, and was a political organ organised by these classes themselves. The Roman empire was based on slavery and had to be organised in a centralised-bureaucratic manner. Because the source of the wealth of the Roman nobles was expansionism, conquest of land and the massive latifundia agriculture carried out on these lands on the basis of extensive slave labour. And a political rule that is to assure this economic superiority necessitated a centrally organised big military-bureaucratic apparatus.

Another example for the development of class society and state on the basis of private property in the West can be found in the development of the feudal relations at the beginning of the middle ages with the dissolution of German commune. These relations were formed because of the disintegration of the German rural communities as a result of migrations and wars, and, with time, their subordination to a new class of nobles (German military chieftains) losing their land and individual independence. The ownership of land in this system is in the monopoly of the nobles (seigneurs) organised in the form of a hierarchy of estates. And this type of land ownership represents the collectivity of the feudal lords in front of peasants. As to the peasants, they have fallen into a position of dependent producers and serfs who were under a lot of obligations in front of these feudal lords.

The feudal land system of the middle ages had created isolated local communities. The feudal economy was a natural economy with limitations so that it could only meet the needs of the direct producers and that of (in the form of surplus product or surplus labour) the feudal lords who established a rule over these local communities. Owing to its essential rural character feudal society developed rural (feudal) statelets in isolation to one another. Obviously, this feudal state failed to be a highly centralised imperial state as the Roman state and it remained at such a limited level of organisation that could assure the functioning of this local economic-social unit (exploitation of the serf) in the interests of the feudal lords.

Thus in the case of the Western type of development of civilisation we see first the emergence of the private property and exchange (commodity relations) and then, on the basis of these, the division of society into classes, and finally the coming onto the stage of history of the state as the instrument of political rule. Yet in the case of Eastern type of development of civilisation the formation of the ruling class and state developed on a completely different basis. Those states in the ancient ages of the East (for instance, Sumer, ancient Egypt, India, China, Persia, etc.) arose not on the basis of individual private property and relations of individual exploitation (exploitation of slaves) as in the West, but of collective communal property and the relations of collective exploitation. The ruling class of the Eastern society emerges as a result of the fact that those functions, which had been just public functions at the beginning, were turned into standing posts and that those servants turned their authority of function into authority of exploitation.

Oriental despotism: from servants of society to lords of society

Marx finds the economic foundation of Oriental despotism (as a type of state) in the Asiatic mode of production. To Marx this mode of production emerges when there is an increase in production thanks to more developed production methods leading to an accumulation of a regular surplus within the primitive rural communities. There is a certain level of division of labour in these communities. Agriculture and handicrafts have been divided, but at the same time they form a unity. This mutually complementary and supporting nature of agriculture and handicrafts within the same community makes them self-sustaining. Here the economic unit is not the family or the individual in the community but the community itself as a collective entity. Marx points out that these communities “contain all the conditions of reproduction and surplus production within themselves” and states that Asiatic mode of production is based on these structures.

The unity of these little Asiatic agrarian communities vegetating side by side in their isolation is represented either by an assembly formed of family chiefs or by a grand chief (despot), and respectively the social authority acquires either democratic or despotic forms.

For Marx, “… in most of the Asiatic land-forms, the comprehensive unity standing above all these little communities appears as the higher proprietor or as the sole proprietor; the real communities hence only as hereditary possessors.”[5] Thus a higher organisation that represents the unity of these little agrarian communities already emerged spontaneously before state emerged with its full components. This higher unity that appears as the real proprietor (an assembly of chiefs or a despot) first allots the possession of land to the lesser agrarian communities; and these small communities respectively allots this possession to their members (family units). Here the emergence of the higher unity as the real proprietor is also accepted by the lesser communities. Consequently, the transfer of some part of the surplus product produced by the lesser communities to the higher unity which represents the unity, who are the real direct producers, becomes the custom.

In the Lower Mesopotamia, Sumer country, there were no laws, no armed force of repression and no bureaucracy during the first appearance of the state. The state was a “higher unity” that symbolised the cooperation of the lesser communities (local communes). That is, at the beginning, this higher unity was not a state in the proper sense of the word. But it was at the same time the embryo of the Oriental despotic state that was to come.

The lines of Marx that explain the formation of classes and state on the basis of this Asiatic mode of production can be found in both Grundrisse and Capital. The characteristic feature that distinguishes the Oriental development is the formation of classes out of what was a functional division of labour at the beginning on the basis of organisation of big scale public works. Marx points out the fact that how the public offices that flowed from this division of labour subsequently transformed and led to an authority to exploit. This transformation is embodied in organisation in the form of state of a despotic power. In the ancient ages the central public offices necessitated by the big scale irrigation agriculture brought about the formation of an early state and first class societies (first civilisations) in the Middle East (Sumer, Egypt) and in the far East (India, China). And in his Anti-Duhring Engels also deals with how this authority of public office could turn into an authority to exploit and those in service of society become the lords of society. Thus in the heart of the formation of state in the Asiatic case lies the fact that those who had taken upon social functions then acquired an autonomy from society, united and formed a ruling class.[6]

As Marx said the higher unity (the ruling group), which arose on the basis of Asiatic agrarian communes and having a despot at the helm, while carrying out a social function, transforms with time the appropriation of surplus product on the basis of this functional authority into no-return liabilities and creates a particular form of exploitation. In order the ruling group to be able to continue this position of ruling it had to make the no-return liabilities standing ones and for this purpose organise a political, military, judicial and ideological structure (state). Thus the basic factor here to make the Asiatic mode of production standing is the formation of a despotic central state power above the primitive self-sustaining agrarian communes. Pointing out to the formation of despotic state Engels explains:

The form of this political authority depends in its turn on the form of the communities at the time in question. Where, as among the Aryan peoples of Asia and Russians, it develops at a time when the fields are still cultivated by the community on behalf of the whole collective, or when at any rate the fields are only temporarily allocated to individual families, i.e. when there is as yet no private property in land, the political authority appears as despotism.[7]

Hence the Asiatic mode of production cannot be conceived separately from a state power in the form of Oriental despotism. Having emerged out of the conditions of production of primitive agrarian communes the Asiatic mode of production can only acquire a standing character under the existence of a central authority that is absolute and having almost a godlike power. In the absence of such an authority the primitive agrarian communes could not prevent a dissolution and disintegration through the emergence of private ownership and development of division of labour, i.e. through its inner dynamics. The obstacle that prevented this natural process and doomed the agrarian communes to their primitive positions for thousands of years is the system of exploitation that is based on the unpaid surplus product extracted from these communes by the Oriental despotism.

It is on the very basis of this mechanism of exploitation established by the central authority (Asiatic mode of production) that there is no remaining surplus product or surplus labour that could be accumulated and exchanged. Thus while the agrarian communes, having no accumulation of surplus product, lives on without any change in their situation of a self-sustaining natural economy, we have cities just beside them rising through the air as if different planets and inhabiting the central authority (despotic state) and its functionaries (ruling bureaucracy). In these cities where the surplus product extracted from the agrarian communes is accumulated we have a more developed division of labour and more alive foreign trade to satisfy the needs of the state class. The surplus product that is accumulated in the hands of state is introduced to foreign trade in these cities through merchants who are state officials. Here the trade is not an expression of a commodity production that occurs within small village communities with the purpose of selling in the market. Having been appropriated by the state the surplus product is then used for getting some rare items (arms, jewels, luxurious materials, etc.), which means that it is used for the satisfaction of the needs of the despot and his ruling elite.

When we examine carefully the basic features of the state organisation of Oriental despotic type we see how important it is, not just for learning ancient history but also for grasping some characteristics of the modern bureaucratic dictatorships that constitutes the axis of our survey. Therefore we consider it useful to underline some important points.

Under Oriental despotism the only and real proprietor is the state. State functionaries who fulfil public functions enjoy the right to use the state property in so far as their posts exist. But this right does not make him a private property owner. He cannot transmit the status he gained and the revenues that come from this status through inheritance. In short, these rights are limited to his period of office.

In order to continue the central authority the power must be kept undivided, monolithic. That is why in all despotic Oriental states an utmost care is paid to form the ruling class corporation (civil, military and religious bureaucracy) out of picked-up (uprooted) cadres. The ties that connect the picked-up state functionaries to their social class are completely cut. History is full of examples that show what kind of control mechanism was established and how the candidates for office were finely elected, employed by the despotic powers to protect their monolithic structures.

In despotic Oriental states the never-ending dynastic conflicts and the decentralising tendencies such as landlordism coming out of the heart of the system always flow from the inner structure of the state class. The dynastic conflicts that occurred within the great Asiatic empires (such as China, Iran and Ottoman) are perfect examples for this. These conflicts, as Marx said, are the ones that happen within the despotic state structure, developing independently from the rural communities that constitute the foundation of the system. Because the real producers, that is the communities (village communities), are in a completely dependent position and because of the stagnation of their inner structures they are simply outside the political conflicts. The conflicts taking place within the political sphere (state) is as far as the sky for them.

As a final point we must add that the Oriental despotism and the Asiatic mode of production which are based on collective state property proved to have constituted the most resistant and enduring structures against change. In Oriental civilisations developing on this basis the existing production relations and property forms could continue to exist for thousands of years without undergoing a change. No formation with the Asiatic mode of production ever has been able to evolve towards another mode of production by its own inner dynamics. The fundamental factor that made this mode of production evolve has been the external dynamics, especially the dissolving effect of capitalism. These systems suffered a painful process of dissolution when they came into touch with capitalist production relations. For instance, the despotic empires of China and Ottoman in the 19th century have been dissolved when they came into contact with the Western imperialists.

* * *

The different pre-capitalist production relations and property forms that constitute the basis of Oriental line of civilisation and Western line of civilisation have led to different social and political organisations and these differences existed until 20th century. However, despite all differences, history of both lines of civilisations have been essentially a history of class societies.

And finally modern history is the history of wage labour and capital on a universal scale. And modern state is the instrument of the exploitation of wage labour by capital. With the becoming of capitalism, which developed in Europe, a world system the different histories of these societies coming out of different historical roots have become united into a common history. Capitalist mode of production while turning the majority of the population into proletarians both in the west and in the east and forcing the overwhelming majority of mankind to live under conditions of wage slavery paves the way for a social revolution that at the same time will eradicate these conditions.

The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production –antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence– but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.[8]

The proletariat, being the only class capable of carrying out this revolution, putting an end to the division of society into classes, will put the means of production under the ownership of its semi-state, when it seizes the political power. But doing this it abolishes whole class structures, differences and antagonisms including itself as well. Thus the death knell of the state rings, which had once came onto the stage of history on the basis of division of society into classes.

As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society –the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society– this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then withers away of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The state is not “abolished”. It withers away.[9]

Beneath the division of society into classes lied the inevitable struggle for individual existence due to the insufficiency of production. Hence the abolishment of social classes can only be possible on the basis of creating an abundance that would put an end to this struggle. Even in 1878 Engels was pointing out that modern capitalism had prepared the conditions that mankind could create such an abundance:

The expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an unbroken, constantly accelerated development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself. Nor is this all. The socialised appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties – this possibility is now for the first time here, but it is here.[10]

The level of development that the modern productive forces have reached under capitalism since the above lines were written reveals the fundamental question. Unless the international proletariat puts an end to the world capitalist system mankind will continue to be suffocated in an ever deepening and spreading decay. Under the domination of capitalism the aggravating contradiction between technology, nature and humanity leads not to a further development of productive forces that will satisfy the needs of mankind on a greater level but on the contrary to destruction of them. The only condition that could save mankind from this situation and eradicate the whole social evils is the power of proletariat on a world scale. If this happens, the waste and destruction that is caused by the capitalist mode of production can be put an end to; all class privileges and state thereof would disappear and an abundance in which the productive forces can be used for the benefit of an harmonious development of mankind with nature can be created together.

Hence if there is an understandable objective basis for the emergence of the exploitation and oppression of human beings over human beings and thereof state, similarly there is an understandable and possible objective basis for a social level of development that makes this exploitation, oppression and state unnecessary. A society in which producers organise the production on the basis of a free and equalitarian unity, i.e. a classless society, will be based on such a level of abundance of productive forces that will remove the basis of struggle for individual existence. And the advancement that will make mankind move towards this level is the social revolution of proletariat on an international level. Engels expressed this as follows:

The state, then, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state and state power. At a certain stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this split. We are now rapidly approaching a stage in the development of production at which the existence of these classes has not only ceased to be a necessity but becomes a positive hindrance to production. They will fall just as inevitably as they arose at an earlier stage. Along with them the state will inevitably fall. Society, which will reorganise production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will put the whole state machinery where it will then belong: into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning-wheel and the bronze axe.[11]

Workers’ State: A State Withering Away From the Very Beginning

In order to understand the question of state from the standpoint of the aims of proletarian revolution, we must first of all keep the following general framework in mind: revolutionary Marxism explains the final aim of the proletariat as reaching a classless, stateless society of free producers. To reach this aim proletariat needs a state during the transition period from capitalism to communism, but a new type of state that starts withering away from the very beginning. These features do not define one of the possible forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but defines its essence, its primary conditions of existence. We must now deal with the fundamental aspects of the general framework drawn by the founders of Marxism and Lenin.

In today’s world where bureaucratic dictatorships who presented themselves as “real socialism” has been falling one by one, the need to defend the revolutionary positions of Marxism against ideological attacks of the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie has been increased hundred times compared with the past. A more dangerous thing than the attacks that the bourgeois ideology is delivered at Marxism is the refined, sly ideological campaigns using a Marxist cover of “criticism of bureaucratism”. Typical for this is the denial of the need for a revolutionary authority under guise of denying bureaucratic authority. Under today’s circumstances in which the need for revolutionary authority, which constitutes a necessary element of workers’ revolution, is sought to be blurred, it would be timely to remind the words of Engels on this matter:

... Hence it is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good. Authority and autonomy are relative things whose spheres vary with the various phases of the development of society. If the autonomists confined themselves to saying that the social organisation of the future would restrict authority solely to the limits within which the conditions of production render it inevitable, we could understand each other; but they are blind to all facts that make the thing necessary and they passionately fight the world.

Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon – authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?[12]

Engels writes about the nonsense of “free people’s state”, which is an extension of petty bourgeois socialism, to criticise the draft Gotha Programme of German social democrats (in 1875) in his letter to Bebel. That the communists, in their programme, talk about the goals like “free people’s state” instead of talking about the withering away of state gives rise to a rightful reaction of anarchists and confuses the aims by putting together the incompatible concepts like freedom and state. Engels says:

...The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word. The “people’s state” has been thrown in our faces by the Anarchists to the point of disgust, although already Marx’s book against Proudhon and later the Communist Manifesto directly declare that with the introduction of the socialist order of society the state will dissolve of itself and disappear. As, therefore, the state is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, to hold down one’s adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a free people’s state: so long as the 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. We would therefore propose to replace state everywhere by Gemeinwesen, a good old German word which can very well convey the meaning of the French word “commune”.[13]

As can be understood from these explanations it is not proper to use concepts like “socialist state” or “socialist democracy” to describe the workers’ state (if we are to examine the meanings of the words meticulously). For in fact the expressions “state and democracy” and “socialism” mean two different historical periods. Yet these terms have sometimes been used for the purpose of describing the position of the ruling proletariat aiming to reach socialism. But if we are to use the exact proper words the correct term for the period of the proletarian dictatorship should be “workers’ commune (soviet)” or “workers’ democracy”.

It would be useful to examine some points of the related analyses of Marx and Engels together with the analyses of Lenin. He draws important conclusions from the standpoint of the relation between the proletarian revolution and state, pointing to two documents[14] in which the draft Gotha Programme is criticised. He describes the main differences that distinguish the revolutionary Marxists from anarchists and opportunists on the basis of the first letter:

From the anarchists we are distinguished (a) by the use of the state now, and (b) during the revolution of the proletariat (“the dictatorship of the proletariat”), points of the utmost importance for practice, immediately. (It is these that Bucharin has forgotten!)

From the opportunists by more profound, “more eternal” truths about (aa) the “temporary” character of the state, about (bb) the harm of “talk” about it now, about (cc) the not entirely state character of the dictatorship of the proletariat, (dd) about the contradiction between state and freedom, (ee) about the more correct idea (concept, programme term) “Gemeinwesen” instead of state, (ff) about the “smashing” (zerbrechen) of the bureaucratic-military machine.[15]

Lenin notices a difference when he compares Engels’ letter and Marx’s marginal notes in relation to the Gotha programme. While Engels proposes the word commune instead of state, which means he avoids using the word state, Marx can talk of “the future state of communist society”. Lenin says that when this explanation, which seems to be a contradiction at first sight, is examined it would be understood that there in fact is no contradiction between Marx and Engels and Marx has used the word state in a conditional manner just to grasp some hints of what is to come in the future. In his attempt Marx remarked two points:

a) that the state could be nothing but the revolutionary power of the proletariat over the transition period,

b) and the form which the state would take in the future communist society. Here the word “state” is not used to mean that state would remain but in a tentative manner to refer to what its future would be.

Lenin considered the development of state and democracy from the standpoint of mainly three historical periods (capitalist society / transition period / communist society). To him, when transition period ends and communist society begins its life, a period of freedom will be opened, in which state, and thus democracy, would have been withered away. In this context Lenin notes the mistake of using the concepts of “freedom” and “democracy” interchangeably:

Usually the concepts “freedom” and “democracy” are considered identical and one is often used instead of the other. Very often, vulgar Marxists (headed by Kautsky, Plekhanov and Co.) reason precisely in that way. In fact democracy precludes freedom. The dialectic (course) of development is as follows: from absolutism to bourgeois democracy; from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy; from proletarian democracy to none at all.[16]

Here Lenin uses the expression “none at all” to mean the historical period in which state is withered away and a stateless society, i.e. the real freedom, will be enjoyed. The most important point that should be kept in mind alongside with these explanations, is the enormous damage created by official Marxism (Stalinism) on the question of state. By revising Marxism, and creating an official ideology which forms a basis for the petty-bourgeois conception of socialism, Stalinism mixed up the different historical periods beginning with the proletarian revolution. It identified the period of socialism, which is the lower phase of communism meaning the classless-stateless society, with the period of proletarian dictatorship, and turned the question into a complete puzzle. Because of this, socialism began to be understood as a period in which classes and state would still remain to exist, and this understanding has rooted deeply into the Turkish socialist movement in such a way that is very hard to eliminate. Those who accept the “theoretical” arguments of Stalinism as identical to Marxism, have approached Lenin, not in a way to understand him, but on the contrary to make compatible his ideas with the Stalinist distortions. For this reason, it is impossible to understand Lenin’s analyses unless breaking with the official ideology of Stalinism absolutely.

In Lenin, distinction between the transition period from capitalism to communism (the period of revolutionary transformations) and the period of classless society is clearly drawn. According to this, the transition period is a period with classes and “with state”, based on the dictatorship the proletariat. But the state organised by the proletariat is a “semi-state” compared to the past, a state that starts withering away from the very beginning. As to the communist society, it is a classless and stateless society in terms of both its lower phase and higher phase. And now let us deal with certain conclusions Lenin drew from the Critique of Gotha Programme to see these distinctions in a more detailed manner and clarify certain issues.

Lenin makes the following three-part distinction to distinguish the transition period and the lower and higher phases of communist society:

I- prolonged birth-pangs

II- the first phase of communist society

III- a higher phase of communist society[17]

And he goes on to explain the distinction between the lower and higher phase of communist society with his own words on basis of the lines from the Critique of Gotha Programme:

The lower (“first”) – the distribution of articles of consumption “proportionately” to the amount of labour supplied by each to society. Inequality of distribution is still strong. “The narrow bourgeois horizon of right” has not yet been crossed in its entirely. This NB!!. With (semi-bourgeois) rights the (semi-bourgeois) state obviously does not fully disappear either. This is Nota Bene!!

The “higher” – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. When is this possible? When (1) the antithesis between intellectual and manual labour disappears; (2) labour becomes a prime necessity of life (NB: the habit of working becomes a norm, without coercion!!); (3) the productive forces develop highly, and so on. It is obvious that the complete withering away of the state is possible only at this highest degree. This is NB.[18]

Previously Lenin, with a view to make clear the qualitative difference from the bourgeois state, had described the workers’ state as a semi-state, which starts withering away from the very beginning. This definition refers to the period of proletarian dictatorship. In the last quote above, however, he makes some points to distinguish the features of the lower and higher phases of communist society. He resorts to the terms “semi-bourgeois rights” and “semi-bourgeois state” to emphasize that the narrow bourgeois horizon of right is not yet crossed in the lower phase. Meanwhile we must remember here that these descriptions must not be confused with the period of proletarian dictatorship.

Here Lenin, just like Marx, seeks for some hints about the future of the state. He tries to find how can giving an “equal share according to equal quantity of labour” to the individuals who are unequal in real life in the first phase of communism be expressed in terms of rights. He states, as Marx points out, that this situation means “the narrow bourgeois horizons of right” is not crossed yet. In order to be able to speak of real equality and to surpass the narrow horizon of bourgeois right, he stresses the necessity of giving unequal shares to the individuals who are unequal in real life, that is of attaining a level of abundance characterised by “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.” Thus what he tries to express by the terms “semi-bourgeois right”, “semi-bourgeois state” is about the relative “unequality” of the lower phase which does not yet represent such an abundance. In other words, Lenin describes this situation by emphasising the fact that the relics of bourgeois right are not completely extinguished yet. Hence this cannot be interpreted at all as meaning that state will still be present in the lower phase of communism, i.e. socialism, and that it can only start to wither away afterwards.

But the fact that Lenin added the term “semi-bourgeois state” besides the term “semi-bourgeois right” did not serve to clarify the matter, on the contrary created confusion. For Marx had nothing in his mind but that the bourgeois principle of “exchange of equivalents” still holds when he used the concept of right. And we must also remember that Marx’s motive in emphasising this is the need to criticise the petty-bourgeois socialists of the time, for instance the Lassallean understanding of “equality”. Because the petty-bourgeois goal of final equality is formed under the domination of bourgeois ideology and does not go beyond the limits of capitalism. What Marx did was to state the difference of the scientific communist understanding of equality from that of petty-bourgeois which ignores the real unequalities. It would be an entirely mistaken approach to attempt to reduce this rather philosophical explanation of Marx to a formal system of law or state. Because Marx and Engels explained very clearly how to treat the problem of “state” in the first phase of communism.

Over the period of proletarian dictatorship (the transition period) the proletariat must advance towards the aim of removing all classes including itself. If the proletariat successfully fulfils this historical mission, then a new phase will be reached, in which classes and class struggle cease to exist. In this phase the proletarian dictatorship (state) will lose its essential (political) character, become useless and wither away. As Marx and Engels said:

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character.…

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.[19]

This moment represents the end of transition from state to statelessness and the beginning of a new period (communism). And this is the historical phase what Marx called “the lower phase of communism” and what Engels and Lenin called socialism. A society in which there are no classes, commodity production is removed, state has completely withered away, associations of free producers decide and implement directly in all spheres of production and social life. This is how Marx described the lower phase of communism (socialism) in his Critique of Gotha Programme. Socialism is therefore the beginning of a qualitatively different historical period from the period of proletarian dictatorship.

As for the qualitative change the democracy undergoes with the qualitative change undergone by the state in transition period Lenin says the following:

Democracy for the vast majority of the people, and suppression by force, i.e., exclusion from democracy, of the exploiters and oppressors of the people – this is the modification of democracy undergoes during the transition from capitalism to Communism.[20]

From a historical point of view the period of proletarian dictatorship is bound to abolish the classes. And of course this must be considered not on a national scale but on an international scale. A relative success attained by the proletarian revolution within national boundaries and establishment of a proletarian power do not yet mean that the resistance of capitalists is decisively crushed. Because their resistance is not limited to national boundaries. As the capitalist system is an international system the capitalist class is an international class as well as proletariat.

So, unless the capitalist rule is overthrown throughout the world, the victory of proletariat who conquered the power on a national scale can not be considered as a final victory yet. Under these conditions the question of maintaining the proletarian power goes beyond the national boundaries and depends on the advance of the world revolution. That is why the transition period can only be completed on the world arena, and the corresponding need for a proletarian dictatorship remains unless capitalism is overthrown on a world scale. Therefore the proletarianisation of the whole society and abolition of all classes including the proletariat itself is a question of a whole historical period (transition period) on a world scale.

In the period of proletarian dictatorship it would not be correct to speak of “freedom” as long as there are elements that must be suppressed and the resistance of whom must be crushed, though democracy will be a reality for the vast majority of the society. When the proletarian dictatorship completes its historical mission and a classless society begins to be lived throughout the world, then the state will have been completely withered away as there will be no social classes the resistance of which must be crushed. It is only then to speak of freedom will be possible. Or if we are to express this in relation to democracy, there will be a free society in which a real, complete democracy without any exceptions is enjoyed and therefore democracy, having exhausted its historical function as a way of administration, is withered away.

Distorting the fact that what Marx meant by transition period (period of proletarian dictatorship) was the birth process of classless society, Stalinism has theorised this birth process as the lower phase of classless society, i.e. socialism. From the standpoint of social systems, the birth of a new system is a long and painful process. And when we consider the case of transition from class society to classless society, it is obvious that it involves an enormous historical change compared to the previous epochs. While such is the situation, Stalinism reduced this colossal historical question, in a light minded way, into a kind of simple act which is to be completed by the establishment of proletarian power in a single country and which means that socialism begins its life immediately after the political revolution.

While the birth even hasn’t taken place yet from the standpoint of socialism, the judgement of experiences from the standpoint of practising socialism is a bitter fruit of the distortion created by Stalinism. This distortion is on the level of a social nightmare with its long term results that put their stamp on a long historical conjuncture and are destructive, whose effects to be felt for a long time. The Stalinist bureaucratic rule has found its ideological ground in the Lassallean petit-bourgeois concept of socialism which was criticised mercilessly by Marx and Engels at the time. Because the period that has begun with the overthrow of the bourgeoisie within national boundaries and with the nationalisation of the means of production was presented as the period of socialism, the transition period described by the founders of Marxism and Lenin as a “long and painful birth process on a universal scale” has been reduced to the level of “transition in a single country.” Yet, this is the very heart of the matter. Having exposed the impossibility of socialism in a single country, revolutionary Marxism thus explained that the transition period from capitalism to communism cannot be conceived in a national narrowness. In other words, to imagine that the transition period can be completed on a national scale by establishing proletarian dictatorships in individual countries which are isolated from each other, is the same thing as arguing the possibility of building socialism in a single country.

The founders of revolutionary Marxism emphasised at every opportunity how difficult, prolonged and deep-rooted would be the fight of mankind to create a classless society without exploitation. Distinguishing itself from the petty-bourgeois utopian mentality which, in a light-minded way, takes colossal historical problems easy, Marxism placed its predictions for future on firm scientific foundations. Marxism felt it necessary to explain that even after the overthrow of world capitalist system mankind could not immediately enjoy the longed-for classless society in its developed form.

For this –and only this– reason Marx tried to express his predictions about the future communist society in terms of lower and higher phases. He distinguished the lower phase, which still has the traces of a long birth pangs and could only be a communist society as it comes out of capitalist society, and the higher phase which thanks to a lower phase would now develop on its own foundations.

But the communist society is essentially such a socio-economic formation that has the capability and potentials of proceeding from its lower phase to higher phase through evolutionary means. When explaining the fundamental features of communist society Marx took both its lower and higher phases as a whole and characterised this historical period (communism) as classless, stateless and involving no commodity relationships. And when describing the difference between the lower phase of communism (socialism) and higher phase he did this taking not them as two qualitatively distinct moments but as two different levels of ripeness of the same quality.

The Experience of Paris Commune

The struggle of the world proletariat for power proceeds on the basis of experiences that show what to do and what not to do, making it possible to draw lessons. The experience of Paris Commune, despite all its limited character, provided essential hints to the founders of Marxism on what kind of instrument to be put in place of the old state apparatus demolished by the proletariat.

Marx in his Civil War in France explains the true secret of the experience of Paris Commune:

Its true secret was this. It was essentially a working-class government, the produce of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.[21]

And in his introduction to the 1891 edition of this work Engels remarks a very important feature that a commune type power must bear, not only in relation to the past but also to the future. When the working class comes to power it should not be content only with the smashing of old state machine, but it should also take the necessary measures that would not allow new lords to emerge.

From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognise that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment. ...

Against this transformation of the state and the organs of the state from servants of society into masters of society –an inevitable transformation in all previous states– the Commune made use of two infallible means. In the first place, it filled all posts –administrative, judicial and educational– by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by the same electors. And, in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers. ... In this way an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism was set up, even apart from the binding mandates to delegates to representative bodies which were added besides.[22]

What was the Paris Commune which from a historical point of view constituted the first experience of workers’ state? What was its superior side making it different from the bourgeois democratic parliamentarism? Let us read from Marx:

The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time.[23]

In the light of Marx’s explanations based on the experience of Paris Commune we can establish the necessary measures that must be taken by a workers’ power in order to smash the old bureaucratic-military state machine and build a new type of state without bureaucracy and a standing army as follows:

  • abolition of standing army and replacement by armed people
  • immediate stopping of the political character of the police and making it a responsible recallable body of commune
  • every kind of public office must be paid equally as the workers’ wages
  • abolition of high state posts together with their rights of use and grants
  • putting an end to the public office being a private privilege of those protected by the central government
  • passing not only the municipal administration, but also the whole enterprises to the hands of commune
  • putting an end to the privileged position of clergy which is the spiritual instrument of oppression of the bourgeois state. Complete separation of religion from state, and leaving it to live on its own community revenues.
  • All the institutions of education to be free and for all, releasing them from all kind of religious and state intervention. Releasing science from chains put by the state power.
  • Smashing of old judicial machine. Making high judicial posts and judges, as well as others, elected, responsible and recallable.
  • Replacement of old central government by a self-government of producers even in the smallest areas of settlement.
  • Giving a political form even to the smallest rural areas of settlement, and the replacement of standing army with a people’s militia with a very short terms of service in rural areas.
  • the rural communes of every province should administer their common affairs through an assembly of deputies in the administrative centre of the province.
  • Provincial assemblies to send MPs to the national council of deputies in the centre.
  • All delegates to be recallable, remain loyal to the commands of the electorate, wages not exceeding average workers’ wages.
  • The important responsibilities that will still have to be left to the central government after the transfer of many responsibilities to the communes should be carried out by communal officials who are strictly responsible.
  • Commune type organisation can never be conceived as a federation of small states. On the contrary, it must set as its goal a political centralisation on the basis of a broadest unity of nations.
  • Commune is not a municipal regime, although it involves a municipal freedom. That is, the nature of commune type power is not a localism or autonomism as against political centralism. It aims to establish a central political unity based on the self organisation of producers involving the broadest initiatives in the workplaces and living-places.
  • Universal suffrage must certainly be used in a way that makes it essentially different from bourgeois parliamentarism. This political mechanism will serve for the proletariat and other labourers organised in the form of communes to freely determine the deputies they like, unlike in the case of bourgeois parliamentarism where this or that party is elected for power. That is, whoever is elected the power will remain in the communes. The hundred times more democratic character of workers’ democracy from bourgeois democracy (the broadest democratic rights and freedoms, the right to freely organise, work and join the elections for every party on condition that they obey the constitution of workers’ state, etc.) will serve to strengthen the power of communes. As Marx said:

... Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for the workmen and managers in his business.[24]

And this emphasis of Marx on “universal suffrage” when he said “... on the other hand, nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Commune than to supersede universal suffrage by hierarchic investiture,”[25] pointed out to the inseparable condition of the workers’ state. That is, instead of the mechanism of “bureaucratic appointment” which is set by the Stalinist mentality, the labouring people, all producers, men and women, organised in communes should have the right of universal suffrage.

What is the way of doing away with parliamentarism? Remembering the lessons Marx had drawn from the Paris Commune Lenin said the Commune “is based on not overthrowing representative institutions and principle of election but on transforming these representative institutions which are mills of talk as such into «dynamic institutions»” and went on to say:

The venal and rotten parliamentarism of bourgeois society is replaced in the Commune by institutions in which freedom of opinion and discussion does not degenerate into deception, for the parliamentarians must themselves work, must themselves execute their own laws, must themselves verify their results in actual life, must themselves be directly responsible to their electorate. Representative institutions remain, but parliamentarism as a special system, as a division of labour between the legislative and the executive functions, as a privileged position for the deputies, no longer exists. Without representative institutions we cannot imagine democracy, not even proletarian democracy; but we can and must think of democracy without parliamentarism, if criticism of bourgeois society is not mere empty words for us, if the desire to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie is serious and sincere desire, and not a mere “election cry” for catching workingmen’s votes …[26]

Lenin was once again emphasising that the commune type state was doomed to wither away on the basis of the experience of Paris Commune:

... The Commune ceased to be a state in so far as it had to repress, not the majority of the population but a minority (the exploiters); it had broken the bourgeois state machine; in the place of a special repressive force, the whole population itself came onto the scene. All this is a departure from the state in its proper sense. And had the Commune asserted itself as a lasting power, remnants of the state would of themselves have “withered away” within it; it would not have been necessary to “abolish” its institutions; they would have ceased to function in proportion as less and less was left for them to do.[27]

The experience of Commune shows that the democratic centralism and the widest local self-government do not exclude each other, that the political centralism of the commune is rested on and made possible by the widest local autonomy. As Lenin remarked: “... centralism does not, with Engels, in the least exclude such wide local self-government which combines a voluntary defence of the unity of the state by the «communes» and districts with the complete abolition of all bureaucracy and all «commanding» from above.”[28]

And he goes on to quote from Engels: “...Complete self-government for the provinces, districts and local areas through officials elected by universal suffrage. The abolition of all local and provincial authorities appointed by the state.”[29] On the other hand, the words of Lenin strikingly shows his radical position against bureaucratism, when he says that there cannot be talk of the victory of revolution unless the toiling masses set out to build the state administration from below to top on the basis of their self-organisations and actual initiatives:

We need not only representation along democratic lines, but the building of the entire state administration from the bottom up by the masses themselves, their effective participation in all of life’s steps, their active role in the administration. Replacement of the old organs of oppression, the police, the bureaucracy, the standing army, by a universal arming of the people, by a really universal militia, is the only way to guarantee the country a maximum of security against the restoration of the monarchy and to enable it to go forward firmly, systematically and resolutely towards socialism, not by “introducing” it from above, but by raising the vast mass of proletarians and semi-proletarians to the art of state administration, to the use of the whole state power. ... Comrade workers ... Learn the methods of democracy by actual practice, right now, on your own, from the bottom up –rouse the masses to effective, immediate, universal participation in government– this and this alone will assure the full triumph of the revolution and its unswerving, purposeful and systematic advance.[30]

It might be considered that the Paris Commune is an early pre-experiment in the process of historical development. For this reason, what the first soviet power established by the October Revolution experienced afterwards essentially make it possible to draw extremely important lessons. The workers’ soviet power came to an end owing to the fact that the bureaucratic deformation and degeneration turned into a bureaucratic counter revolution as a result of the isolation of the revolution in a backward country like Russia. While the formal existence of soviets continued the real power passed to the hands of bureaucratic state institutions which became standing institutions. This situation in the USSR led to a confused consciousness and perspective among the world proletariat as to the nature of a workers’ state (that is, a workers’ democracy).

Substituting its own rule for the workers’ power the Stalinist bureaucracy theorised the distortions, which were the result of unfavourable circumstances, as the ideal situation. Thus the Soviet bureaucracy created a new understanding of proletarian dictatorship, which would constitute the underpinning of its rule, trampling the Marxist principles on workers’ democracy. By identifying the bureaucratic dictatorships with workers’ state the socialist circles of today that are unable to break with the Stalinist tradition serve to undermine the aspirations of the world proletariat for a power of their own.

On the other hand, we observe such efforts to discover the nature of workers’ democracy, lacking a historical perspective, as if there is a need to discover America once again. The most typical example of this is the position of those who seem to defend the idea that the fundamental principles as “the democratic rights, free elections, universal suffrage etc.” are now to be introduced to the theory, as if they have not already been introduced by the leaders of revolutionary Marxism as indispensable conditions for a workers’ democracy. Yet what must be done is to proceed in the light of the experiences of Paris Commune and October revolution and the historical heritage of revolutionary leaders who themselves lived through these experiences –of course without ignoring that there might always appear new points to be completed.

The Worker’s State Defined by Marxism is a State Without Bureaucracy

The bourgeois state which is based on the domination of exploitative minority over exploited majority makes, for this very reason, the existence of an expensive and complicated apparatus in organising the affairs of state mandatory. Bourgeois state involves a privileged horde of bureaucrats, specialised in conducting the public office, whose expertise show a permanence and who feed from the special bourgeois grants. Conducting the affairs of state is up to the standing bureaucratic institutions (state apparatuses) which is organised hierarchically from top to down in a pyramidal manner, defending the interests of bourgeois order. In short the state in capitalist society is composed of bureaucratic apparatuses.

Yet in the worker’s state organisation and conduction of public office must be radically different. The worker’s state, which is the means of domination by majority of toilers over exploitative minority, for this very feature, is a kind of new state historically different than bourgeois state. The most distinctive indicator of this historical difference is the fact that worker’s state is a state without bureaucracy, i.e. self-organisation of working class as direct democracy. This quality is the main characteristic, sine qua non of the worker’s state. The measures enumerated by Marx upon examining the Paris Commune are not only for overthrowing the old bureaucratic-military state apparatus, but also for replacing the overthrown with a mechanism capable of which “prevents returning to the old filthy business.”

Marx considers such measures of Paris Commune type as necessary to prevent a bureaucratic-hierarchic division among the proletariat itself, who has accomplished the revolution, and not to lose its own power surrendering to the “new lords” emanating from its own ranks. A workers’ state must be a state without bureaucracy and standing army, “a state which starts withering away from the very beginning”, that is a commune type “state”, in order to be and keep being a workers’ state.

Will the division of ruling class and ruled class continue over the period of proletarian dictatorship which will radically transform the class society –inherited from the capitalism– towards classless society? Of course no. Because with the proletarian revolution and smashing of the bourgeois state the bourgeoisie stops being the ruling class and the working class rises to that position. The transition period is a period of sharp class struggles that will liquidate capitalism on a world scale. Therefore the absolute need for a workers’ state demonstrates that this division is not removed but undergoes a qualitative change with the proletariat in power.

On the other hand the working class can maintain its ruling position only if it manages to establish a power in accordance with the essence of the measures taken in the Paris Commune. There are conditions, making this possible in practice, which are not dependent on people’s will, but are deeply connected with the fact that proletarian revolution is a world revolution. For instance, it is a necessary condition that the revolution not be isolated in backward countries and advance by inflicting heavy blows on the world capitalist system. Otherwise, it is impossible for the proletariat to rise to the level of a dominant force capable of confronting the world bourgeoisie only by nationalising the means of production on a backward economic and cultural base.

Is the argument that the need for a bureaucracy would still continue to exist even in the worker’s state correct?

Insofar as the division between mental and physical labour continues to exist in social life, it finds its expression within ruling class too. But this neither prevents the owners of property from being a dominant class in societies based on private property, nor changes its position in social structure of being the ruling class. Marx and Engels say the following on this subject:

The division of labour, which we already saw above as one of the chief forces of history up till now, manifests itself also in the ruling class as the division of mental and material labour, so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class ..., while the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive... Within this class this cleavage can even develop into a certain opposition and hostility between the two parts, which, however, in the case of a practical collision, in which the class itself is endangered, automatically comes to nothing, in which there also vanishes the semblance that the ruling ideas were not the ideas of the ruling class and had a power distinct from the power of this class.[31]

On the basis of the division of mental and material labour in the ruling class in capitalist society there is a ruling top layer specialised in running the state. One can distinguish between the bourgeois layer composed of bourgeois ideologues, politicians, writers, top level civil and military officials, specialists, managers etc. who are busy maintaining the existence of the bourgeois state through this or that policy and the other bourgeois layer which is basically involved in the capitalist economy. In short, the state affairs in modern bourgeois society are run on the basis of an expensive and complex bureaucratic organisation specialised in this sphere, and not directly by the whole of the bourgeois class.

Some Marxists argue that the need for a bureaucracy in conducting the affairs of state continues to exist as the worker’s state belongs to modern age, and consequently they put forward the idea of indispensability of bureaucracy.

This argument contradicts the Marxist understanding of workers’ state. What lies behind this false understanding is the false interpretation of the phenomenon of bureaucracy. Making use of elected public servants and the need for specialists are confused with bureaucracy, which is a particular way of organisation. The notion of functionary, specialist etc. who works in organising the public office is not the same thing with the notion of bureaucracy which implies the organisation of conduction of public office based on an hierarchical authority from top to down in a pyramidal manner. With expressions as “abolishing the bureaucracy”, “a state without bureaucracy” Marxism does not mean that the need for functionaries and specialists would cease, but it does mean that the organisation of public services in a bureaucratic manner (that is bureaucracy) would cease.

Hence it is true that the need for functionaries, specialists etc. would continue as long as the division between mental and physical labour exists, but to conclude from this that bureaucracy (organisation in a bureaucratic manner) would exist until abolishing of the division between mental and physical labour, means arguing that the working class will never be able to dominate and to rule, and put the functionaries, specialists under its own rule, and manage to organise itself in a non-bureaucratic manner.

Although a situation that has its roots in the continuing existence of the division between mental and physical labour, and that embodies in the working class in the form of division between mental work and material work, still continues to exist objectively in the period of proletarian dictatorship, the important point here is to be able to create a state of which working class would not lose the domination despite this fact. The key question here is already the question of state. Because, in class societies based on private property, the division of labour among the ruling class, although, might cause some conflicts between the two sections, the ruling section is, in the final analysis, the one that holds the monopoly of the means of production and that maintains the economical domination. Thus, in capitalist society, the fact that bourgeois state is based on a specialised bureaucracy, a bureaucratic apparatus, in conducting the affairs of state, does not alter the bourgeoisie’s position of being the ruling class.

Yet, in the period of proletarian dictatorship which is based on state property, the state must be a semi-state, without bureaucracy not involve any bureaucracy. If this necessary condition cannot be materialised and a state with bureaucracy develops, then in this case property will be in the hands of the state, and the state in the hands of bureaucracy. Thus, because the bureaucracy, holding the right to use the state property in its hands, would take over the management of production, it would be dominant in economic sense as well. In that case the working class will lose its domination, and the bureaucracy will rise to the position of being a dominant class, a ruling class.

As a consequence, to argue that the need for a bureaucracy even in the period proletarian dictatorship would still stand would be to understand nothing from the necessity that a workers’ state must be a different type of state from the bourgeois state. Also the argument that as far as the role of state in modern social life is concerned we must necessarily accept the need for a bureaucracy ends up in the same point with the idea that the perspective of revolutionary Marxism on the question of workers’ state is a mere “sweet dream”. Such an understanding, in the final analysis, ends up with the idea of impossibility of a workers’ state predicted by Marxism and that all revolutions sooner or later will end up in bureaucratic dictatorships.

The proletarian dictatorship, i.e. the transition period, means basically to unite the two categories of ruling and producing class. The achievement of this will amount to a big historical step forward to create the conditions for abolishing the division between mental and physical labour. Because the social division of labour that emerged on the basis of this division in history was the reason for the division of producing class and ruling class. On the other hand, the question of doing away with this division and the putting an end to the division between mental and physical labour are not identical questions, although there is a connection in terms of general historical line of march. Their resolutions belong to different historical eras.

To put in a nutshell, the question of putting an end to the division of producing and ruling class belongs to the period of proletarian dictatorship that is to the period of transition from capitalism to communism. Whereas the complete removal of the functional division between mental and physical labour is a problem of an historical period in which the free producers can completely liberate themselves from the enslaving dependence to the division of labour, i.e. communist society.

Workers’ state is based on a radical change of the organisation of state in bourgeois society and the principle of transferring the public offices to the local soviets and turning them into the cheapest and the most ordinary practices as far as possible. Yet some inevitable functions that needs expertise will continue to exist. But the idea of workers’ power is based on conducting such functions by using functionaries who are very closely responsible against the worker voters, recallable at any time and replaceable, without creating any privileges and any “masters” over working class. If one happens to remind that there would not be sufficient economic and cultural level to put these measures into effect, as in the case of the isolation of proletarian revolution in a backward country, then it amounts to state that the conditions for a worker’s state to survive are not existent yet.

There is no doubt that a certain level of knowledge and specialisation is necessary to conduct some affairs in modern age. Although the principle is to distribute all those state affairs that are possible to be simplified in a way that every ordinary worker can deal with, it is not possible to think that every office can immediately be dealt with every ordinary worker. To attain this will take long years depending on the raising of the economic and cultural level, shortening of working hours etc. Considering from this angle we must remember that the isolation of proletarian revolution in backward countries will objectively create a dangerous situation for the existence of workers’ state. But here we do not reason in a speculative way with a view to find a way to keep alive the workers’ state even under the objective conditions that draws a workers’ state to destruction. By defining what should be the case we want to get a general perspective that will serve as a measurement device that will show what lessons should be drawn from the practical experiences. What we are discussing is that proletariat coming to power in the process of progressing world revolution has to, and is able to, replace the bourgeois state with a state without bureaucracy.

The nub of the question from the standpoint of workers’ state is not whether the need for specialisation has been put an end to, but how to employ the specialists and in whose hands the rule and control in organising public affairs would be. That certain knowledge for certain offices leads to bureaucratic specialisation and privileged positions is a quite suitable consequence with the structure of the bourgeois society. On the contrary, workers’ state is based on such an organisation that enables this knowledge to serve to the dominant proletariat without creating bureaucratic specialisation and privileges. The target Lenin pointed to during process of February 1917 revolution is actually a general target that must be reached by the proletarian revolution:

To destroy officialdom immediately, everywhere and completely – this can not be thought of. That is utopia. But to break up at once the old bureaucratic machine and to start immediately to construction a new one which will enable us gradually to reduce all officialdom to naught –this is no Utopia, it is the experience of the Commune, it is the direct and urgent task of the revolutionary proletariat.

We organise large-scale production, starting from what capitalism has already created; we workers ourselves, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing a strict, an iron discipline, supported by the state power of the armed workers, shall reduce the role of the state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, moderately paid “managers” (of course, with technical knowledge of all sorts, types and degrees). This is our proletarian task, with this we can and must begin when carrying through a proletarian revolution. Such a beginning, on the basis of large-scale production, of itself leads to the gradual “withering away” of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of an order, an order without quotation marks, an order which has nothing to do with wage slavery, an order in which the more and more simplified functions of control and accounting will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit and will finally die out as the special functions of a special stratum of the population.[32]

In short, workers’ state cannot organise itself in a bureaucratic manner as the bourgeois state; otherwise it cannot be a workers’ state. On the other hand the employment of specialists and officials by the ruling proletariat “just like a capitalist employer” does not lead to creation of a privileged bureaucracy or a ruling elite insofar as it is possible to control them. Distinctive characteristic of democratic centralism in workers’ state is that it is opposed to bureaucratic organisation. As Lenin said:

The bourgeoisie adopted from the feudal + absolute monarchy the “bureaucratic-military” state machine and developed it. The opportunists (especially 1914-1917) grew into it (imperialism, as epoch in the advanced countries, in general tremendously strengthened that machine). The task of the proletarian revolution: to “smash”, break that machine and replace it with most complete self-government below, in the localities, and with the direct power of the armed proletariat, its dictatorship, at the top.

How are the communes to be united, linked together? In no way, say the anarchists (a). By the bureaucracy and the military caste, says (and does) the bourgeoisie (b). By an alliance, an organisation of the armed workers (“Soviet of Workers’ Deputies”!), says Marxism (c).[33]

Hence to conclude that workers’ state cannot manage without bureaucracy with the view that centralism is necessary in modern state contradicts with the fundamental perspective of Marxism in relation to workers’ state. But different variations of thought which are based on Stalinist ideology distort Marxism in order to whitewash the bureaucratic dictatorships. Put tacitly, what they mean is: “of course there will and have to be bureaucracy.” And their so-called criticisms of bureaucracy again start from the assumption of necessity of bureaucracy and go on to make up light-minded idealist categories as “good bureaucracy” and “bad bureaucracy” leading eventually to the legitimisation of bureaucracy in general.

On the other hand there are others who seem to accept the necessity of overthrowing the bureaucratic dictatorships by the struggle of working class, but in the end of the day advocate the idea that “despite everything there will still be a bureaucracy” accepting the Soviet Union or others under Stalinism as a valid case. But does not this way of thinking amount to condemn oneself to a vicious circle?

It would be beneficial at this point to remember some important quotes from Lenin’s polemic against some “Marxists” who defend the necessity of bureaucracy in a workers’ state. He was criticising Kautsky who defended that the proletariat could not abandon a bureaucratic organisation after the revolution:[34]

In a socialist society, this “something in the nature of a parliament,” consisting of workers’ deputies, will of course determine the conditions of work, and superintend the management of the “apparatus” – but this apparatus will not be “bureaucratic.” The workers, having conquered political power, will break up the old bureaucratic apparatus, they will shatter it to its very foundations, until not one stone is left upon another; and they will replace it with a new one consisting of these same workers and employees, against whose transformation into bureaucrats measures will at once be undertaken, as pointed out in detail by Marx and Engels: 1) not only electiveness, but also instant recall; 2) payment no higher than that of ordinary workers; 3) immediate transition to a state of things when all fulfil the functions of control and superintendence, so that all become “bureaucrats” for a time, and no one, therefore, can become a “bureaucrat.”[35]

Lenin says that Kautsky does not understand the fundamental difference between the bourgeois parliamentarism and proletarian democracy. Arguing that to demand the abolishment of bureaucracy would be a naïve idea Kautsky asks: “which ministry will be abolished with its officials?” Lenin replies as follows:

… revolution consists in the proletariat destroying the “administrative apparatus” and the whole state machinery, and replacing it by a new one consisting of the armed workers. Kautsky reveals a “superstitious reverence” for “ministries”; but why can they not be replaced, say, by commissions of specialists working under sovereign all-powerful Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies?[36]

On the other hand Lenin points to the difference in the positions of public officials in bureaucratic mechanism of bourgeois state and in a workers’ state without bureaucracy:

From what Kautsky says, one might think that if elective officials remain under Socialism, bureaucrats and bureaucracy will also remain! This is entirely incorrect. Marx took the example of the Commune to show that under Socialism the functionaries cease to be “bureaucrats,” to be “officials” –they change in the degree as election is supplemented by the right of instant recall; when, besides this, their pay is brought down to the level of the pay of the average worker; when, besides this, parliamentary institutions are replaced by “working bodies, executive and legislative at the same time.”[37]

* * *

Marx said Paris Commune was “the finally discovered political form that will enable the emancipation of the wage labour.” Commune type state is the distinctive essence of the workers’ state. Although there are different forms of councils with different labels depending on the national variations a workers’ state is a commune democracy or, to put it in the last form discovered by the 1917 October Revolution, a soviet democracy. It can be distinguished with the absence of oppression and imposition and presence of a real democracy for the non-propertied masses.

The difference between the bourgeois dictatorship and proletarian dictatorship mainly appears in the following essential point: the bourgeois state, that is the dictatorship of bourgeoisie, is democratic only for an exploitative minority in terms of its economic essence, and a dictatorial state, even under its most democratic form, from the standpoint of exploited majority. On the contrary the proletarian state, that is the proletarian dictatorship, is dictatorial for the exploiting minority and must be democratic for the labouring majority, even in the case that it has to resort to open repression against the bourgeois forces due to the hard conditions of class struggle (civil war, etc.).

Therefore to invent a category of workers’ state in which a workers’ democracy “is not supposed to be applied for excusable reasons” would be an unforgivable concession from goal of workers’ state. Such a mentality that argues that proletarian dictatorship can still live despite in a form that its democratic content is emptied due to civil war, serious foreign threat etc. ends up with substituting the phenomenon of bureaucratic dictatorship for the aim of proletarian dictatorship.

A direct democracy –with a working system of representation– of the proletariat organised in the form of soviets is an indispensable condition for the workers’ state. Workers’ democracy is not one of the forms of workers’ state but its essence. At this very point, it would be incorrect to draw conclusions by making analogies with the bourgeois state. In the case of bourgeois dictatorship, which is based on an exploiting minority, the bourgeois democracy is just one of the forms of the dictatorship over the exploited masses; and the bourgeoisie, if need be, can rule via a naked dictatorship which is completely different from the parliamentary democracy. But in the case of proletarian power we have a period of real democracy in terms of its essence (without depending on any form) opened up from the point of view of the working class and non-propertied; now there is no exploiting, oppressive dictatorial force over them. It is the proletarian revolution that creates this qualitative change in the relationship of democracy and dictatorship. If certain historical circumstances have created in practice monstrous distortions with respect to what must be, then this cannot be taken as a problem related to the form of proletarian dictatorship but to the essence of it. Such a situation is obviously not the indication of the fact that, due to certain unfavourable conditions, the proletarian dictatorship can live even without workers’ democracy in a certain historical period, but on the contrary, of the fact that it cannot live unless those conditions that lead to these distortions are done away with.

Proletarian dictatorship represents a dialectical unity of a contraction in the scope of state from the standpoint of the toilers who constitute the overwhelming majority of society (a transitional state from statehood to statelessness, a semi-state) and an enormous expansion in the scope of democracy (almost a complete democracy). When you take out the democracy side of this unity –although this may seem possible in the realm of ideas– what is left cannot described as a handicapped, disabled proletarian dictatorship. In that case we have a social phenomenon of bureaucratic dictatorship nature, which is in fact not proletarian dictatorship.

On the Concept of Proletarian Dictatorship

We must also bring a clarification to the concept of proletarian dictatorship itself as there is a lot of debate on it. The concepts of democracy and dictatorship are not supra-class categories, which came onto the stage of history together with the state phenomenon and assumed different meanings according to political structuring of different class societies. On this basis we want to draw attention to the following aspect of the matter: For the first time in the history of class society the possibility of establishing the rule of the exploited majority over the exploiting minority arises thanks to the working class revolution. Thus the working class revolution, differing from the other revolutions in history, is the reflection of an unprecedented historical and qualitative change in the political conditions of human society. Such a change will inevitably lead to a colossal change regarding the hitherto familiar meanings of the concepts.

Thus the concepts of democracy and dictatorship will be representing a brand-new social order which is different from what these concepts suggest hitherto. For instance, in capitalist societies the concept of democracy expresses in the final analysis the set of political and social rights that can be enjoyed by the ruling class (or a bloc of ruling classes), whereas the concept of dictatorship expresses the domination of a privileged minority over the oppressed majority. Thus there seems to be an antagonistic contradiction in the meanings of these two concepts. In fact this contradiction constitutes the dialectical unity of the power structuring called “state”. And therefore, we can qualify in the final analysis the character of a state which is based on an exploiting class rule, but having a “democratic” form, as a democracy for the rich and dictatorship for the poor. And that is the very point where the hidden secret lies, which has always been distorted and concealed by the bourgeois ideologues, writers etc., who serve to create confusion. There emerged quite a few controversial issues that need to be discussed due to the fact that the form of bourgeois state which enables a somewhat broader realm of political democracy (parliamentarism) is presented by the bourgeois ideology as the antagonism of “dictatorship” and the universal form of democracy and enforced to the labouring masses as such.

One of the most important of these is the attempt of the bourgeoisie, which was once upon a time defending to set up the dictatorship of its own over the old ruling class while it was waging a struggle against feudal absolutism, to accuse the struggle of working class of striving to set up a class dictatorship. Another case is also the attempt of bourgeoisie, who once upon a time dragged the labouring masses after itself through the pledge of “universal democracy” to win their support in the its struggle against absolutism, to present its rule as a supra-class “universal democracy”, which is nothing but a dictatorship over the labouring masses. As Marx said, prevailing ideas in a society are the ideas of ruling class in general and as a result of this what is meant by the concepts “democracy” and “dictatorship” is reflected in the mind of the working class as they come out of the prism of bourgeois ideology. That is why an organised ideological struggle to smash this prism is inevitable in order or put an end to the prevalence of bourgeois ideology. The present reality is that the working class and masses in general accept the meaning of the words “democracy” and “dictatorship” as what the bourgeoisie wants.

One of the fundamental issues that the founders of Marxism seriously dealt with and tried to explain from the standpoint of the working class was the historical distinction between the meaning of the concepts “democracy” and “dictatorship” under the bourgeois rule and under the working class rule. But unfortunately with the influence of bourgeois ideology within the working class movement the correct principles of Marxism have been distorted over the intervening years and one of the most effected from this was the dialectical understanding of the relationship between democracy and dictatorship. In addition to that there was another big confusion for a long period of time, which is the presentation of the Stalinist bureaucratic rule as a “proletarian dictatorship” by itself, which in fact had overthrown the workers’ power, i.e. the workers’ democracy, established by the October revolution. As a result of such factors “proletarian dictatorship” which in fact at the same time amounts to democracy for the exploited majority for it is for the first time in history the dictatorship of their own is introduced into the discussion agenda as if it is nothing but a dictatorship in the negative sense of the word.

Thus the problem was not coming out of what the concept really means. On the contrary the roots of the problem lied on the one hand in the ideological assault of the bourgeoisie against the historical meaning of this concept and on the other hand in the distortion created by the phenomenon of bureaucratic dictatorship in the imagination of the masses. Hence the target of the ideological struggle that was to be waged by Marxism in this context was obvious. But, as in every other issue, the so-called Marxists placed the concept “proletarian dictatorship” into the target and started to fire at it, instead of going down to the roots of the matter. At the end of the day, for this or that reason, the ideological clarity paved by the founders of Marxism has been damaged. And an attitude of timidity developed in the sense that when one talks about “proletarian dictatorship” it would be received by the labouring masses as a very bad thing.

Yes there is this reality independent from our will. But what must be the attitude in front of this? Should we sacrifice the concept to subside the above-mentioned concern or to correct the distortion by going down to the roots of the concern? Obviously the latter is the correct way. Because, according to genuine Marxism, proletarian dictatorship means workers’ democracy. Hence it might be a preference to use the concept of workers’ democracy not because there is an error contained in the concept of proletarian dictatorship or with a view to abandon it, but just to highlight the fact that what is meant by this concept is a workers’ democracy. Therefore it would be beneficial to remember that Marx and Engels explained this relationship with clarity from the very beginning.

Although not expressed directly via the term “proletarian dictatorship”, analyses meaning the necessity of a proletarian dictatorship were always there in the works of Marx and Engels. It was in the Communist Manifesto they stressed this point: “The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.”[38] Also, as another example, they used the expression “the seizure of state power by the proletariat” in the context of “the permanent revolution of the working class” on the basis of the process of German bourgeois revolution.[39] This perspective pointed to the task of the working class to seize the power, not just in one country, but in all capitalist countries in general.

Marx used the term “proletarian dictatorship” for the first time in his articles compiled under the title Class Struggles in France in 1850. In the first article he stated that all revolutions of French bourgeoisie since 1789 changed only the political form, without changing the order based on the slavery of workers. Then in 18 Brumaire he said: “All revolutions perfected this machine instead of smashing it. The parties that contended in turn for domination regarded the possession of this huge state edifice as the principal spoils of the victor.”[40] But finally in June 1848 a blow had been inflicted on the order by the insurrection of the proletariat. Therefore, despite the concept of revolution meant changing the form of the state, that is political revolution, until the June insurrection, afterwards it began to mean the overthrow of the bourgeois society, which means a social revolution. As Marx said: “The Paris proletariat was forced into the June insurrection by the bourgeoisie. … In place of the demands, exuberant in form but still limited and even bourgeois in content, whose concession the proletariat wanted to wring from the February Republic, there appeared the bold slogan of revolutionary struggle: Overthrow of the bourgeoisie! Dictatorship of the Working class!”[41]

Again another important conclusion Marx drew from this process is the necessity of proletarian dictatorship as a necessary transit point in the context of the permanency of the working class revolution, as he stated in the third article. Pointing out that the workers at that time were gathering around “revolutionary socialism”, “communism” (which was called Blanquism by the bourgeoisie) Marx said the following:

This socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally, to the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, to the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations.[42]

As he wrote in his letter to Weydemeyer in 1852 he did not assert himself as discovering the existence of classes and the necessity of class struggles. What was new done by him, according to his own words, was the following:

What I did that was new was to prove: 1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, 2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, 3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.[43]

The origin of the word dictatorship lies in the constitutional institution called “dictatura” which was supposed to protect the ancient Republic of Rome against foreign enemies and domestic sedition. Until the power of the working class which had come onto the stage of history at the middle of the 19th century scared the bourgeoisie, the concept of dictatorship had not been attributed in general a pejorative connotation such as “despotism” or “absolutism”. Of course, in the context of conflicting different class interests, Girondins had accused the Jacobins’ “Dictatorship of Paris Commune” in the process of French Revolution for the Jacobins were resting on the massive movement of labouring masses coming from below. And that there was an evil connotation of the word “dictatorship” meaning the rule of one person gathering the whole authority in his hands, is entirely a different matter of discussion.

So there was not any sound justification for the accusations of bourgeoisie against the working class to be found in the history of this concept, and neither it was discovered by Marx. He had found it readymade in the political environment he was in. But the important point is that the reason why Marx used this term was the fact that the concept of proletarian dictatorship had a political sense embracing the notions of people’s power and democratic assemblies. He did not use the term to mean the dictatorship of a conspirational dictatorship of a minority in a Blanquist manner as some argued.[44]

On the other hand, the fact that Marx did not consider it necessary to use the term “proletarian dictatorship” in the subsequent years and in Civil War in France, in which the experience of Paris Commune is elaborated, showed that he was mainly interested in the essence of the proletarian rule rather than words. Because what he did as to draw conclusions from the experience of Commune was to underline workers’ state, workers’ republic, workers’ democracy. However, both Marx and Engels did not hesitate to characterise Commune as a “proletarian dictatorship” in the debates in the First International against the Proudhonist tendency or other similar tendencies which sought to attribute a pejorative meaning to the term “dictatorship”. After all, as Marx stated in his Critique of Gotha Programme, the state corresponding to the transition period from capitalism to communism can be nothing but “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”, with his widely known words.

Engels kept making remarks on the subject for various reasons after the death of Marx. In his introduction to Civil War in France written to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Paris Commune he gave concrete example of Commune to defend the idea of proletarian dictatorship: “Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”[45] It is obvious that for Marx and Engels the demand of a “proletarian dictatorship” meant seizure of political power by the working class, its raising to the position of ruling class, that is to establish a workers’ democracy.

But those who are willing to misunderstand Marx and Engels talked of different forms of proletarian power one being “democratic” and the other being “dictatorial”. Or the need for a proletarian dictatorship, within the framework of this misconception, or distortion, was merely related to the task of suppressing open counter-revolutionary plots. According to this scheme dictatorial period would come to an end and afterwards a period of democracy would commence. Just as bourgeois wished, this kind of understanding conveyed a suggestion of an indefinitely postponed period of “democracy” to the idea of workers’ power. Due to such misunderstandings and misinterpretations a clear understanding of proletarian dictatorship defended by the founders of Marxism was blurred. And with time confused ideas on the subject have been deepened and become permanent.

Of course it was not a question of misunderstanding on the part of Stalinist bureaucracy and its supporters but it just “suited well” to their interests. For instance Stalinism depicted the proletarian dictatorship as something like antagonistic to democracy and serving only to the need of repression. In fact the nature of petty-bourgeois political culture implanted by Stalinism was already suitable for this. On the other hand the reformist current, especially its Eurocommunist version, ruled out the dictatorship side of the dialectics of proletarian power interpreting this side entirely in a negative sense and decimated its democracy side by reducing it to bourgeois parliamentarianism. As a matter of fact it would be ridiculous to expect a correct attitude from those tendencies which are non-Marxist or even hostile to Marxism, no matter what guise they have, “left” or “right”, on a vital subject like “seizure of political power by the working class”. One had to be real Marxist to grasp the dialectics of “dictatorship-democracy” under workers’ power.

Of course the attacks on the term proletarian dictatorship did not only appear with the Eurocommunism of late. The roots of this go back to the past. For instance, Bernstein, in his notorious book, Evolutionary Socialism, advocates the idea that this term is bad and must be abandoned. On the other hand W. Liebknecht, although not starting from same point as Berstein, approached the term as if there was not an idea like proletarian dictatorship in Marxism and it was just a fabrication of bourgeoisie.

Even in the period when he was not opposed openly to the term proletarian dictatorship Kautsky made remarks reducing the workers’ democracy nearly to level of bourgeois parliamentarianism. But during subsequent years when he betrayed Marxism he also concretised his assault on Marxism in the subject of the dictatorship of the proletariat. He argued that the term had been accidentally used by Marx in passing, and especially the socialists of backward countries clang to the term as they were opposed to democracy. And he endeavoured to correct the well-known position of Marx on the problem of transition in the following way: “Between the democratic state with pure bourgeois government and the democratic state with pure proletarian government a transition period takes place from first to second. And a political transition period corresponds to this period where the government, as a general rule, will be in the form of a coalition government.”[46] Due to this deliberate distortions of Kautsky Lenin said the following about him: “… Kautsky beat the world record in the liberal distortion of Marx. The renegade Bernstein has proved to be a mere pupy compared with the renegade Kautsky.”[47]

Although the Second International had distorted the position of Marx and Engels on proletarian dictatorship the situation in Russia during the beginnings of 1900’s was different. The term and the demand of the dictatorship of the proletariat was conveyed into the RSDLP programme in 1902 by Plekhanov and in the beginning both Bolshevik and Menshevik wings accepted it, although the attitudes were to differ later on depending on the political developments. But even then a clear understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat was lacking due to the assaults and attempts of distortion it suffered since the death of Marx. It was only in the course of developments from the 1917 February revolution to the October revolution when the question came onto the scene Lenin was to write State and Revolution taking this burning question on board with a new approach and try to bring into light the forgotten correct positions of Marx and Engels. He was clearly to defend the aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat when he saw the danger of watering down the perspective of working class revolution and power to reduce it to something which is acceptable to the bourgeoisie as in the case of Kautsky.

Those who recognise only the class struggle are not yet Marxists; they may be found to be still within the boundaries of bourgeois thinking and bourgeois politics. To confine Marxism to the doctrine of the class struggle means curtailing Marxism, distorting it, reducing it to something which is acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.[48]

The main theme that runs through the whole State and Revolution was that the dictatorship of the proletariat can be nothing but workers’ democracy; Lenin was clear on that. Also he expressed in his theses he presented in the first congress of the Communist International the conclusion that followed from the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat had to mean the rule of the exploited majority:

It follows that proletarian dictatorship must inevitably entail not only a change in democratic forms and institutions, generally speaking, but precisely such a change as provides an unparalleled extension of the actual enjoyment of democracy by those oppressed by capitalism –the toiling classes.[49]

But even then it is possible to find some careless lines written in the heat of events followed, which can overshadow his approach. However what we are discussing here is the essence of the matter. There is no doubt that the revolutionary leaders like Lenin and Trotsky grasped the essence of Marxism. Our approach cannot be to chase and take out some careless and ambiguous expressions and put forward them as examples. Here it would be beneficial to remember an important warning about the interpretation of democracy and dictatorship under a genuine workers’ power as antagonistic. Rosa Luxemburg’s remark in the course of October Revolution is relevant, where she points out that the dictatorship of the working class must be the work of the class itself and expresses her concern about some careless statements made by Lenin and Trostky which might turn out to be contradictory to this. Apart from details her lines represent a consistent example of correct Marxist approach on the matter.

Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. But this dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class.[50]

With the overthrow of the workers’ power established by the October Revolution and the advent of the Stalinist dictatorship the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat exiled again to the realm of theoretical debates. But the most bitter thing was that the bureaucratic dictatorship managed to present itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat for long years to the working class of the world and thus led to a bad image of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the thinking of workers. In addition to this distortion another political development took place, which created confusion on the matter. Various left liberal and reformist currents who try to justify themselves under the guise of criticising the Stalinist totalitarian dictatorships sought the evil in the analyses of revolutionary Marxism. And they condemned “the dictatorship of the proletariat” as the main perpetrator. This was one the main themes of Eurocommunism which came to the fore in 60s

If there had been a strong response in the subsequent years on the front of revolutionary Marxism which could counter these attacks, there is no doubt that we would have been in a more favourable situation from the point of view of dealing with the problems of working class power. But unfortunately this is not the case and the traces of distortions are still too strong.

As far as the defence of the dictatorship of the proletariat is concerned we would also like to remember Engels’ warning on the state in order to develop a correct attitude:

In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap heap.[51]

As a matter of fact the point made by Engels is very important. Because state, no matter whether it is a workers’ state, is nothing but a necessary –unfortunately– means (but still an unpleasant means with respect to the final goal!) to achieve the desired goal. For this reason it is necessary to oppose firmly to those approaches that would amount to replacing means with ends or degrading the scientific communism as if it is a sort of world view which worships state and dictatorship even under the dictatorship of the proletariat. One cannot defend revolutionary Marxism by worshipping some fundamental concepts but by grasping the essence of those concepts.




[1] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.76

[2] Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1981, p. 21

[3] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.21

[4] Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin, 1973, p. 472

[5] Marx, Grundrisse, pp. 472-3

[6] A second way of emergence of Asiatic mode of production and Oriental despotism since the ancient ages of the East appears as a result of the subjugation of the settled agrarian communities to foreign invaders. The state of these conquerors became the real proprietor of the whole land. The Mesopotamian states of the late period such as the Assyrian state can be given as examples for this variety.

[7] Engels, The Frankish Period, in Marx and Engels, “Pre-Capitalist Socio-Economic Formations”, Progress, 1979, p.363

[8] Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, p.21-22

[9] Engels, Anti-Dühring, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1975, pp.332-3

[10] Engels, Anti-Dühring, p.335

[11] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, p.330.

[12] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, pp.378-9.

[13] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, pp.34-35.

[14] The two documents are the letter from Engels to Bebel dated March 28, 1875 and the letter from Marx to Bracke dated May 5, 1875, which also includes the critical marginal notes to the draft Gotha Programme.

[15] Lenin, Marxism on the State, Progress Publishers, p.26

[16] Lenin, Marxism on the State, p.25

[17] Lenin, CW, Vol. 25, pp.471-2 (Lenin, Marxism on the State, p.31)

[18] Lenin, CW, Vol. 25, p.472 (Lenin, Marxism on the State, p.32)

[19] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.127

[20] Lenin, State and Revolution, International Publishers, New York, 1990, p.73.

[21] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Progress Publishers, 1977, s.223

[22] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, s.187-8

[23] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, s.220

[24] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, s.221

[25] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, p.221

[26] Lenin, State and Revolution, s.41-42

[27] Lenin, State and Revolution, p.56

[28] Lenin, State and Revolution, p.61

[29] Lenin, State and Revolution, p.61

[30] Lenin, “A Proletarian Militia,” CW, Vol. 24, pp.181-2

[31] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, pp.47-48

[32] Lenin, State and Revolution, pp.42 and 43

[33] Lenin, “A Critique of the Draft Social-Democratic Programme of 1891,” Marxism on the State, pp.18-19

[34] In this and some subsequent passages Lenin uses the term “socialist society” in a careless way. What is meant in fact is the proletarian dictatorship.

[35] Lenin, State and Revolution, pp.91-92

[36] Lenin, State and Revolution, p.96

[37] Lenin, State and Revolution, p.97

[38] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.120

[39] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.179

[40] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, s.477

[41] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.226

[42] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.282

[43] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.528

[44] Hal Draper, who has made a research on the proletarian dictatorship, points to this problem: “Incidentally, the attribution of the term “proletarian dictatorship” to Blanqui is a myth replicated tirelessly through a host of books by those eager Marxologists who try to prove that Marx is a conspirational Blanquist; yet, in reality all the authorities on the life and work of Blanqui stated (sometimes in disillusionment) that the term had not been invented at the time of Blanqui. Moreover, an understanding of political power used by democratic masses is fundamentally alien to the idea of Educative Blanquist Dictatorship.” (Hal Draper, The Debate on Proletarian Dictatorship)

[45] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, s.189

[46] Kautsky, The Labour Revolution, London 1925, pp.53-54

[47] Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and Renegade Kautsky, Foreign Language Press, Peking 1975, p.18

[48] Lenin, State and Revolution, p.30

[49] Lenin, “Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat at the First Congress of the Communist International,” Against Revisionism, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1966, p.475

[50] R. Luxemburg, “Russian Revolution”, in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, Pathfinder, 1999, p.538

[51] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, s.189