Dictatorship of the proletariat

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The dictatorship of the proletariat is a concept in Marxist theory. It refers to the post-revolutionary socialist phase of society, when the working class will rule society, prior to the development of a classless, fully-Communist society. In reality, the term was used to justify appalling crimes carried out by Communist parties against their perceived enemies. It was also a gross and intentional misnomer, as the proletariat had no say in the government of Communist countries. All power was concentrated in the hands of the Communist political elite.

Karl Marx believed in the need for such a dictatorship during the transition to Communism following the assumption of political power by the working class, and they envisaged the original term as meaning a form of absolute sovereignty of the people in a radical democratic state that through universal and equal suffrage would allow the proletariat to attack and eventually abolish bureaucracy and private ownership of the means of production, using force and repressive or dictatorial methods to overcome the inevitable resistance by the bourgeoisie.

Vladimir Lenin, however, saw the concept in terms of a dictatorship exercised not by a democratically chosen majority but by a vanguard minority revolutionary party; he eventually accepted the need for a state bureaucracy, and his more extreme opposition to the bourgeoisie led him to favor their exclusion and disenfranchisement to the benefit of the urban working class.

Joseph Stalin's position fell between those of Marx and Lenin; with the disappearance of the bourgeoisie in the mid-1930s, he recognized the superfluity of Lenin's approach and reintroduced the principle of universal and equal suffrage, declaring that the state could no longer rank as a proletarian dictatorship. He eventually even suggested that transition to socialism was also achievable in a theoretically West European-style classical parliamentary system with separation of powers, and thus without a proletarian dictatorship, believing that the Communist Party would be able to impose its will on parliamentary majorities.

See also