nature of "dictatorship of the proletariat"

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Croy
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Dec 30 2011 20:57
nature of "dictatorship of the proletariat"

I have read both of these articles

http://libcom.org/library/marx-theoretician-anarchism#footnote15_27z8mn1
http://www.myspace.com/socialiststandard/blog/367304964?Mytoken=CE2602D2-D85D-47D9-A0F7EDC3BA66B60F25089660

and whilst my understanding of Marx in a general sense has been changed a great deal, I still don't quite know what is truly meant by "the dictatorship of the proletariat". I always thought it was the transitional stage where effectively a couple people higher up in the party or revolutionary group became the new ruling class, and supposedly, they would either dismantle the state from within or it would just wither away. The first article seemed to put it in softer terms and instead described a temporary transitional group who just fulfilled the roles of the state, in what I gathered to be a less authoritarian and more administrative way, until the community as a whole did. But this still seemed basically the same as what I firstly thought it was.

Can some one please explain, preferably in simple and clear language.

P.S
Before I read these articles, I was dreading reading Marx and was probably not going to bother for a long while. I already had made the decision that he was simply a state capitalist and was not similar to my politics at all.. But now Im revising this pre judgement heavily. Although I will still do Kropotkin, Bakunin, Rocker etc first.

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Dec 30 2011 21:43

Ask ten different marxists and you'll get ten different answers. I'll try to give a summary that most 'classical' marxists would be fairly comfortable with (not that I'm an expert). In marxist thought the political form of organisation of a society is an outgrowth of the productive organisation of that society (in capitalism, the nation-state). The political apparatus is the tool of the dominant class to keep things functioning more or less the way they want. So in capitalism the state is run for the capitalists. After a revolution the workers become the dominant class. They restructure production (nationalised industry, planned economy) and set up the political apparatus appropriate to the new economic situation and balance of class forces. At the time marx was writing there were large numbers of peasants, small artisans, and other non-wage labourers (a majority in almost every country in Europe let alone the world) and these classes would not be the ruling class after a revolution. The new state would constitute the dominance of the class interests of the workers over these people as well as the old bourgeoisie, though in some conceptions in 'alliance' with them. As the revolution progresses bringing all productive life into the sphere of socialised planned production the non-proletarian classes disappear along with the antagonisms created by private property, so does the need for a political mechanism of class rule, the state.

What the proletarian state ought to look like is not an area of much agreement amongst marxist trends. Everything from flat out party dictatorship with leadership cults to basically parliamentary democracy to federations of worker's councils have been advocated by marxists of different stripes. How the prolatariat excercises its dictatorship is not central to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Finally, its worth noting that back when marx was writing the term dictatorship didn't have the harsh connotations it does today. If marxists weren't so inordinately attached to their jargon they would have dropped it.

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Croy
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Dec 30 2011 22:30
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How the prolatariat excercises its dictatorship is not central to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Surely that makes it a not very useful term to use..

But more important, in general, what you described pretty much sounds like a minority of workers taking over the state, making some changes and then hoping it will go away naturally.

Harrison
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Dec 31 2011 00:44
the croydonian anarchist wrote:
Quote:
How the prolatariat excercises its dictatorship is not central to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Surely that makes it a not very useful term to use..

yeah this is exactly what RedEd was implying.

i'd say two things:

1) in my opinion, (if you want to argue that libertarian communism is consistent with D of P) working class rule through workers assemblies and councils is the dictatorship of the proletariat.

2) there is problem with the phrase 'dictatorship of the proletariat', because bolsheviks and bolshevik sympathisers play semantic games with it and use it to justify a body overseeing production that is separated from the producers themselves (aka a bureaucratic state).

so therefore whilst agreeing with 1), these days i try to steer clear of using the phrase D of P (because it can easily be manipulated). Plus it makes you sound outdated....

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Dec 31 2011 02:58

I also steer clear of the phrase D of P for the same reasons as Harrison.

I personally don't think Marx would call Lenin and his crew the D of P. Just to grossly oversimplify, I think he was talking about an iron rule of workers with zero space (save perhaps a prison cell) given to the fragments of the bourgeoisie. Perhaps the transition refers to a time when fragments of the bourgeoisie still exist and are actively seeking more secure state/economic power and a worker centered political power is required to counter it. I think the question gets stickier examining what workers rule means/looks like.

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Dec 31 2011 04:05
RedEd wrote:
If marxists weren't so inordinately attached to their jargon they would have dropped it.

Thats a bingo!

Yeah, the notion has been corrupted beyond belief. The debate on the left about whether or not it is a useful term to describe certain phenomena will never go further than a couple of Trots and Tankies arguing the minutia of Soviet history. Like Harrison among others has said, you can interpret in different ways, but it has a shite load of baggage attached to it.

I would say READ MARX! The dictatorship of the proles is not a central tenant in his work. The term appears once in Capital (in like 800 pages, thats not bad) and its never properly theorized, its just said in passing in a polemic (in the expropriate the expropriators part wink). You could rip out that page and it wouldn't affect the larger work one iota. Read it along side David Harvey because unless you have a reading group it will be heavy going!

Communard
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Dec 31 2011 09:36

In the 1891 postscript to "The Civil War in France", Engels said: "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"

i think the most important issue about "dictatorship of the proletariat" is not its form (we're all agree about workers councils vs party dictatorship etc...), but its "communist" content.
DofP should not be the workers self-management of capitalism, but it has to start immediate communists misures... and it shouldn't be understanded like a separate stage.

I think the concept of "communization" is very interesting:

http://www.khukuritheory.net/what-is-communization/

slothjabber
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Jan 1 2012 00:42

The dictatorship of the proletariat is, with all respect to Arbeiten, the central point about Marxism. That's what distinguishes it from... classical economic theory on the one hand and anarchism on the other.

Marx didn't discover class struggle or the labour theory of value or the dialectic or anything else that's supposed to be essentially 'Marxist'. The DotP is what seperates Marxism from all other political philosophies.

But I agree as a term it's really loaded with prejudice and/or misunderstanding. In my understanding (and thanks to Communard for posting the quote from Engels) the DotP is the Commune, or the early days (not years) of the Soviet Republic - actually the working class finding a way to organise society after the revolution. Communard is right, it's not the self-management of capitalism, though I think there wil inevitably be some state-capitalism involved until the world revolution is won. This will be mixed with increasing socialsiation of the economy, and the state as such will wither away as it ceases to be a mechanism for the minority to oppress the majority, and becomes an impossibility as the foundations of the state - the class system - disappear in the post-revolutionary period with the disappearance of property (the basis of the class system).

Alexander Roxwell
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Jan 1 2012 01:10

What we have now in the United States, Britain, France, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Japan, the Netherlands, Mexico, and so on and on is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

You also had the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in Germany between 1933 and 1945.

The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie can be "democratic" insofar as it permits more or less free speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to organize in an attempt to get redress for your grievances..........................................

.......................................................or ....................

..........it may not.

We have yet to see a viable dictatorship of the proletariat. I would argue that the Russian Revolution was not capable of creating such an animal because it was too underdeveloped. Some might argue that you saw the "groundwork" for a dictatorship of the proletariat in the workers councils of Russia or in Spain in the the 1930s or of course the Paris Commune. I would agree with that.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is not the dictatorship of some political organization that says that it is speaking in the name of the the proletariat. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the rule of the working class. It is not yet socialism because even as it has established itself in power in a single nation or a group of nations it still exists in a hostile imperialist world ruled by capitalism and must remain on guard to protect its dictatorship.

Jordan
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Jan 1 2012 09:36
slothjabber wrote:
The DotP is what seperates Marxism from all other political philosophies.

Really? Because Marx, when asked what the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would look like, pointed to the Paris Commune.

Guess what? The largest faction in the Paris Commune wasn't Marxist. It was Proudhonian. Not only that, but whilst it was never really given time to manifest itself, the Paris Commune adopted a resolution to support anarchist style federation.

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Jan 1 2012 09:38
slothjabber wrote:
The dictatorship of the proletariat is, with all respect to Arbeiten, the central point about Marxism. That's what distinguishes it from... classical economic theory on the one hand and anarchism on the other.

Marx didn't discover class struggle or the labour theory of value or the dialectic or anything else that's supposed to be essentially 'Marxist'. The DotP is what seperates Marxism from all other political philosophies.

.

Quite frankly. This is crazy talk. Dictatorship of the proletarian is not central to Marx's work at all. If you can prove that it is, rather than state it is, then thats fine.

N.B. I have to add a slight caveat. Politically Marx screwed up, hugely I sin my name (arbeiten) under the anarchist line. but from my reading of Marx I just can't see how dictatorship is anything other than negligible in the context of Capital?

Harrison
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Jan 1 2012 15:43
Arbeiten wrote:
N.B. I have to add a slight caveat. Politically Marx screwed up, hugely I sin my name (arbeiten) under the anarchist line.

This is the same position i've arrived at. Whilst I aim to use Marx's awesome theoretical framework etc, Marx did some fully rubbish things in his lifetime as well that can't be excused.

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Jan 1 2012 22:26
Jordan wrote:
Really? Because Marx, when asked what the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would look like, pointed to the Paris Commune.

Guess what? The largest faction in the Paris Commune wasn't Marxist. It was Proudhonian. Not only that, but whilst it was never really given time to manifest itself, the Paris Commune adopted a resolution to support anarchist style federation.

So take this argument to its logical conclusion then... That's not an argument against Marx, but rather that he was more *anarchist* in his view of communist society. But how to get there was somewhat of a different issue. As Arbeiten said, Marx did screw up royally in his politics.

Jordan
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Jan 2 2012 10:27
Khawaga wrote:
So take this argument to its logical conclusion then... That's not an argument against Marx, but rather that he was more *anarchist* in his view of communist society. But how to get there was somewhat of a different issue. As Arbeiten said, Marx did screw up royally in his politics.

It's not an argument against Marx at all, it's an argument against it (the dictatorship of the proletariat) being the core of Marxism.

And sure, Marx was closing to being an anarchist than the totalitarian Leninist perversion of Marx's politics. He isn't however, an "Anarchist", in the sense of Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Goldman etc., as the Anarchist movement was framed with knowledge of the Marxist position (even if the Anarchist position was taken up before the Marxist one even existed).

As I was intending to say to Harrison though and Arbeiten, the relationship between his economic views and his political views etc. isn't coincidental. What we must credit Marx with is being a fairly systematic thinker, his problem being because he didn't understand the fundamental nature of interests belonging to the individual as well as being expressed through class and so his philosophy is based on false assumptions. And whilst Marx certainly wasn't envisaging the hell that the Bolsheviks brought about in the 1917 revolution, it's from this misunderstanding of interests and more generally human nature that allowed authoritarianism to slip into and take hold in the theories of his intellectual descendants.

Even if Bakunin and Proudhon had authoritarian tendencies of their own, the fact that the Anarchist position hasn't lead to the same excesses that Marxism has lead to is no coincidence.

vanilla.ice.baby
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Jan 2 2012 10:47
revol68 wrote:
it's a term and issue that had some relevance back in Marx's time when the proletariat was a small minority of the population even in western europe, it's pretty much redundant now.

This.

Now we do not have to talk about a dictatorship which is a way for militant minorities to rule as the working class are far and away the most numerous class.

Jordan
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Jan 2 2012 10:56
vanilla.ice.baby wrote:
revol68 wrote:
it's a term and issue that had some relevance back in Marx's time when the proletariat was a small minority of the population even in western europe, it's pretty much redundant now.

This.

Now we do not have to talk about a dictatorship which is a way for militant minorities to rule as the working class are far and away the most numerous class.

Marx didn't mean a dictatorship in the modern sense of the word, as at least one other person said already, he meant a community in which the (whole) proletariat would set the political agenda and use the political machinery to act in it's interests. He certainly didn't mean the Leninist cadre.

Now don't get me wrong, I think Marx had a chauvinistic disdain for some of the other classes to which ordinary people of the era belonged and belittled their day to day experience (the peasantry, the 'lumpenproletariat' and perhaps also the petite bourgeiosie, which Lenin and others have picked up on) but he also didn't mean a dictatorship in the sense you're meaning. And I can't accept the view that all ordinary people (aka not the ruling elite) today are members of the proletariat superclass either.

LBird
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Jan 2 2012 10:56
Jordan wrote:
...the fundamental nature of interests belonging to the individual...

.

Jordan wrote:
...misunderstanding of interests and more generally human nature...

Isn't this a bit dodgy for a Communist, Jordan?

Surely 'individual interests' are produced by the society in which that individual is raised, rather than by an ahistoric, timeless 'human nature'?

If the way people see the world and themselves now under capitalism is 'naturally' and not 'socially' produced, we've got a big problem.

Jordan
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Jan 2 2012 11:05
LBird wrote:
Jordan wrote:
...the fundamental nature of interests belonging to the individual...

.

Jordan wrote:
...misunderstanding of interests and more generally human nature...

Isn't this a bit dodgy for a Communist, Jordan?

Surely 'individual interests' are produced by the society in which that individual is raised, rather than by an ahistoric, timeless 'human nature'?

If the way people see the world and themselves now under capitalism is 'naturally' and not 'socially' produced, we've got a big problem.

I love how you've removed part of my quote which puts it into context. I'm not willing to start a conversation with people who will do that.

Edit: Or people who will start a conversation off by constructing a straw man and putting words into my mouth. It's something i'd expect later on, when things get frustrating or when points get misunderstood when it's already heated to try and win an argument and keep face, but trying to engage with a person by doing that just shows an outright lack of respect.

LBird
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Jan 2 2012 11:12
Jordan wrote:
I love how you've removed part of my quote which puts it into context.

Which part? "as well as being expressed through class"?

But this is what I'm challenging - it's not 'as well as'. In political terms, we're not 'individuals' in any sense outside of our 'class' position. The rest is biological - my 'individual desire' to shit, for example, is not 'class-based', I admit.

Jordan wrote:
I'm not willing to start a conversation with people who will do that.

Hands over your ears? Not very grown up, is it?

This is a discussion board, after all. Why not give it a try!

Jordan
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Jan 2 2012 11:21
LBird wrote:
Jordan wrote:
I love how you've removed part of my quote which puts it into context.

Which part? "as well as being expressed through class"?

But this is what I'm challenging - it's not 'as well as'. In political terms, we're not 'individuals' in any sense outside of our 'class' position. The rest is biological - my 'individual desire' to shit, for example, is not 'class-based', I admit.

Jordan wrote:
I'm not willing to start a conversation with people who will do that.

Hands over your ears? Not very grown up, is it?

This is a discussion board, after all. Why not give it a try!

And this sort of inane 'macho' bullying and pointlessly combatative posturing is why I was reluctant to start posting on here. I had just gotten my guard down from how well this thread seemed to be going and started doubting my original thoughts and impressions. And I thought I was going to get into a good conversation as well. Oh well. Proved my original assumptions right.

LBird
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Jan 2 2012 11:26
Jordan wrote:
And this sort of inane 'macho' bullying and pointlessly combatative posturing...

There must be something more to your reaction than just your irritation with a simple political question. Do you have underlying 'issues'?

Jordan wrote:
And I thought I was going to get into a good conversation as well. Oh well. Proved my original assumptions right.

You didn't think that other posters would challenge some of the philosophical underpinnings of your 'original assumptions'?

That's the essence of a 'good conversation', mate. No-one has 'bullied' you, I'm not 'inane', political philosophy is not 'pointless'...

... and this exchange is hardly 'combative'!

Anyway, in keeping with the 'new mood' on LibCom, have a nice day!

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Jan 2 2012 11:27

I think LBird is right to pick up on your human nature argument concerning totalitarianism. But he was not very generous in his tone. Something we all need to work on probably wink.

I just want to ask for a point of clarification. By Marx's economics resonating with his politics do you mean his critique of political economy? In which case I do not agree. Or do you mean on the small occasions (like in Gotha, and numerous speeches) were marx does offer some sort of sketch of what is needed (centralization etc). in which case I would agree. But I don't think that is the core of marx's works (Capital), but all goes under the general heading of what earlier in the thread I suggested was Marx's fuck up.

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Croy
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Jan 2 2012 12:56

LBird was not being macho or any other words you threw at him. If you have got that much of a problem, please, do it in personal messages or another thread, not mine. Cheers.

vanilla.ice.baby
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Jan 2 2012 13:11

It's not solely your thread, it belongs to those who are using it - including LBird and Jordan tongue

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Croy
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Jan 2 2012 13:19

I started it. But anyway, it would still be de railing it.

slothjabber
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Jan 3 2012 01:51
Jordan wrote:

Really? Because Marx, when asked what the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would look like, pointed to the Paris Commune.

Guess what? The largest faction in the Paris Commune wasn't Marxist. It was Proudhonian. Not only that, but whilst it was never really given time to manifest itself, the Paris Commune adopted a resolution to support anarchist style federation.

I know. I was recently arguing that anarchists shouldn't really have a problem with the dictatorship of the proletariat, because the dictatorship of the proletariat that Engels (I'm pretty sure, rather than Marx) referred to was the Paris Commune, which was started and supported by anarchists. Guy Aldred, just after the Russian revolution, even coined the term 'Marxian Anarchists' for anarchists who accepted the DotP. I'd argue that the Anarchists that took part in the Russian revolution also accepted the reality of the DotP. It wasn't the DotP that was problem, it was the usurpation of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the Bolskheviks, their fusion with the state, which became the dictatorship of the vanguard party, morphing into the dictatorship of a state-capitalist oligarchy.

Arbeiten wrote:

Quite frankly. This is crazy talk. Dictatorship of the proletarian is not central to Marx's work at all. If you can prove that it is, rather than state it is, then thats fine.

N.B. I have to add a slight caveat. Politically Marx screwed up, hugely I sin my name (arbeiten) under the anarchist line. but from my reading of Marx I just can't see how dictatorship is anything other than negligible in the context of Capital?

Quoted from the wiki of DotP: from Marx to Wedermeyer, 1852 - "Now, as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; that this dictatorship, itself, constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society..."

Seems to me that Marx considered that the DotP was absolutely crucial to 'Marxism' as a political pholosophy.

By 'Capital' do you mean the book, 'Capital'? If so, it isn't terribly relevant I think. 'Capital' isn't an exposition of Marxism, it's a dissection of capitalism. I'm not sure the concept of 'revolution' appears all that much of 'Capital' either. Class does, because it's intimately bound up with property. But you can't deduce Marxism from 'Capital'.

action_now
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Jan 3 2012 00:52
the croydonian anarchist wrote:
LBird was not being macho or any other words you threw at him. If you have got that much of a problem, please, do it in personal messages or another thread, not mine. Cheers.

odds on they have been drinking too.

Harrison
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Jan 3 2012 01:33
Jordan wrote:
Khawaga wrote:
So take this argument to its logical conclusion then... That's not an argument against Marx, but rather that he was more *anarchist* in his view of communist society. But how to get there was somewhat of a different issue. As Arbeiten said, Marx did screw up royally in his politics.

It's not an argument against Marx at all, it's an argument against it (the dictatorship of the proletariat) being the core of Marxism.

And sure, Marx was closing to being an anarchist than the totalitarian Leninist perversion of Marx's politics. He isn't however, an "Anarchist", in the sense of Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Goldman etc., as the Anarchist movement was framed with knowledge of the Marxist position (even if the Anarchist position was taken up before the Marxist one even existed).

As I was intending to say to Harrison though and Arbeiten, the relationship between his economic views and his political views etc. isn't coincidental. What we must credit Marx with is being a fairly systematic thinker, his problem being because he didn't understand the fundamental nature of interests belonging to the individual as well as being expressed through class and so his philosophy is based on false assumptions. And whilst Marx certainly wasn't envisaging the hell that the Bolsheviks brought about in the 1917 revolution, it's from this misunderstanding of interests and more generally human nature that allowed authoritarianism to slip into and take hold in the theories of his intellectual descendants.

Even if Bakunin and Proudhon had authoritarian tendencies of their own, the fact that the Anarchist position hasn't lead to the same excesses that Marxism has lead to is no coincidence.

hey jordan, found this interesting....

i've made a new thread in response
http://libcom.org/forums/theory/could-anarchist-argument-against-accumulation-powerauthority-cliques-or-individual

Alexander Roxwell
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Jan 3 2012 02:35

Some of the people on this site sure do seem to be able to make a giant mess out of an argument. The fact that the people who constructed the first prototype of a "dictatorship of the proletariat" were not "Marxists" would not be a good reason for Marx to not embrace it. Unlike a great many of his modern day groupies (and evidently some of his anti-groupies) that was not one of his criteria.

The problem with the Russian Revolution was not the "totalitarian" proclivities of Lenin but the backward structure of the Russian economy in 1917. You can't have a "dictatorship of the proletariat" emerge from a dual revolution where the workers are only a tiny minority of the population no matter how much you "will" it.

The "dictatorship of the proletariat" is the rule of the whole society by the workers. This will only work when the vast majority of the people are working class.

Jacob Richter
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Jan 3 2012 02:39

Apart from what Roxwell said, new terms can help clear things up, as well.

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Jan 3 2012 02:53
Alexander Roxwell wrote:
The "dictatorship of the proletariat" is the rule of the whole society by the workers. This will only work when the vast majority of the people are working class.

Marx wanted the whole of France to emulate the Paris commune, which he regarded as the dictatorship of the proletariat. At the time, the majority of French people were not working class. Was the population of Paris even overwhelmingly working class? So I don't see how it can be the case that Marx thought the dictatorship of the proletariat could only occur in a society were the vast majority were working class. Whilst I sort of agree with what you said, I don't think it's what Marx said.

Then again, Marx didn't have a coherent and well developed theory of the idea, AFAIK, so it's not that important what he thought.