An Excerpt from Chapter 5 of our book “The Basics of Marxist-Leninist Theory”.
Utopian socialism criticised capitalist society, condemned it, cursed it, dreamt of its abolition and the establishment of a better system and attempted to convince the rich of the immorality of exploitation.
However, utopian socialism could find no solution, was unable to explain the essence of the slavery of hired labour under capitalism or discover the laws of its development, and could not identify that social force which was capable of being the creator of a new society. This was achieved by scientific socialism as founded by Marx and Engels and further developed in new historical conditions by Lenin.
In his work Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels described scientific socialism as “the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement’’, and saw its task as being to investigate the historical conditions and nature of the proletarian revolution and explain to the proletariat “a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish”1. In other words, it is the science of class struggle and socialist revolution, of the socio-political laws of the building of socialism and communism and of the world revolutionary process as a whole. Scientific socialism is based on the philosophical and politico-economic aspects of Marxism, to which it is organically linked.
Scientific socialism differs from the preceding socialism as any exact science differs from vague dreams, fantasies and aspirations. The Utopians proceeded from the false be lief that one must first think up an ideal society and then convince others of its advantages. Marx and Engels studied the actual reality of the bourgeois world and saw in the working class that force which was called upon to destroy that world and raise on its ruins a new socialist society.
Fundamental to the theory of scientific socialism is the doctrine of class struggle as the driving force behind the development of societies with antagonistic classes. Classes and class struggle were known to scholars before Marx. French historians wrote of it at the beginning of the nineteenth century. All that was positive in the theories of previous thinkers about classes and class struggle was critically evaluated, enriched and developed by Marx within the context of a proletarian world view.
What did this development consist in? Marx himself answered this question as follows: “What I did that was new was to demonstrate: (1) that the existence of classes is merely linked to particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that 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.”2
These few terse lines contain the whole Marxist concept of class struggle.
From the first thesis it follows that classes have not always existed but are the product of historical development, arose at specific stages in the social division of labour — the transition from primitive society to slave-owning society. Every antagonistic socio-economic formation has its own particular class structure, its main class opponents: slaves and slave-owners, serfs and feudal lords, workers and bourgeois.
Marx examines the history of class struggle against the background of the economic development of society and in connection with the transition from one socio-economic formation to another. The struggle itself, being the expression of specific economic interests, finally becomes mass popular upheavals, revolutions, which sweep away the outdated social institutions and order and become the transition to a new, more progressive socio-economic formation.
Social revolutions play an extremely progressive role in history, accelerating its development and rallying the exploited masses around the revolutionary class, stimulating their creative energy and directing it towards the building of a new social structure.
In the course of the development of society, the role of the masses as the creators of history grows. The more radical the social transformations to be carried through, the more furious is the opposition of the ruling classes and the more dynamic is the conscious revolutionary surge of the masses, the greater their selflessness, heroism and unity.
The numbers of those striving for revolution and opposing the handful of exploiters increase significantly under capitalism, together with their consciousness, organisation and conviction of the necessity and inevitability of revolutionary struggle against the capitalist class.
The proletariat, headed by its revolutionary and conscious vanguard, the party, expresses the interests of all the exploited under capitalism. The party unites and consolidates the masses, guides their actions, elaborates the aims~and objectives of the struggle at each particular stage of historical development, defines the attitude towards other opposition parties and political groups. Marx and Engels laid down the basis of the teaching on the party of the working class, on its role in the revolutionary struggle, and this serves as the basis of the world communist movement to this day. Marx and Engels believed that the recognition of the necessity of establishing the power of the working class, the dictatorship of the proletariat, was the main demand of the policy programme of the proletarian party.
Certain bourgeois ideologists and reformists attempt to present the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat as an incidental term torn out of the context of Marx’s writings and not of the essence. This is, of course, a deliberate distortion of the views of tho founders of Marxism. As early as in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels wrote clearly and unambiguously that “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class”, and that the proletariat, uses its rule to make “despotic inroads” in bourgeois relations. This is the dictatorship of the proletariat in practice.
The dictatorship of the proletariat lay at the heart of the impassioned articles written by Marx and Engels in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Their analysis of the revolutionary experience of 1848–1849, particularly in France, led them time and again to the same conclusion concerning the necessity of this dictatorship. His investigations into the economic laws of capitalist society also led Marx to the conclusion that the strong political power of the proletariat was essential to achieve the expropriation of the exploiters. This proposition was confirmed by the lessons of the Paris Commune. Finally, in 1875, in Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx declared that in the transitional period from capitalism to communism “the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”.3
How, indeed, could it be otherwise? How can the working class oppose the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie who do not hesitate before ruthless and bloody action; how can it win and consolidate its rule without organising its own strong and active power? The teaching on the dictatorship of the proletariat follows from the very essence of the Marxist world outlook, from the scientific analysis of the specifics of the class struggle in capitalist society.
An integral part of this teaching is the thesis on the need to destroy the bourgeois state machine. “All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it..”4 This thesis was first formulated by Marx in his work The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte published in 1852.
Lenin placed great importance on this Marxist thesis. He wrote: “In this remarkable argument Marxism takes a tremendous step forward compared with the Communist Manifesto. In the latter the question of the state is still treated in an extremely abstract manner, in the most general terms and expressions. In the above-quoted passage the question is treated in a concrete manner, and the conclusion is extremely precise, definite, practical and palpable: all previous revolutions perfected the state machine, whereas it must be broken, smashed.
“This conclusion is the chief and fundamental point in the Marxist theory of the state.’’5
In formulating the main tenets of the theory of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels always recognised the need to take into account the concrete historical situation and the specifics of the revolutionary situation in any country. They allowed, for example, the possibility of a peaceful revolution in those countries where the military-bureaucratic system had not been developed and where the proletariat could use parliamentary struggle to achieve its aims. This was the situation in England at the time.
Marx and Engels used a dialectics approach to the question of the main ally of the proletariat, the peasantry, showing how to recognise its dual nature and to distinguish between its reactionary and revolutionary elements. In their opinion, recognition by the peasants of their basic interests should lead the overwhelming majority to unite with the working class, to unity of action against capital, which offers them nothing but ruin. “Hence the peasants,” wrote Marx, “find their natural ally and leader in the urban proletariat, whose task is the overthrow of the bourgeois order.”6 With the help of the broad masses of the peasants, the proletarian revolution “will obtain that chorus without which its solo becomes a swan song in all peasant countries.”7
Marx and Engels clearly foresaw those tendencies which have openly revealed themselves today in modern developed capitalist countries in relation to the intelligentsia. Capital also turns the representatives of the intelligentsia into hired workers and extracts surplus value and profit not only from physical but also from intellectual labour. Capital does not create science but exploits it, and thus science becomes one of the basic driving forces of production. Consequently a process of differentiation takes place within the intelligentsia, dividing it into those who control capitalist production and those who sink to the position of skilled labourers. The leading, progressive section of the intelligentsia can and must join the cause of serving the proletariat and enlightening the working masses, take an active part in revolution and social construction.
In analysing the development of tendencies manifest in actual bourgeois society, the founders of Marxism observed with the accuracy of natural scientists the direction in which these tendencies would develop in the future. Here we find in their works far-seeing propositions concerning the future communist society.
According to Marx and Engels, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a particular form of state organisation which is essential for the suppression of hostile classes and groups and the solution of the creative task of building the new society. These tasks are crucial and will determine its future development, for their solution brings with it the withering away of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The victorious proletariat aims, in the course of social changes, not only to eliminate the exploiter classes, but also to remove class | differences between the peasants and the workers, the main differences between the town and village, between physical and intellectual labour. During this long process transformation, the proletariat, in removing itself as a particular class, frees the whole of society from class-social inequality. With the disappearance of classes, the state will also wither away.
The state, commented Lenin, describing the views of Marx and Engels, is “organised coercion”.8 It arose at a particular stage of social development, when society had split into classes and began to feel the need of a “power”, standing seemingly above it and harmonising the various class interests. In fact, the state embodies the power of the ruling class. The ancient state was the apparatus used ; by the slave-owners to subordinate the slaves; the feudal state was the organ of the aristocracy and the church to subordinate the serfs. The bourgeois state, even in the form of a parliamentary republic, is the instrument used by the capitalists to exploit hired labour.
The main prerequisite of the withering away of the state is the disappearance of classes. In a classless society people gradually become accustomed to observing the rules of communal life and interference by the state in social relations becomes unnecessary. “…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 dies out.” 9
The abolition of class division is a complex and lengthy process. It starts in the first phase of the communist sociopolitical formation (the stage known as socialism), where, as a result of enormous economic, political and cultural changes the exploiter classes are eliminated and a new socio-class structure is formed. Socialist society is the society of the workers (industrial workers, peasants, and intelligentsia), and is governed according to the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work”. In the first phase of the new society the distribution of material and intellectual-cultural goods cannot be carried out in accord with the needs of each individual because of the insufficient level of development of the productive forces.
The second phase of the new society is communism, in which the distinction between physical and intellectual labour disappears. Work itself ceases to be merely a means of livelihood and becomes a vital need. All members of society will be fully developed individuals, that is, developed intellectually, morally, aesthetically and physically. The all-round free development of each individual will become the main aim, the aim in itself, of society.
Communist society is a society of free individuals united together in a self-governing collective or association. This society organises production and consumption on a scientific basis, controls the economy using its knowledge of the economic laws, and plans its purposeful development for, the benefit of all.
Communist society is “the humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom”. 10What is meant by “the kingdom of freedom”? It means that, firstly, men will consciously and purposefully develop their production to the benefit of all the members of society and, secondly, it also means that man “for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature…”11
A highly developed production process will ensure an abundance of material goods. “…Only then can…society inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!12
As “the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement” (Engels), scientific communism develops together with the revolutionary movement, generalises its experience and is a powerful weapon in the hands of the working class, and all the working masses, in their struggle against imperialism and for peace, democracy and socialism.
1 F. Engels, Anti-Duhring, p. 346.
2 “Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer in New York, London, March 5, 1852” in: Marx, Engels, Selected Correspondence, p. 64.
3 K. Marx, “Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers’ Party” in: K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works in three volumes, Vol. 3, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, p. 26.
4 K. Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” in: K. Marx. F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. li, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979, p. 186.
5 V. I. Lenin, “The State and Revolution”, Collected Works, VoL 25, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1974, p. 411.
6 K. Marx, “The Eighteenth Brurnaire of Louis Bonaparte” in: K. Marx, F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 11, p. 191.
7 Ibid., p. 193.
8 V. I. Lenin, “Karl Marx”, Collected Works, Vol. 21, p. 73.
9 F. Engels, Anti-Duhring, p. 341.
10 F. Engels, Anti-Duhring, p. 344.
11 Ibid., p. 343.
12 K. Marx, “Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers’ Party” in: K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 19.