What is the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’?

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By TJ Combs

Q: What does “dictatorship of the proletariat” mean?

A: The dictatorship of the proletariat, as mentioned by Marx in Chapter 4 of his Critique of the Gotha Program, is socialism. It is the period of transition between capitalism and communism during which workers seize and wield state power.

Q: Isn’t ‘dictatorship’ scary? Why should communists support a dictatorship?

A: ‘Dictatorship’ in this context just means the rule of one class over another. Currently we live under the dictatorship of a bourgeoisie (the rich) ruling through capitalism, imperialism, and several kinds of colonialism (settler-colonialism, neocolonialism, colonialism). The dictatorship of the proletariat is simply the rule of the workers over the bourgeoisie.

Q: Why is a dictatorship of the proletariat necessary?

A: The dictatorship of the proletariat is necessary because the bourgeoisie doesn’t just dissipate during the revolution. It remains, fights back, and attempts to restore the capitalist order. In addition, because it’s unlikely that socialist revolution will happen in the remaining capitalist countries all at the same time, international bourgeois threats will probably have to be repelled as well.

If we examine the history of socialist revolutions, we see that vicious counterrevolution is the norm. There is no hope of defending any revolutionary gains without an apparatus designed specifically for this purpose.

Q: How is the dictatorship of the proletariat created? What form does it take?

A: The dictatorship of the proletariat is a state. The particular way this formation is built depends on the material conditions. The dictatorship of the proletariat retains the repressive features of the bourgeois state, but it is an inversion of the bourgeois state. The repressive functions are turned around on the bourgeoisie.

Q: Does the dictatorship of the proletariat last forever?

A: No. The purpose of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to destroy the bourgeoisie. Without a class to repress, the state serves no purpose. We’ve yet to see a socialist state dissolve because there will be no communism so long as there is an international capitalist/imperialist/colonial order. Our purpose as communists now is to build socialism and lay the foundation for the communists of the future.

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