A criticism of the Stalinist “one-party state”. If the working class is not free to oppose it, then the working class is not truly in power!

“If the sovereign is free to oppose them and does not do so, we must take universal silence as evidence of popular consent” -Rousseau, The Social Contact p. 36

This quote by Rousseau alone makes the claim of Stalin that the one party state is necessary for the dictatorship of the proletariat fall apart. As I have stated many times before, you will not find a single mention of a one-party state in the writings of Marx, Engels or Lenin. In a Stalinist state the sole legal political party is said to represent “the working class”, even coalition parties are banned from challenging the rule of the communist party. But in fact the working class cannot legally object to the despotism of this monolithic party, even when it betrays its own premises, even when it becomes entangled in a monstrous bureaucracy, comes under the domination of a small clique, becomes extremely unpopular, becomes revisionist, or capitalist.


There are many examples of this that prove my point, but Poland in my view is one of the best examples. In Poland the communist party remained the sole legal party until 1989 when the government was forced to capitulate to the Solidarity protest movement (a movement by the working class, mind you). When Solidarity was on the ballot, the communists lost 100% of the vote, and solidarity won 100% of the seats. Not 60%, not 90%, but 100%. The party had long before become despotic, tyrannical against the working class, revisionist, and the defining feature of the Polish degenerated workers state. It ceased to represent the will of the working class, but because of its Stalinist heritage, the working class could not object to its rule or found its own party in opposition. Then of course there is the economic consequences of building socialism in one country, but I will refrain from getting into that here.


If the people are NOT free to oppose the ruling state apparatus, universal silence means neither universal consent OR opposition. It is only when the people ARE free to oppose the ruling party that universal consent can be gauged.

But would the working class in those countries have supported a communist government naturally? Certainly in many. But in Eastern Europe especially, the working class likely would have ended up supporting a social democratic party, and not an expressly communist one. This in particular contributed to furthering the development of Stalinism in the 20th century. In Asia however, the overwhelming majority of workers and peasants supported Ho Chi Minh, Mao, Kim Il Sung, etc. The U.S. president at the time even admitted that he was suppressing democratic elections in Vietnam because Ho Chi Minh would receive over 80% of the vote. The important thing is not wether the working class initially supported the communist party, but if it was free to oppose it under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Because it was not, all but 5 Stalinist states collapsed in the period of 1989-1991.

The experience of Stalinism necessarily should lead to a complete abandonment of a one-party dictatorship, and the favorability of a multi-party system instead, under the dictatorship of the proletariat (the 99%). Democratic rule of the working class can only be maintained insofar as there is genuine democracy among the working class. And after a revolutionary period, the continued despotism of a single monolithic, unchallengeable political party is the anti-thesis of workers democracy. As Rosa Luxemburg said, “democracy is indispensable to socialism and socialism is indispensable to democracy”. And as Rosa also said, “freedom is always the freedom of dissent”.


How can the working class be in control of a country when the individual members of the working class are not free to voice their opposition? How can they be in control if they are not free to run against the ruling bureaucracy, speak freely, believe what they wish, follow whatever religion they prefer or none at all, to write freely and to be free to act in accordance with their conscience? If the individual members of the working class is not free to do these things after a revolutionary period, then it is not truly in control of the state, and it is not a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat.

Freedom in the time of Marx and Lenin was exclusively bourgeois freedom, that is, freedom for the bourgeoisie to the exclusion of the proletariat. However times have changed. Even if many freedoms are limited and bourgeois in nature, (such as freedom of the press and travel which requires significant wealth), we are in many ways free. We are free in these ways because of the life and death struggle of leftists in the 20th century. Of course I’m not a moron, full freedom can only exist in a classless society, but the gains made in regards to individual liberty are not merely characters of bourgeois ideology, they are real. But even with this, as Žižek says, “We feel free because we lack the language to really articulate our unfreedom”

A true dictatorship of the proletariat represents an advance in human society, not a retreat. The republic laid by a socialist revolution should cause the working class to be more free, even if not completely free, than it is in modern bourgeois society.

But what of revolution? Does revolution not strip away freedom from a portion of society for a time? Certainly, as Engels himself said,

“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 reactionists. 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?”

But what distinguishes a revolution from the republic which the revolution founds? For this I prefer to quote Robespierre,

“The aim of constitutional government is to preserve the Republic; that of revolutionary government is to lay its foundation.”


In this regard we should think of a revolution as a two staged event. First it destroys the old class rule and state apparatus of the old society. It does this in ways aforementioned by Engels. During this period, historically there can be no freedom of dissent. In this regard my beliefs are the most radical. “Do you want a revolution without a revolution?” A social revolution, at least in its initial stages, can only be a true rupture in the social order, and not merely a formal change of political power. It is the only way to shorten the death agony of capitalism and the birth pains of the new social order.

But afterwards what is to be done? A socialist republic is born from the ashes of the old society. Can it be anything less than an advance forward for the working class? For freedom and democracy of the working people? No! It cannot. By simply dismissing formal liberty as ‘bourgeois’ you are taking a massive step back in human development. Stalinism changed the nature of the initial Red Terror to maintain it, even when it was formally done away with after the civil war. Formally he declared in the 1936 ‘Stalin Constitution’ your typical freedoms that are found in any modern constitution. But history tells us that this was not truly implemented in Soviet society. In Stalin’s Russia, as Slavoj Žižek pointed out on several occasions, you could not publicly criticize ‘Comrade Stalin’ or his policies. If you did, you would not be seen the next day. But here is the strange part, if you pointed out this contradiction publicly (that the constitution guarantees you the right to do so but doing so will get you shot) and claimed that it existed, you would not be seen later that night! Žižek claims that this is how ideology functions, not as the official rules of a society, but as the social, unwritten rules.


But doesn’t the dictatorship of the proletariat require that he overthrown bourgeois class is held down by the state power? Certainly. What was the nature of democracy in our country when it was founded? It was purely bourgeois. Only white, male, property owners could vote or participate in the democratic process. This was maintained by the state power. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, only the working class (the 99%) has the right to vote or participate in the democratic process. It is the dictatorship of the formerly exploited over the former exploiters. It is not the dictatorship of a small bureaucracy over proletarian and bourgeoisie alike. After a time, with the disillusion of social classes in a given society, democracy is given back to all members of society as a whole. This is not to say, however, that the dictatorship of the proletariat is done away with! On the contrary, in comparison with other capitalist states it remains a militant dictatorship of the proletariat, but merely one in a higher stage of development. Khrushchev’s claim of an ‘all people’s state’ is inherently reactionary, in this I agree with the anti-revisionists.


So to summarize, what are my views on this? The one-party state is purely a vestige of Stalinism. To claim it is necessary is to ignore 100 years of Marxist history. The ideal dictatorship of the proletariat is one in which the proletariat truly, and not merely formally, holds all state power. This means that individual workers are free to create or join parties (so long as they are not capitalist or fascist) as they wish, and are free to criticize the government, speak what they wish, follow any or no religion, protest, write, and, in a word, think what they wish. The ideal system is a multi-party state. Individual liberties have been won, even in a limited, bourgeois form, by radical leftists in the last 100 years and should not be done away with under the dictatorship of the proletariat. If anything they should be expanded. A revolution is a most authoritarian rupture which brings about this transformation. The purpose of the revolutionary government is to lay the foundation of the socialist republic, and the nature of the revolutionary government and the republic it seeks to lay have a different character in actuality, and not mere formality. The dictatorship of the proletariat holds down the former oppressor class and forbids it to participate in the democratic process for a certain time, and afterwards, even after this distinction is done away with, it still remains the dictatorship of the proletariat because the state still exists, and international capital still exists in some countries.

MEL-Trotsky copy.jpg

This entry was posted in Marxism.

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