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19 March 2010

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

Nothing is so treacherous as the obvious. Events during the past twenty or twenty-five years have taught us to see the problem that lurks behind the title of this part. Until about 1916 the relation between socialism and democracy would have seemed quite obvious to most people and to nobody more so than to the accredited exponents of socialist orthodoxy. It would hardly have occured to anyone to dispute the socialists' claim to membership in the democratic club. Socialists themselves of course -- except a few syndicalist groups -- even claimed to be the only true democrats, the exclusive sellers of the genuine stuff, never to be confused with the bourgeois fake.

Socialism in being might be the very ideal of democracy. But socialist are not always so particular about the way in which it is to be brought into being. The words Revolution and Dictatorship stare us in the face from sacred texts, and many modern socialists have still more explicitly testified to the fact that they have no objection to forcing the gates of the socialist paradise by violence and terror which are to lend their aid to more democratic means of conversion.

Revolution and evolution may be both reconciled. Revolution need not mean an attempt by a minorty to impose its will upon a recalcitrant people; it may mean no more than the removal of obstructions opposed to the will of the people by outworn institutions controlled by groups interested in their preservation. The dictatorship of the proletariat will bear a similar interpretation.

The throughgoing democrat will consider any such reconstruction as vitiated in its roots. To try to force the people to embrace something that is believed to be good and glorious but which they do not actually want -- even though they may be expected to like it when they experience its results -- is the very hall mark of anti-democratic belief. It is up to the casuist to decide whether an exception may be made for undemocratic acts that are perpetrated for the sole purpose of realizing true democracy, provided they are not only means of doing so. For this, even if granted, does not apply to the case of socialism which, as we have seen, is likely to be democratically possible precisely when it can be expected to be practically successful.

In any case however, it is obvious that any argument in favor of shelving democracy for the transitional period affords an excellent opportunity to evade all responsibility for it. Such privisional arrangements may well last for a century or more and means are available for a ruling group installed by a victorious revolution to prolong them indefinitely or to adopt the forms of democracy without the substance.

Source: Schumpter, Joseph A. 1994. Capitalism, Socialism, & Democracy. George Allen & Unwin Publisher.

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