Mansoor Hekmat 1985
This article, with some additions and improvements, is the text of a discussion put forth by the author in an inner-party seminar. It was first published, in Farsi, in issue no. 2 – Nov 1985 – of Besooy-e-Sosyalism (Towards Socialism), the theoretical journal of the Communist Party of Iran.
Translated: by Bahram Soroush.
THE SUBJECT of the present discussion is “state in revolutionary periods.” Under this heading we are going to deal with an aspect of the Marxist theory of the state, or, in other words, the methodology of Marxism in dealing with the phenomenon of the state – an issue often overshadowed by stereotyped statements about the state, and therefore neglected. After introducing the question in general, we are going to point out the following more specifically and as examples of the application of this methodology: 1) The question of the revolutionary republic in the programme of the Communist Party, 2) The method in dealing with the Islamic Republic (here, some of the points discussed in the article “Two Factions Within the Bourgeois-Imperialist Counter-Revolution” are going to be reiterated in the light of the present discussion), and, finally, 3) State in the proletarian revolution and the question of the proletarian dictatorship.
It is common knowledge that, from a Marxist point of view, the state is the instrument of the rule and class domination of the economically dominant social class. State is the instrument of keeping the oppressed and exploited classes in submission, and protecting the existing relations of ownership and production from the assault of the lower classes. In The State and Revolution Lenin first, through direct and somewhat extensive quotes from Marx and Engels, explains how, despite misconceptions instigated by the bourgeoisie, the state is not a phenomenon beyond classes and transcending society, seemingly “regulating” class relations, or representing “the public interest.” The state, despite beliefs prevalent in bourgeois society, is the representative and supporter of specific class interests, i.e. the interests of the economically dominant class. The emergence of the state has coincided with the emergence of exploitation, the division of society into classes, and class antagonism and struggle.
As I said before, these are now regarded as truisms, and I shall not expound on them any further – especially since my argument here is a critique of the mechanical and stereotyped extension of these definitions to all the moments of the process of historical development of society, and, particularly, to “revolutionary periods.”
At the very first glance it becomes apparent that the above Marxist definitions of the state point, in fact, to the ordinary or usual activity of society. This is a definition and analysis of society under “ordinary” social circumstances, i.e. a period in which society is not undergoing revolutionary change. It has to be reminded that historical materialism is not the numerical sum of five static pictures of five “ordinary” modes of production (the primitive commune, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and communism). This, in fact, is the mechanical distortion of historical materialism by the revisionists. Marx’s historical materialism is not merely an explanation of various modes of production and declaration of their replacement in a consecutive historical process; it also involves and describes the dynamism of this process of development, as well as the characteristics of the period of development. How, and through which processes do these modes of production replace one another? If we consider this dynamism we shall realise that an essential part of the materialist exegesis of history, is understanding the characteristics of periods of transition, periods of change, between relations of production, each of which has, for a long period, constituted the ordinary and reproducing form of the economic activity and social life of Man. In other words, modes of production do not suddenly replace one another. Feudalism was not suddenly substituted by capitalism, nor shall communism suddenly replace capitalism. An analysis of periods of transition and revolutionary change in society is as much part of a materialist outlook on history, as is an analysis of the ordinary forms of the production and reproduction of the social life of Man. Marx has clearly expressed this in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
“At a certain stage in their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.” (Emphasis ours)
Below I shall point out that in the present discussion, I am using the concept of “revolutionary periods” in a more limited sense than the entire period of revolutionary change in society i.e. the transition period that Marx has in mind. For the moment, however, we may consider this broader sense of the term and return to the above formulation of the definition of the state. Can this definition as it stands be used to describe the character and nature of states (any state) during this period of revolutionary change? In other words, does the formulation of the state as “the instrument for the rule of the economically dominant class” correspond to the characteristics of periods of revolutionary change? Not necessarily. The attitude of the anarchists towards the dictatorship of the proletariat, like that of the likes of Vahdat-e-Komonisti [the Organisation of Communist Unity – Editor] to the concept of the revolutionary republic, are obvious examples of the theoretical deadlock of those who understand only this formulation of the Marxist attitude to the state, and repeat it under all conditions.
The dictatorship of the proletariat, for example, is a state of the period of transition. But is the dictatorship of the proletariat the state of an economically dominant class? Obviously not. This is the state of a class revolting against the exploiting class dominating production. The dictatorship of the proletariat does not, in the beginning, depend on the existing economy in society. It is not the representative of a class economically dominating other classes. Quite the opposite, it is a state against the existing economy. This state, indeed, can never, even in its future, turn into the instrument of the domination of a class within a class economic relations. The socialist revolution is a revolution against the very class character of society and private ownership over the means of production, and against class exploitation itself. The new economy which is the outcome of this revolution is synonymous to the disappearance of the very raison d’ Ítre for the state as a whole. The socialist revolution is, moreover, a revolution which drives the state towards dying away along with the class division of society.
But if the dictatorship of the proletariat is not the instrument for maintaining the already existing class relations of production, if this dictatorship is not supposed to provide a political superstructure suited to the ownership of one class over the means of production, what is then the reason for its existence? In other words, how does the “Marxist analysis of the state” explain the dictatorship of the proletariat?
A considerable part of Lenin’s The State and Revolution is devoted to his polemic with anarchistic views which oppose the dictatorship of the proletariat with a mechanical and metaphysical approach to the historical movement of society, and by their inability to deepen their approach to the state beyond the definition of the “usual state.” If the socialist revolution is synonymous to the dying away of classes, and therefore of the state, why then the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat? Here Lenin expounds “another aspect” of the Marxist theory of the state. The state of the dictatorship of the proletariat is deduced, not from “economy” as such, but from politics and class struggle. This is the crux of the Marxist analysis of the state in periods of revolutionary transition:
“The Communist Manifesto gives a general summary of history, which compels us to regard the state as the organ of class rule and leads us to the inevitable conclusion that the proletariat cannot overthrow the bourgeoisie without first winning political power, without attaining political supremacy, without transforming the state into the “proletariat organised as the ruling class”; and that this proletarian state will begin to wither away immediately after its victory because the state is unnecessary and cannot exist in a society in which there are no class antagonisms. The question as to how, from the point of view of historical development, the replacement of the bourgeois by the proletarian state is to take place is not raised here.” (The State and Revolution, Collected Works, Vol. 25, p.411, our emphasis)
Here Lenin turns to that juncture in the history of human society which appears, in a “general summary” of history only as a “point,” a crossing of two systems, as a moment of substitution of two states. This is the very period of transition. It is a most significant period in historical transformation. In this period, namely in the course of the rather long process of the replacement of two systems, where the one is undergoing change while the other is not yet established, what phenomenon is the state? This is an aspect of the Marxist theory of the state that is neglected in the mechanical system of revisionism, and, as a result, in the major part of the Iranian Left:
“... The essence of Marx’s theory of the state has been mastered only by those who realize that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, ... but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from “classless society,” from communism. Bourgeois states are most varied in form, but their essence is the same: all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Ibid, p.418, emphases in the original)
The dictatorship of the proletariat is the state corresponding to this “historical period,” i.e. the period of revolutionary transition. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a state against capitalist economy without being the state corresponding to communist economy; for this new economy does not depend on class division, and therefore does not require the state as a coercive force. This state is the state of the historical period between these two “economies,” and therefore assumes its necessity, reason for existence and character not immediately from economy and economic base as from elsewhere: from revolution, from class struggle, which in the course of revolutionary change turns into the major and decisive matrix of the contradictory relations of social classes. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a dictatorship, not to maintain certain existing production and class relations, but to smash resistance against the revolutionary transformation of these relations:
“The state is a “special coercive force.” ... And from it follows that the “special coercive force” for the suppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, of million of working people by handfuls of the rich, must be replaced by a “special coercive force” for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat (the dictatorship of the proletariat). This is precisely what is meant by “abolition of the state as state.” This is precisely the “act” of taking possession of the means of production in the name of society. And it is self-evident that such a replacement of one (bourgeois) “special force” by another (proletarian) “special force” cannot possibly take place in the form of “withering away.” (Ibid, p.402)
“The state is a special organisation of force: it is an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class. What class must the proletariat suppress? Naturally only the exploiting class, i.e. the bourgeoisie. The working people need the state only to suppress the resistance of the exploiters, and only the proletariat can direct this suppression, can carry it out.” (Ibid, p.407)
Here we are faced with a more general concept of the category of the state – a concept which meanwhile is simpler and more inclusive. The state is a “special coercive force” for class suppression. This is the common character of any state, usual and transitional alike. In ordinary circumstances when the production and reproduction of social life within the framework of specific relations of production, or, in simpler terms, “economy,” is the decisive factor in the interrelations of social classes, the state assumes its suppressive role basically in relation to maintaining the existing relations of production at the service of the economically dominant class. But in the period of transition this is no longer a decisive factor in the analysis of the state, because the contradictions in existing economic relations themselves have introduced a new factor in the relations between classes which overshadows everything else, i.e. the revolution and the fight between the revolution and counter-revolution. Here the state is the instrument of determining the fate of this question. The state in the period of transition acts as a state to the extent that it serves as an instrument to determine the fate of this question, i.e. the revolution. Here the state is not, immediately, a political instrument to maintain economic power, but a political instrument to maintain or establish political power. If, historically, the state was formed with the appearance of surplus-product and exploitation, if in ordinary society, in a society “engaged in production,” the state ensures economic domination, in the transition period the state is directly related to class struggle itself, extended into a revolution. Lenin clearly explains this in explaining the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat:
“The theory of the class struggle, applied by Marx to the question of the state and the socialist revolution, leads as a matter of course to the recognition of the political rule of the proletariat, of its dictatorship,... The overthrow of the bourgeoisie can be achieved only by the proletariat becoming the ruling class, capable of crushing the inevitable and desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie, and of organising all the working and exploited people for the new economic system.” (Ibid, p.409)
Both the opportunists and anarchists found the proletarian revolution contradictory to the establishment of the dictatorial state. If for one the proletarian revolution was to herald “democracy” and the end to all dictatorship, for the other the proletarian revolution was synonymous to the dying away of the state. Both these tendencies failed to understand the characteristics of the revolutionary period, the period of transition, and the nature of the state in this period. Lenin clearly links the state of the transitional revolutionary period directly to the revolution itself, to an event which “temporarily” abstracts human beings from their routine economic place and their routine relations to each other in social production, and places them in an open and violent confrontation. The state in the revolutionary period is the instrument either of the advancement or the obstruction of the revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat is necessary not because new relations of production requiring a suitable political superstructure, and therefore a suitable state, have come into being, but because the bourgeoisie puts up a resistance to the very last. The state now, like the party, the revolutionary army and mass militia is an instrument to advance the task of revolutionary struggle and the change in the balance of political power. The characteristics of the “usual state” no longer suffice to describe the state of the transition period. This is true both for the state of revolutionary classes as well as for the reactionary states of the bourgeoisie. Different sectors of the Iranian Left, during the 1979 revolution and even today, have displayed their inability to grasp this point in their analysis of the ruling bourgeois state. They started from the assumption that to take a “Marxist” stand towards the Islamic Republic they should describe its “particular economic base.” Thus we were witness to how this lukewarm academic “Marxism” would from time to time scan one or the other social strata such as “mercantile bourgeoisie,” “traditional petty-bourgeoisie,” “remainders of feudalism” and so on to understand the Islamic Republic state. The Islamic Republic state had embarked on the scene to finish off the revolution, as the state of the bourgeoisie in the “revolutionary period,” as the state of the bourgeoisie organised as the counter-revolution. And the Iranian Left closed its eyes to this obviously bourgeois content of the state and groped after the explanation for the class character and political practice of the state in the economics of “subsidiary” classes in society. We called this state a bourgeois and bourgeois-imperialist state by virtue of its vital instrumental function for the entire bourgeoisie in the course of the 1979 revolution. This “leftism” on our part did not please the Iranian Left; nonetheless a few years later when the extent of massacre and repression reached such levels that the others were at any rate prepared to call the Islamic Republic bourgeois, they again found fault with us for having deduced the bourgeois character of the Islamic Republic from politics alone, and without exposing it as the political organisation of “monopoly capital"! In both cases, the “economic” explanation of the state forms the backbone of the thinking of the Iranian Left. However, the state in revolutionary periods in the hands of the bourgeoisie is the organiser of the counter-revolution and in the hands of the proletariat a vital tool in organising and advancing the revolution. The “economy” must wait for the conclusion of the revolution. Whoever grasps the “essence of the Marxist theory of the state” should understand the direct relation between the state and open class struggle. Sticking to “economy” in such periods would clearly take one away from Marxism. Another example of this mechanical and economistic approach is the method of the organisation of Vahdat-e-Komonisti in dealing with the revolutionary-democratic state (both in our view as well as in Lenin’s standpoint in 1905). According to them, since the “state is the instrument of the economically dominant class,” the revolutionary-democratic state is utopian, because if the economy is capitalist, this state would inevitably become the instrument of the economically “dominant” class, and if the economy is not to be capitalist, a socialist revolution would be on the agenda and the question of the democratic state would not arise. It is from this standpoint that they attack the democratic revolution and the revolutionary state, preferring to stay in opposition so long as the economy is capitalist, and attack Lenin for having introduced the idea of the democratic dictatorship of workers and the peasantry. The dictatorship of two classes is not possible, for at any rate it is the “economy” of one class which determines the character of the state! This reflects inability in understanding the concept of the state in revolutionary periods. I shall deal with these points in more detail later on. It was necessary in this introduction to point out that, to begin with, historical materialism is not only knowledge of the multiplicity of modes of production, the laws governing their functioning, and their historical sequence. An important part of historical materialism, particularly the part which has a more decisive practical relevance for the revolutionary agent, is the analysis of periods of revolutionary transition between these modes of production – i.e. the entire revolutionary period required for these fundamental transformations, the period in which people determine their own destiny with more authority than ever before. This part of historical materialism, to the description of which a major part of the political writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin is devoted, is often lost to the revisionist tabulations of the “social sciences.” In their hands historical materialism turns into a metaphysical chronology of modes of production. Secondly, so far as it concerns the question of the state, periods of revolutionary transition have a decisive significance. Here the state turns directly into an instrument to maintain or obtain political power as an immediate goal. To analyse the state in this period one should refer not mainly to the domain of economics, as essentially to the domain of the struggle between the revolution and counter-revolution. The state assumes its raison d’ Ítre in this domain, and its class character is judged by this criterion. Thirdly, the state of the transition period has a general definition in common with the “usual state.” The state is a special coercive force in the task of class suppression. The “usual” state, i.e. the state in a society in the process of its “ordinary,” non-crisis functioning, is the instrument of the economically dominant class, and assumes certain characteristics for this purpose. The state in the revolutionary period responds to the problem of the revolution. In the hands of the bourgeoisie it serves as an instrument of organising the counter-revolutionary coercive force, and in the hands of the proletariat and the revolutionary strata it is an instrument for organising the revolutionary coercive force. In this period, at any rate, this state assumes new characteristics while losing part of its usual aspects, namely its functioning and forms of existence in the non-crisis period. Fourthly, the Marxist theory of the state does not only concern ordinary conditions, but gives a clear understanding of the state in a period of transition – of state in revolutionary period in the broad sense. Moreover, the Marxist theory of the state is capable of analysing the process of the transformation of the usual state into the state of the revolutionary period, and vice versa, and recognises the characteristics of this process. This aspect of the Marxist theory of the state is mainly to be found in the political writings of Marxist leaders, namely those written mainly in the context of revolutionary circumstances.
Here, however, by “revolutionary periods” we have a more limited concept in mind than the entire period of transition between two modes of production. We mean the revolutionary period in the particular sense – the period in which the actual struggle over political power goes on, in the form of a revolutionary turmoil, the period when “those at the bottom do not want, and those at the top are not able to,” the period when the broad masses are drawn into revolutionary action. The period of transition as a whole does not have the same character. During the revolutionary period in the particular sense the fate of political power is not yet determined. Either the previous state, under blows of the revolution, is falling apart, or the new state is exposed to attempts at restoration by the overthrown forces and others. In the transition process as a whole there exist both revolutionary, as well as calm, stabilized periods. In the Russian revolution, the years 1917-1922 can no doubt be designated revolutionary in the particular sense, while the years 1923-1928 are a period of relative calm when the new state is relatively safe, but without a regular, lasting state, relying on particular economic interests, and with particular governmental methods, having matured. In other words, I separate the revolutionary period in the particular sense from the entire period during which society leaves behind the revolutionary crisis and assumes the usual form, with the production and reproduction of social life (under whatever established relations of production) turning into the major vehicle of the interrelations of classes in society. The revolutionary period in this limited sense can only be part of this process as a whole. What, then, are the characteristics of the state in these revolutionary periods in the limited sense, and which factors determine its course?
1- As was pointed out, the usual bourgeois state (in the present discussion we only deal with revolutionary periods in today’s capitalist world) is a state which takes on the appearance of a force above classes and above society, allegedly representing the interests of the public and speaking for society in general. Laws and legality in bourgeois society are supposed to serve this end. Laws and observance of law are apparently rooted in “human nature,” and initiate from abstract “principles” beyond the interests of social classes or strata. The usual state, the legal state, is at any rate a class state. But under non-crisis conditions, in non-revolutionary periods, this character of the state is concealed. It is the Marxists who under all conditions are aware of this character of the state and expose it. For the general public, however, the extra-class character of the state in non-revolutionary periods appears as given. The “bad state” is the state which fails to take care of “its people.” The people have certain legal, economic, and cultural expectation from the “state,” and the state which fails to respond to these expectations has apparently refused to fulfil its task as “state,” but the very concept of the state is not questioned. It was clear to you and me that the Shah’s government was the government of a specific class, as are the governments of the U.S., Britain and India. But for the broad mass of the people of the country even the Shah’s regime prior to the revolutionary surge of 1978-79 was judged with the criterion of the expectations of a “nation” from a “state,” not with the criterion of specific class interests. In revolutionary periods, however, such illusions evaporate rapidly. It is objective reality, and not merely communist awareness-raising, that removes such illusions on the scale of millions. Between the autumn of ‘78 and the February ‘79 uprising the class character of the monarchic government was revealed to the broadest masses. Even the most backward strata in society referred to “U.S. imperialism” and the “capitalists” in describing the state. That the state is the special coercive force of the ruling classes is neither questioned, nor does it require proof. Discussion is centred around the overthrow of the “state of the ruling classes.”
It is in fact the state itself which breaks its legal cover and engages in extra-legal actions in the face of the revolution. And in so doing, it inevitably breaks its own image as a phenomenon beyond class and contradictory interests within society. The depreciation of legality in the revolutionary period, both before and after the overthrow of the existing rule, is itself a manifestation and measure of the exposure of the specific class character of the state and the specific interests underlying this coercive force, which turn it into a special coercive force, specific to certain sectors of society. In revolutionary periods, this coercive force inescapably makes its specific class partiality evident – no other way is feasible for the ruling classes other than this to break down the revolution. The state resulting from the revolution (genuine or otherwise) also must needs resort to extra-legal action and speak for certain sectors and classes in society (even if the majority) to ensure its survival throughout the revolutionary period. For the new state, the revolution and not the law, is the source of power, just as for the former state, with the uprising of the masses, it was tranquility, and not the law, that was the source of enforcing power. Indeed the transition from the primacy of the revolution to the primacy of law, is itself a criterion and manifestation of the passage from the “state of the revolutionary period” to the “usual state.”
Along with the exposure of the particular class partiality of the state and the expansion of its extra-legal practice, the usual and “legal” institutions and relations of wielding state power also lose their importance in favour of extra-legal and extraordinary institutions and relations. The bourgeois state in the revolutionary period is increasingly reduced to its basic foundation, i.e. a “combination of suppressive armed forces, prisons and courts.” All finesse and trimming is pruned; the cabinet, parliament, judiciary and so on are substituted with emergency headquarters, committees, chief commands, which carry out the basic functions of the bourgeois state free from all addendum. The “usual” institutions will no longer do, for by definition the society is in revolt against these institutions and against submission to them. The state emerging out of the revolution, however – the state which at any rate is formed “in the name of the revolution” – must needs build its survival immediately, not on the readymade institutions and organs in the non-crisis period, but on material which has taken form in the process of the revolution. The process of the revival or reconstruction and completion of the routine state institutions is itself an important criterion and manifestation of the transition of “the state of the revolutionary period” into the “usual state.”
All this means that in the revolutionary period both the bourgeoisie and the masses who have risen up regard the state not as an extra-societal institution, but as an instrument of political and military superiority in a specific period – i.e., what “the state in revolutionary period” can be in reality. The state turns progressively into one of the organising forms of the organised political action of particular classes, with its “administrative” function being pushed to the side. We shall refer to the importance of this in studying Lenin’s method of dealing with the revolutionary state in 1905 and 1917 – usually a puzzle to academic economists – and also in examining the place of the Islamic Republic in our programme.
2- But in the revolutionary period the state is not merely an instrument for changing society, or resisting change in society, but itself a subject of change. The state, in other words, is not merely an instrument for the organised political action of certain classes, but is itself a phenomenon which is directly a subject of political action. In a strike over pay the bourgeois state would appear in a suppressive role. The success of the strike, no matter how violent, would mean obtaining the pay rise. The state as such is not under attack, and no demand concerning serious changes in the state, its composition or methods, are necessarily made. In a revolution, however, the existing state is itself a phenomenon which is a subject of protest, with a certain alternative kind of state being demanded. The issue in the revolution is political power, and therefore the major part of the demands of the revolutionary strata is directly related to transformation in the form and functioning of the state itself. Which state, with which structures and characteristics should take power is itself one of the demands and objectives of the revolution. This introduces a factor into the analysis of the bourgeois state which is of less importance during the period of the “ordinary” functioning of society: reform in the practice of bourgeois states during the revolutionary period is the outcome of the pressure of the revolution and the reaction of the bourgeoisie to revolutionary conditions. This is a political retreat on the part of the bourgeoisie to mitigate the revolution itself. Therefore “reforms” in bourgeois forms of government in the revolutionary period are essentially different from reforms in non-crisis times. In non-crisis times political reforms in bourgeois society are not necessarily in contradiction with the requirements of the accumulation of capital; in certain instances it is in fact the necessary condition for the process of accumulation. Political reform, even though spurred by the force of the deprived people in society, is often compatible with the new economic and social requirements of the bourgeoisie. In revolutionary periods, however, political reform reflects the retreat of the bourgeois state, despite the wishes of the bourgeoisie, and against the routine objective economic and social requirements of capital. There is a big difference between the development of parliamentary rule, the expansion of the activities of trade unions, the spread of suffrage and bourgeois-democratic freedoms which came into being over a relatively long historical process in Europe (and today are fading out and being taken back), and the “political openings” that despotic bourgeois states in dominated countries sometimes concede in conditions of revolutionary crisis. To explain the latter, one should not look into the “economy,” the requirements of the process of accumulation, the rivalry of various factions of the bourgeoisie and their different interests, or to its compatibility with the economic requirements of some section of the bourgeoisie. Here, i.e. in revolutionary periods, the bourgeoisie temporarily retreats in the face of revolutionary demands regarding the state, with the intention of curbing the revolutionary wave. This is the imposition of the revolution on the bourgeoisie, not the reform of the bourgeois state according to new requirements of the economic and class base of bourgeois society. If as a result of these setbacks the liberals, reformists, parliamentarians, and so on come to the foreground for a while and turn into the state representatives of capital, this is not to be taken as the supremacy of liberal-parliamentary forms of government in the social system of the bourgeoisie and the desirability per se of these forms of government for the bourgeoisie, but as the retreat of the bourgeoisie to the undesirable positions of liberalism and parliamentary rule. The lifespan of these reforms is conditioned by the pressure of the revolution, not the pressure of the economic interests of a particular section of the bourgeoisie or the requirements of a new phase in the development of bourgeois society.
But the more important conclusion to draw from this relates to the revolutionary state itself. We said before that the revolution itself involves the demand for a certain kind of state. But it would be wrong to imagine that the outcome of the victory of any insurrection would immediately be the establishment of this particular kind of state. Revolutionary demands concerning the state envision a particular routine method of rule: a particular kind of democracy, a particular kind of hierarchy in authority, a particular kind of public intervention in the process of political and economic decision-making, a particular kind of law, individual and collective rights and duties. But the revolutionary state in the revolutionary period is the instrument of realizing this “demanded state,” not this state itself. The revolutionary state in the revolutionary period cannot, unless in exceptional circumstances, immediately turn into such a state. The outcome of any victorious uprising is a provisional revolutionary government, acting as an instrument to suppress the resistance of the counter-revolution. This state expresses the development of revolutionary action “from below” into a combination of enforcement of will “both from above and from below.” This is a new phase of the revolution for the establishment of the desired political regime; it is not that political regime itself. In other words, the revolutionary state in the revolutionary period, i.e. the state resulting from the insurrection and corresponding to the period of the definite political and military victory of the revolution, is different from the “usual state” resulting from the revolution, i.e. the desired political regime. This difference exists not only in methods and priorities, but also in the composition of the state, its organs, the force constituting it, and in its practical relation with the classes it represents. It should not be difficult to understand the reason behind this difference. The establishment of the new political regime involves the suppression and elimination of the danger of restoration of the old regime. The suppression, however, should be carried out by means of the already or immediately available fighting force. The organs of the insurrection, from the top to the bottom, are not necessarily the same organs for the administration of society, as in the “desired political regime.” It may well be that these latter have not yet been properly formed, or are in a formative stage. The organisational arrangement that the revolutionary class takes on for the purpose of the overthrow is not necessarily, or most likely definitely, the arrangement that the class takes on in the desired political regime. The forces actively at the disposal of the rising class in the wake of the overthrow are not exactly the same forces which become active and enter the scene in the process of the suppression of the counter-revolution and in the course of the increasing confirmation of the political and military victory of the revolution. In one word, the provisional revolutionary government, as the inevitable product of the revolutionary process, is marked by the previous process of revolutionary struggle, its forces, traditions and requirements, while the desired political regime of the revolution which in its comprehensive form can only be the product of the victorious completion of the revolutionary period, takes its forms and relations not only from the process of the revolution, but from the aspirations and ideals, from the programme and social life of the revolutionary class.
How far the provisional revolutionary government can be immediately similar to the desired political regime depends on many factors. There is no doubt, however, that lack of total similarity and the existence of serious differences between the revolutionary state in the revolutionary period and the “regular regime” pursued by the revolution, is the rule and not the exception. It is obvious that politically the definite victory of the revolution does not solely depend on the overthrow of the bourgeois state and the establishment of the provisional revolutionary government; it means the organisation and formation of the political regime which is the aim of the revolution and a requirement of political liberation. In this sense one of the basic revolutionary tasks of the provisional revolutionary government should of necessity be to contribute to the formation of those relations and institutions on the basis of which the desired political regime should as soon as possible be established. In this sense, the revolution, even after the overthrow of the old state and the establishment of the provisional revolutionary government, still calls for the establishment of a certain kind of state. The revolutionary state in the revolutionary period is the instrument for the fulfilment of this basic political objective, while as a state it is inevitably itself subject to the progressive movement of the revolution, and would, as a result, be subject to change.
Referring to the experience of the October revolution and the “democratic” criticisms levelled in the guise of leftism against the Bolshevik revolution, we shall further down deal with the importance of distinguishing between these two kinds of state resulting from the revolution.
3- In revolutionary periods the polarisation of social classes and the practical confrontation of classes occurs around issues which, in the non-revolutionary course of the development of society, have either been marginal, or have not been seriously introduced. Social classes rally themselves around issues which stem from the course and the requirements of the movement of the revolution. The same factors and criteria which constitute the test for the class identity and allegiance of states, parties and politicians of various classes in non-crisis conditions, cease to be suitable criteria and tests in the revolutionary period. Other criteria, on a much more concrete level, become important. We all witnessed in Iran how with the development of the revolution, “economic” demands gave place to “political” demands; how issues such as “monarchy – yes or no,” “the release of political prisoners,” “workers’ control,” and so on turned into focuses of mass interest, and therefore into the juncture for the meeting and conflict of the interests of antagonistic classes in society. The analysis of the class character of the state in revolutionary periods should likewise be related to urgent issues of the class struggle, i.e. issues which are objective turning points for the progression or retreat of the revolution. It no longer suffices to make the relation between the state and political parties with “private property,” and “maintaining the existing relations of production.” To distinguish the class character of parties and states in revolutionary periods, one should, first of all, attend to problems of classes in the revolution, and the kind of practice of the state and political parties towards such problems.
In the 1917 Russian revolution, the S.R.s and the Mensheviks are not the same S.R.s and Mensheviks as before the revolution, even if programmatically and in their slogans and demands they still support the same relations of ownership and economic relations that they asked for before the revolution. Lenin calls the provisional government, i.e. the government in which the S.R.s and the Mensheviks participate, bourgeois and imperialist, not because this provisional government comprises entirely the party forces and politicians of the big Russian bourgeoisie and landowners, and an avid supporter of their economic platform, but because this government stands against peace, the slog n of power to the soviets, the 8-hour work day, the demand for land, and generally against the aims and slogans of the current revolution, and in reality acts as the government of the Russian bourgeoisie and landowners in the revolutionary period. These slogans, these issues and turning points, are the juncture where the revolution and counter-revolution are at loggerheads in the Russia of 1917, and therefore these very factors, before any general consideration about the relation of any trend to the existing relations of production, determine the class allegiance of non-proletarian parties and their coalition governments. When classes array themselves in relation to the revolution, then the issues distinguishing them would also be the issues on which the development or setback of the revolution hinges. The bourgeois state in revolutionary periods should respond to the needs of the bourgeois class at such times, and not solely (or necessarily) to the basic and general needs and principles of bourgeois society in the domain of production, reproduction, and order of production. This, in the final analysis, is a defence of the economic existence and private ownership of the bourgeoisie, because the only practical way of defending the private property and the social and economic sway of the bourgeoisie in the revolutionary period is to contend with the revolution. Any force which can most actively and effectively direct and organise this antagonism to the revolution and this class resistance of the bourgeoisie, would have the force to constitute the bourgeois state, whether or not this trend is in itself the most efficient and outspoken defender and justifier of bourgeois economic relations and private ownership, or the most capable trend in running the affairs of the ordinary bourgeois society. The bourgeois state in the revolutionary period acts as the provisional bourgeois counter-revolutionary state, and therefore, more often than not, it may, in order to suppress or restrain the revolutionary wave, take steps against the immediate economic interests or basic welfare of bourgeois private property. The weakness of the Iranian left in recognising this fact, resulted in unfortunate confusions and opportunistic positions in dealing with the Islamic Republic. To this we shall return later on.
4- The revolutionary period, at any rate, has a beginning and an end, and would finally give its place to a stabilised, “routine” political regime. Both the decisive victory of the revolution over the bourgeoisie and the defeat of the revolution by the bourgeoisie, lead the society into a period of normal, non-crisis functioning. The state as part of society, must also undergo this development. Relations, institutions, and forces which dominated during the revolutionary period would, by perfecting or destroying themselves, give place to relations and institutions which correspond to the production and reproduction of social life under specific relations of production. But this transformation of the state from the state in revolutionary periods to the usual state, is not an impromptu operation. This process should take its course in the material world and through provision of objective grounds and practical material. Marxists should note the forms of the transformation of the state from the revolutionary period to the period of the ordinary functioning of society. The formation of non-provisional political and administrative institutions and structures to maintain political power by a certain class, and providing and establishing legal, judicial, cultural, and ideological forms capable of maintaining in a routine form the balance of political power in favour of the ruling class (or the class which has come to rule), is a process which begins in the revolutionary period itself. The bourgeoisie cannot hinge its longer term sovereignty on a state pattern that it has assumed in countering the revolution, any more than the proletariat can, in case of coming to power, maintain its political domination and superiority in society by means of the same methods and by relying on the same forces and institutions which have brought about the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, and broken down its initial resistance. In studying the functioning of the state in the revolutionary period, therefore, a vital aspect of our analysis should be directed towards those processes through which the existing provisional state is forming the long-term basis of the rule of its class. An important criterion in analysing the class character and allegiance of a state in the revolutionary period, is those actions and policies in which the state engages to provide the grounds for a more stable future regime. To this also we shall return more specifically in studying the Islamic Republic as a bourgeois state and the Bolshevik state as a proletarian state.
To sum up: the approach to the state in revolutionary periods should be a living one, away from stereotyped definitions and attitudes. The state under such circumstances is in fact itself a living, developing phenomenon which takes its philosophy for existence and its character from the problematics and laws of motion of society in a specific historical period. It is the essential character of revolutionary periods that in them the political-revolutionary development of society, itself turns into the vehicle for the economic-productive movement and development of the society. The state also is influenced by the essential character of this historic period. The basis for the understanding of state and its functioning in such periods, and its special relationship to its class, is understanding the specific characteristics of the revolutionary period. The revolution is the determining factor in the course of the movement of society in these periods, and therefore the state in revolutionary periods as distinct from the state in non-crisis periods of the functioning of society, should be analysed basically around the [issue of] revolution. To properly understand the relation of the economic base to the state, primarily we should analyse the relation of this base with the revolution, and then, through the medium of the revolution, arrive at the concept of the state. The bourgeois state in the revolutionary period apparently drifts away from the immediate economic needs of this class so that at a more basic level, through the effort to suppress the revolution, to play its role in maintaining this base. The revolutionary state of the proletariat, on the other hand, is the political instrument at the service of the continuation of revolutionary struggle. This state is in contradiction with the existing economic relations, without itself being the very political regime and the state suited to the new economic requirements. The proletarian state in the revolutionary period, too, is a provisional revolutionary state, and in many ways different from the “usual state” coming out of the revolution (if this can be used as the proper description for the established dictatorship of the proletariat).
What we have said so far is in fact nothing more than generalized conclusions drawn from the political writings of the leaders of Marxism, particularly of Lenin. We have already seen how The State and Revolution is itself an effort to describe the distinct characteristics of the state in the transition period between capitalism and communism based on the fundamental teachings of Marxism. In other words, the method of approaching the state in the period of the revolutionary development of society in the broad sense is already theorized in Marxism. As for revolutionary periods in the limited sense, enough has been said in Marxist literature, particularly in Lenin’s polemics against the Mensheviks, to allow us to deduce a consistent and systematic view of the state in such periods. Lenin’s discussions in 1905, particularly in the Two Tactics, and his numerous articles during the 1917 revolution about the fate of political power and the tasks of the proletarian state, is a rich source for understanding the state in revolutionary periods and for a correct, Marxist approach to it.
In 1905 the statement that “the state is the political instrument for the domination of the economically dominant class,” or that “the state is subject to, and supporter of existing economic relations in society,” was the theoretical centre of gravity for the reformism and liberalism of the Mensheviks in approaching the question of political power. The Mensheviks, like the likes of Vahdat-e-Komonisti in Iran now, believed that the working class, and the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party as the political representative of this class, should not take part in the probable democratic state emerging from the revolution. The reason [they give] is what we said before: the democratic state should carry out the tasks of the democratic revolution. These tasks are in essence bourgeois tasks (they do not go beyond the limits of the foundations of bourgeois relations), therefore the state would inevitably become subject to bourgeois economy and social relations, turning into an instrument serving the bourgeoisie. The communists should not soil their lands by taking part in such a state. Lenin replies to this distorted understanding of historical materialism and this blind and impartial academism with a clear understanding of the concept of the state in revolutionary periods:
“Here we at once see the result of our conferees having overlooked a concrete question confronting the proletariat’s political leaders. The concrete question of a provisional revolutionary government has been obscured from their field of vision by the question of the future series of governments which will carry out the aims of the bourgeois revolution in general. If you want to consider the question “historically,” the example of any European country will show you that it was a series of governments, by no means “provisional,” that carried out the historical aims of the bourgeois revolution, that even governments which defeated the revolution were nevertheless forced to carry out the historical aims of that defeated revolution. But what you speak of is not called a “provisional revolutionary government”: that is the name given to the government of a revolutionary epoch, one that immediately replaces the overthrown government and rests on the people’s insurrection, and not on some kind of representative institution coming from the people. A provisional revolutionary government is the organ of struggle for the immediate victory of the revolution, for the immediate repulsion of attempts at counter-revolution, and not at all an organ for the implementation of historical aims of the bourgeois revolution in general. Let us leave it to the future historians of a future Russkaya Starina to determine exactly what aims of the bourgeois revolution we, or some government or other, shall have achieved – there will be time enough to do that thirty years from now; at present we must put forward slogans and give practical directives for the struggle for a republic and for the proletariat’s most active participation in that struggle.” (Two Tactics, Collected Works, Vol.9, pp. 42-43, emphasis is ours)
Here Lenin explicitly points out the existing distinction between the state from the “historical” point of view, and the state in revolutionary periods. The revolutionary state is the instrument for the continuation of revolutionary struggle from above (in addition to from below). This state depends on the insurrection and the insurrectionary force, not on this or that elected representative institution. The task of this state is the suppression of the resistance of the camp of the counter-revolution and the decisive imposition of what the revolution dictates. The revolutionary period itself turns the question of the “victory of the revolution” into a pivotal issue for the working class. For Lenin, “the day after the uprising” is not a theoretical problem, not a subject in sociology, but a practical situation, with a specific character. The Mensheviks have no tangible vision of the requirements and attributes of revolutionary periods, and use static, stereotyped, and “historical” dicta regarding the state to approach an objective historical situation which has its own attributes and laws of motion. The Mensheviks’ academism and stereotyped thinking about the state is in practice a justification for evading revolutionary action to the end:
“Instead of indicating just how the proletariat should “advance revolutionary development” at the present time, ... instead of advice to make definite preparations for the struggle against the bourgeoisie when the latter turns against the conquests of the revolution, we are offered a general description of a process, a description which says nothing about the concrete aims of our activity. The new-Iskra manner of expressing its views reminds one of Marx’s opinion (stated in his famous theses on Feuerbach) of the old materialism, which was alien to the ideas of dialectics. The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways, said Marx; the point, however, is to change it. Similarly, the new-Iskra group can give a tolerable description and explanation of the process of struggle taking place before their eyes, but they are altogether incapable of giving a correct slogan for this struggle. Good marchers but poor leaders, they disparage the materialist conception of history by ignoring the active, leading and guiding part which can and must be played in history by parties that have realized the material prerequisites of a revolution and have placed themselves at the head of the progressive classes.” (Ibid, pp. 43-44).
The truth is that these “interpreters,” far from being supporters of “Marx’s Theory” against the “pragmatism” of the revolutionaries, are distorters of the theory of Marx. The controversy between Lenin and the Mensheviks over the question of the state and political power in the 1905 revolution, is not a controversy between “green reality” and “grey theory,” because it is Marxist theory itself which recognizes the living dynamism of the transformation of society and state in the revolutionary period, and is therefore as living, dynamic, and “green” as the reality itself. Lenin’s defence of the provisional revolutionary government in 1905 is in fact also a theoretical defence of the Marxist interpretation of the state. The main nucleus of this defence, is the recognition of the attributes of revolutionary periods:
“One must have a schoolboy’s conception of history to imagine the thing without “leaps,” to see it as something in the shape of a straight line moving slowly and steadily upwards: first, it will be the turn of the liberal big bourgeoisie – minor concessions from the autocracy; then of the revolutionary petty-bourgeoisie – the democratic republic; and finally of the proletariat – the socialist revolution. That picture, by and large, is correct, correct a la longue, as the French say – spread over a century or so ... but one must be virtuoso of philistinism to take this as a pattern for one’s plan of action in a revolutionary epoch. If the Russian autocracy, even at this stage, fails to find a way out by buying itself off with a meagre constitution, if it is not only shaken but actually overthrown, then, obviously, a tremendous exertion of revolutionary energy on the part of all progressive classes will be called for to defend this gain. This “defence,” however, is nothing else than the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry! The more we gain now and the more vigorously we defend the gains, the less will the inevitable future reaction be able to reappropriate afterwards, the shorter will the intervals of reaction be, and the easier will the task be for the proletarian fighters who will come after us.” (The Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry, Collected Works, Vol. 8, p.299).
Against this “schoolboy” understanding of historical materialism and the state, it is necessary to stress political truisms about revolutionary periods:
“Is it not clear that without the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry there is not a shred of hope for the success of this struggle [for the republic]? One of the chief flaws in the argument under discussion [of the Mensheviks] is its deadness, its stereotyped character, its failure to make allowance for the revolutionary situation. Struggling for the republic while at the same time renouncing the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship is as though Oyama [the Japanese marshal] had decided to fight Kuropatkin [the Russian general] at Mukden, but disavowed beforehand any intention of taking the city. If we, the revolutionary people, viz., the proletariat and the peasantry, want to “fight together” against the autocracy, we must fight against it together to the last, finish it off together, and stand together in repelling the inevitable attempts to restore it!” (Ibid, p.298. Our emphasis)
This is Lenin’s method of approaching the revolutionary period and the question of the state. The revolutionary state is the continuation of the insurrection; it is the extension of the insurrection into the struggle “from above” to break down the inevitable counter-revolutionary resistance. What the process of the development of the economy in society, in the final analysis and in the long run, is going to make of the revolutionary state, does not say much about the necessity and the scope of action of this state in the revolutionary period. Negating the revolutionary state by making use of the formula that “the state is the supporter of the interests of the economically dominant class” is in fact a “theoretical” indictment against the insurrection and forcible revolution itself. If the insurrection is on the agenda, then the meaning of the political victory of the insurrection and the attributes of political power in revolutionary periods should be recognized. Agitating for insurrection without understanding the necessity for the formation of a revolutionary state, and through profound stereotyped formulae on the relation of the state and the economic base at that, is a liberal demagoguery and an intellectual defeatism. Lenin follows this very method in the attitude to the state in 1917. There are many who regard Lenin’s stand on the character of the 1917 revolution and the necessity for the formation of a proletarian state, a revision in the formula of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry (1905). Trotskyists believe that in 1917 Lenin was leaning towards Trotsky’s formula in 1905. Others believe that in 1905 Lenin followed the Menshevik idea of stageist revolution, but gave it up in 1917 in the April theses. What they ignore is Lenin’s clear understanding of the attributes of the state in revolutionary periods. This is the aspect of Marxist theory which is absent in the thinking of Lenin’s stereotyped critics and interpreters. The idea of the “two class” dictatorship both in its own time and today is and has been criticized (by Trotskyists and by Vahdat-e-Komonisti in the Iranian left) on the basis of the same badly digested formula about the relationship between “state and economy.” But Lenin had not deduced this idea (and therefore his later change of position) from any stageist explanation of the history of the development of relations of production in Russia. As was said before, in 1905 the revolutionary state should have been the governmental coalition of the democratic layers and classes in society, and expressive of the balance of the actual forces of these classes in the process of the revolution. Workers and peasants were the motive force of the revolutionary movement, and could therefore be the constituting force of a state that would undertake the task of suppressing the inevitable resistance of the bourgeoisie in continuing the revolution. The product of the joint struggle of these forces, with this balance of power in reality, could not be the dictatorship of the proletariat. If the two-class dictatorship is a contradiction, which it is, this contradiction should resolve itself and work itself out in the real, material history, and in the course of time. To interpret this process, as Lenin says, many historians will be found. But the “two-class” revolutionary state is the product of the insurrection of “two classes.” If the uprising and the process of revolution from below in general be the doing of a non-homogeneous combination of social classes and strata (as it was in 1905), then on the “first day after the uprising,” the revolution, in so far as it is an existing and actual phenomenon, can continue by these classes in the form of a state. The revolutionary state, constituted of “several insurrecting classes” was not a “theoretical” contradiction, but, on the contrary, a theoretical necessity resulting from understanding the reality of a popular revolution and the attributes of the revolutionary period as a tactical period in 1905. In the 1917 revolution this balance of power and the manner of participation of various sections of society has, along with central issues of class alignment, changed in comparison with 1905. One part of this difference, no doubt, is the product of 12 years of development in Russia, and another part is caused by the aggravation of the world crisis of capitalism to the level of a destructive world war. But at any rate it is the practical outcome of these developments in the struggle of classes and its effect on the real balance of power of the forces making the revolution which has brought about changes in the practical possibilities of the proletariat in relation to political power. It is this factor which allows Lenin to put on the agenda the policy of forming a working-class state, this time by “winning the support” of poor peasants. The revolutionary state can be a workers’ state. Lenin has not revised his methodology and approach, but the practical reality has brought about the possibility of forming a workers’ state and suppressing the counter-revolution by a revolutionary workers’ state. When we look at the experience of the October revolution from the vantage point of the present, it is easy to see how this “one-class” state also became prey to contradictions that the revolutionary and contradictory “two-class” state would have become prey to. The same vital need for winning the support of the peasants because of their political and economic weight and the part they should have played in the process of isolating and breaking down the armed bourgeois counter-revolution, Russian or otherwise, confronted the revolutionary state with fundamental difficulties, and marked the process of the development of this state. But from these contradictions, from the inadequacy of the power of the workers to enforce authority, and therefore from the political and economic pressure of the non-proletarian classes, one cannot draw the conclusion that the formation of a revolutionary workers’ state was “premature,” given the economic base in Russia – for only this state could ensure the continuation of the revolution from above (as well as from below) in the entire struggle to suppress the inevitable resistance of bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia. The Leninist understanding of revolutionary periods, and the instrumental role of the state in the process of the revolution in these periods proves the fact that active political interventionism not only does not go against Marxist principles, not only does not require any revision in definitions of Marxist analysis, particularly of historical materialism and the theory of the state, but rather itself stems from this theory and this materialism. Menshevism and left-liberalism have traditionally found communist practice contrary to theoretical “purity.” Communist practice, no doubt, is contrary to the theoretical cliches of mechanical materialism, and the distorted interpretations of Marxism by the economic-determinists. But the Marxism which can recognise the laws of motion of society and the character of social phenomena including the state in revolutionary periods, not only does not find theory contrary to interventionism and “reaching out for political power,” but finds in it a rich source of guidance for the most active revolutionary intervention in society. We, too, have arrived at the revolutionary republic and its desirability by the same method, and not through any stageist description of the revolution. In the programme of the Communist Party, after a clear and condensed explanation of the necessity and possibility of the socialist revolution and the definition of this revolution as the raison d’ etre and the basis for our organising, we come to the point that the Iranian working class does not at the moment have the ability for the immediate establishment of its own rule. Bringing about this readiness is our task. Another composition of class forces in society, however, has the ability to carry out “another revolution.” This revolution is the revolution for democracy, and is a component and a juncture in the entire process of workers’ revolution. Victory in such a revolution would help workers’ revolution. The success of such a revolution is practicable by means of the real and already existing force of the classes demanding revolutionary democracy. This revolution should definitely overthrow the existing state and political regime. What can and should immediately replace it? Our Mensheviks say that the state whose time has “historically” arrived should come to power. If the time for the dictatorship of the proletariat has not arrived, or if at any rate the state resulting from this “other revolution” cannot immediately be the dictatorship of the proletariat, then everything, including the revolutionary government will, according to them, inevitably be entirely “blue” and bourgeois. Any premature intervention in the question of political power and the formation of a revolutionary state would lead to turning into the instrument of the bourgeoisie, i.e. the “economically dominant class"! What answer does Marxism provide? For us, as Marxists who have at hand the experience of Lenin’s living and creative attitude to the revolutionary process, the question poses itself as follows: what should replace the overthrown state of the bourgeoisie so that the revolution for democracy should continue ever more deeply and not be reduced to a mere replacement of the political forces of the bourgeoisie in power? How can the inevitable resistance of the bourgeoisie against this revolution be broken? Leninism, before turning to “economics,” turns in the revolutionary period to the insurrection and the necessity for the continuation of struggle by force for revolutionary goals. The revolutionary state is the form of the continuation of this struggle from above, and at the same time an effective means for extending the struggle from below. The revolutionary period is the period for the organised exercise of force:
“In the final analysis force alone settles the great problems of political liberty and the class struggle, and it is our business to prepare and organise this force and to employ it actively, not only for defence but also for attack. The long reign of political reaction in Europe, which has lasted almost uninterruptedly since the days of the Paris Commune, has made us too greatly accustomed to the idea that action can proceed only “from below,” has too greatly inured us to seeing only defensive struggles. We have now undoubtedly entered a new era – a period of political upheavals and revolutions has begun. In a period such as that which Russia is now passing through, it is impermissible to confine ourselves to old stereotyped formulas. We must propagate the idea of “action from above,” must prepare for the most energetic, offensive action, and must study the conditions for and forms of such action.” (Two Tactics, Collected Works, Vol.9, p.31)
For us the revolutionary republic is the continuation of revolutionary force in the wake of the overthrow, by means of the formation of a provisional revolutionary government. This revolutionary government is vital. If one cares for political democracy to facilitate socialist struggle, if one wants to make a revolution for democracy, or even if one simply sees that even if he himself does not make a revolution, certain classes and strata are making a revolution for democracy, then he should be able to answer what the outcome of this revolution in relation to political power should be, and what the forces of the revolution should do in the wake of the overthrow and in the course of the inevitable resistance of the bourgeoisie. We say it is possible, and a must, to form a revolutionary state which represents the exercise of the will of revolutionary strata “from above.” Political power should be seized and used against the overthrown, but as yet living and active counter-revolution. Any one who sees a contradiction between this and the Marxist theory of the state, the decisiveness of economy and so on, has in fact failed to understand any of these. State in revolutionary periods is a temporary, transitional, and changing phenomenon. It initiates from the uprising and answers to the problems of the current, actual revolution. The internal contradictions of this state, its future and its process of erosion or disintegration, the continuation of revolutionary crisis and so on, none can reduce the real and actual role a revolutionary state can play in a particular period in the class struggle. Our current was itself one of the first to introduce the idea of the contradiction between capitalism and democracy in Iran in a totally well-argued form, as a part of its critique of the populism dominating the communist movement, and managed to play an important role in dispelling the illusions of the Iranian left in this respect. But we, meanwhile, put a revolutionary-democratic state in our programme. Now it should be quite clear why. We do not look upon the revolutionary republic as the “political superstructure of Iranian economy,” but as a “state in the revolutionary period” which should organise the exercise of force by the toilers from above for the purpose of democracy. If revolution for democracy is possible, then the revolutionary-democratic state also is, not only possible, but vital. How long it would take for the revolutionary process to render this very revolution and revolutionary state “obsolete,” and to put the dictatorship of the proletariat on the agenda, is a different matter. As for our part, not only do we already have the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism on the agenda (workers’ state is our slogan), we shall be the first, like the Bolsheviks, to declare the “obsoleteness” of the old revolution and revolutionary goals. Understanding the attributes of the state in revolutionary periods is the necessary condition for an active and interventionist approach to the question of political power. The Iranian left, with its metaphysical and deterministic understanding of the state and its relation to economics, has so far lacked, at least theoretically, such capacity for active interventionism.
It is not so complicated to explain the characteristics and functioning of the bourgeois state in ordinary circumstances. The difficulty arises when the bourgeois state has apparently come to power in the course of a revolutionary process and in the name of the revolution. In the beginning the Islamic Republic was such a state. The phenomenon of the Islamic Republic theoretically confused the larger section of the forces on the left for a long time. Apart from the deeply-rooted nationalist illusions of the populists about the “national bourgeoisie and anti-imperialist petty-bourgeoisie,” and therefore the enthusiasm of sectors of petty-bourgeois socialism for “conditional” and unconditional support for the Islamic Republic, the very position and practice of this regime in the first years of the revolution, and the practical process which resulted in the establishment of this state, added to the confusion. That the bourgeoisie, particularly after the “Tasu’a march” managed to make the slogan of the Islamic Republic into the slogan of the broad masses of the people, that some of the heads of the new regime had in the previous periods been among fervent opponents of the monarchy, the offensive of the Islamic current against the liberal-constitutional assortment of the National Front, the anti-American slogans of the regime and its mass mobilizing ability in the first months of the revolution, were all factors which, despite all the facts and observations that existed even before the uprising about the reactionary demands and objectives of the Islamic current, and despite all obviously counter-revolutionary acts of the regime from the day after the uprising, rendered the populist left unable to understand the bourgeois and counter-revolutionary character of the Islamic Republic. Calling the Islamic Republic bourgeois was for a long time considered as “leftism” by the populists (Rah-e-Kargar still holds the same view). The theoreticians of popular socialism inevitably looked for the “class” roots of this state in the economics of society and in the economic interests of non-proletarian strata. The discoveries of various currents about the basis and class allegiance of this state was a real spectacle. The basis of these discoveries was an impaired and economistic understanding of the state, and inability in recognizing the basis for the functioning of the bourgeois state in revolutionary periods.
From the very beginning we called the Islamic Republic the instrument of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. In an introduction to the pamphlet The Workers’ Sit-in in the Ministry of Labour in March 1979 we wrote:
“The daily realities of the revolution and class struggle increasingly provide the ground for the dispelling of petty-bourgeois illusions, and the mute confidence of the toilers in the present government – the mute confidence which is the main source of the power of the capitalists to sterilize the Iranian revolution. Every day a larger number of workers and toilers pose themselves the question whether a government that prevents the promotion of the working-class movement and the mobilisation of the toiling masses led by the working class, can be a national and revolutionary government. Whether a government ... that takes away freedoms, stifles expression, disrupts gatherings, and calls political parties and organisations which act in the interest of the working class “conspiratorial,” “disruptive,” and “more Catholic than the Pope,” can be revolutionary. Whether the government that ... opens fire on the just march of the unemployed workers in Isfahan, and then turns the blind eye is revolutionary. Whether a government that ... detains conscious workers, creates ethnic, religious, sexual, age, etc., divisions among the workers to prevent their unity is revolutionary. ... No, the present government is by no means the organ of the insurrection and the revolution of the toilers. The historic task of the present government, which from the standpoint of the long-term interests of imperialism in Iran is truly “provisional,” is to save capital and imperialism from the storm of the revolution of the toiling and militant masses of Iran. (pp.3-4)
“But what are the tasks of the conscious workers and the revolutionary vanguard of the working class in the face of the above facts? If the present government acts in the interest of capital and the capitalists, if the present government is a provisional and mediatory government which prepares the ground for the return of imperialist reaction, then the task of revolutionary workers would be to set the foundations of an organisation which can be the organ of the independent rule of the workers, and able to mobilise the workers and the broad masses of the toilers to defend the achievements of the revolution, and the decisive defeat of the counter-revolution at the time of the final attack of the counter-revolution which is bound to begin sooner or later, led by the capitalists and helped along by the conservative and fanatical sector of the petty-bourgeoisie, and promoted by their full-fledged military and political specialists, who would not hesitate in massacring millions of the people.” (p.5)
With the beginning of the publication of Besooy-e-Sosyalism we explained the theoretical basis of this assessment of the Islamic Republic in a series of articles called Two Factions Within the Bourgeois-Imperialist Counter-revolution. Emphasising the basic characteristics of the practices of the bourgeois state in revolutionary periods, and mentioning the individual merits of the Islamic Republic for the bourgeoisie and imperialism, we repeated in these articles that the Islamic regime is a bourgeois state that promotes the policy of the imperialist bourgeoisie and therefore that of the entire bourgeoisie in Iran against the Iranian revolution. This was the crux of our argument. In the revolutionary period it is not the economy, but the revolution that is the problem of the bourgeoisie. The establishment of “counter-revolutionary order” is the priority for the bourgeoisie, both historically and analytically. The “desired” state for the bourgeoisie in this period is a state which can utilize the existing political material in revolutionary conditions to finish off the revolution – especially considering that the standard institutions of suppression and control are rendered useless and ineffective. In the years ‘78 and ‘79 the bourgeois-monarchic state in Iran was in a state of decay. The spectre of insurrection was brooding over the bourgeoisie. The liberal current of “the National Front” and “the Freedom Movement” was the most active advocate of preventing the uprising and maintaining the suppressive institutions of the existing state, i.e. the army and bureaucracy. This position of the liberals and their probable ability in compromising the camp of the revolution with such lukewarm demands, corresponded to the policy of the big bourgeoisie in Iran which was in a position of tactical retreat from the surge of the revolution. For a time the liberals were the most serious and the most “thrift-worthy” alternative for the bourgeoisie, in its effort to maintain the status quo and its political supremacy. The Bakhtiyar government was the last effort on the part of the bourgeoisie to control the situation through retreat to the position of monarchic liberalism. This was a tactical retreat of the bourgeoisie to outlast the upsurge of the revolution and to prepare for [a return to] the pre-revolutionary conditions. The uprising, however, upset these calculations. The question now was that of suppressing a revolution which had practically reached the stage of armed resurrection, had neutralised the army and rendered it ineffective, and had armed the broadest masses of revolutionary people. The political platform, the methods and possibilities of the liberal current lagged behind the realities prevailing in society. The bourgeois state could now only counter the real revolution in the name of the revolution itself. The Islamic current was suitable material for the formation of such a state – i.e., a bourgeois state capable of organising the bourgeois counter-revolution at that particular juncture. We emphasized that the Islamic Republic was the instrument for establishing counter-revolutionary order as the political precondition for the ordinary production order of the bourgeoisie. The entirely bourgeois character of the Islamic state, independent of which sectors of the society make up its ideology, methods and composition, is in that this state is the only possible form of organising the bourgeois-imperialist counter-revolution, and therefore the desirable form of this organisation for the bourgeoisie since 1979. Some may object (in fact do object) to our not having declared the Islamic Republic the political representative of big, monopoly bourgeoisie. This in fact reflects the same limited economist understanding of the state, the difference being that this time it accepts the bourgeois character of the Islamic Republic and wishes to go the whole hog. The truth is that the Islamic Republic, as we had analysed, was not the political organisation and the organisational representative of the Iranian big bourgeoisie – in the sense that it was not at that point the body for the political expression and the synthesizing and representation of the ideas of the politicians of this class, and the instrument for organising the capitalists. Rather, it was the “political” state of this class in the revolutionary period. This has itself created a contradiction in the course of the movement of the Islamic Republic. The transformation of the Islamic Republic into a standard bourgeois political regime, i.e. in the standard form that the bourgeoisie assumes at the head of political power to maintain its relations of production, is a complex and difficult practical process. The inability of the Islamic Republic to go through this process is itself an aspect of the present governmental crisis in Iran. To the extent that Iranian society leaves the revolutionary crisis behind and the state must needs find its usual place and function in ordinary ways, the Islamic Republic moves away from practical forms it had assumed in the course of the revolution, and this itself intensifies the regime’s political crisis. Again, to the extent that, as we see, the revolutionary crisis continues to exist in Iran, to the same extent the Islamic Republic finds itself compelled to act in “extraordinary” ways, which inevitably creates a gap between the state of capital and the ordinary expectations of this class itself. Under such circumstances we rightly and by means of describing the dialectics of the movement of the Islamic Republic as the “bourgeois state in revolutionary times,” analysed the real class characteristic and allegiance of this regime as a bourgeois regime. The Islamic Republic has been the representative and the state of the bourgeoisie in Iran, for it has been, and still is, the only possible governmental form for this bourgeoisie in the middle of the 1979 revolution, and the turmoil of the few years after. But should this revolutionary crisis come to an end, if a new upsurge of the struggle of the masses should not bring about new revolutionary conditions in Iran, then the Islamic Republic in its existing form would be sacrificed to this internal contradiction. The Islamic regime would either be overthrown by a new revolution, or, in case of the definite end to the revolutionary and political crisis in Iran, it would change unrecognizably. Obviously the Islamic regime itself would wish to turn into the usual state of the Iranian bourgeoisie with the slightest change and modification, and to convince the bourgeoisie of total political and organisational solidarity with it. But the existence of many bourgeois parties in the opposition which seeks to overthrow the regime, the difficulties of the Islamic regime in attracting the support of private capital and the uneasy an uneven relation of this regime to capital, is indication that this consensus and practical and comprehensive acceptance has not yet come about in the ranks of the Iranian bourgeoisie. If fear from the revolution and communism at any rate drives all strata of the bourgeoisie into support for the Islamic regime, the inability of the regime in playing the part of a usual bourgeois state lies at the root of the intense existing divisions among the political representatives of the bourgeoisie in Iran. At any rate, whether the Islamic regime can turn into a usual state, or whether it is going to be overthrown by the revolution, the process of the transformation of the society at the time of the revolution into an ordinary society has long been in the offing. In the final part of the articles Two Factions ... we pointed to this tendency in the political conditions of Iranian society. We enumerated the combination of developments, initiated by the Islamic Republic and with the support of all strata of the bourgeoisie to put an end to revolutionary conditions in Iran and preparing the ground for the usual bourgeois state to prevail. If anyone is looking for evidence to prove that the Islamic Republic is bourgeois, then even one of the items below should suffice:
1- The sanctifying and canonizing of capitalist property and exploitation, which was questioned during the revolution. Property must be canonized, and what could be more natural than turning it first into the ownership of a state which was apparently the outcome of the revolution.
2- Annihilating the democratic achievements of the insurrection, and bringing the masses to submit to political disenfranchisement. Relying on intimidation and religious demagoguery, they denigrated and suppressed the democratic ideals of the masses as “western” and “imperialistic” demands. In the process of the onslaught of the regime upon the democratic gains of the uprising, the bourgeoisie regained its political cohesiveness and authority.
3- The reconstruction of the lasting and standard machinery of suppression, the sanctification and reconstruction of the armed forces, the political police and the bureaucratic state machinery.
4- Forcing the masses to submit to a low standard of living and the squalid outcome of the economic crisis. This was a crisis which in a previous phase constituted the material background to the revolutionary crisis, and whose burden was practically put on workers’ shoulders by the various factions of the Islamic Republic in the name of the revolution.
5- The sanctification of imperialism and the imperialists. Rendering the anti-imperialist struggle bereft of all meaning. Justifying the diplomatic, economic, and military relations of the ruling bourgeoisie with imperialist states and the international reaction.
6- The full-scale suppression of the communist movement, and driving the democratic protests of non-proletarian sectors under the banner of the well-behaved liberal opposition. The communists, who in the course of the revolution, had engaged in open and extensive struggle should have been most brutally suppressed for the previous conditions to be restored. Meanwhile it was necessary that non-proletarian strata, who in the course of the revolution had moved away from liberal leadership, should again be driven back to the level of the slogans of a liberal opposition.
This is a sum up of the conditions that the Islamic Republic ardently tried to bring about as a bourgeois state in a revolutionary period. All this prepared the ground for the restoration of the ordinary, non-crisis conditions of the sway of the bourgeoisie over society. To the extent that these conditions are fulfilled, society leaves the revolutionary period behind, and therefore the bourgeois state must, as a part of these conditions, appear in its usual guise. The difficulty of going through this process has been one of the factors which create crisis for the Islamic Republic. Either a new upsurge of revolutionary struggle would bring society into a new phase of its political development with the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, or the Islamic Republic, through transformation or replacement, would be substituted with a state with attributes suited to the running of a non-crisis bourgeois society. The bourgeoisie and the Islamic Republic are at the moment being shattered under the press of these two possible courses. The Islamic regime is resisting pressure from the bourgeoisie for peaceful and gradual transformation and replacement of the existing state with a usual one. On the other hand any effort for a sudden and forcible replacement of this state by the bourgeoisie, would fuel the political crisis, and once more bring the broad masses of the people who want the revolutionary overthrow of this regime into the scene. The revolutionary crisis is not so subdued as to easily make possible for the bourgeoisie a replacement of the existing state, which owed its desirability for the bourgeois class to the necessity of organising the counter revolution. Nor is the revolution such an immediate and actual threat as to make the bourgeoisie completely content with the Islamic Republic as the “state for organising the counter- revolution” with limited political tasks, and to unite in its support. In this should be sought the grounds for the ambivalent present relation of the bourgeoisie to its own Islamic state in Iran. What at any rate should be emphasised in this part is that the class allegiance of the Islamic Republic, its functioning and the prospect of its movement should be analysed in terms of an understanding of the attributes of the bourgeois state in a revolutionary period. The bourgeois state in a revolutionary period is a state which meets the interests and priorities of the bourgeoisie in such a period. The long-term state of the bourgeoisie, more “suited to the economy,” is not necessarily the same state which assumes the task of defending the interests of the bourgeoisie in a revolutionary period.
That communist society takes the place of capitalist relations of production and social system is a general and correct statement. This is a general expression of the historical course of development of human society. But we have seen how Lenin in The State and Revolution concentrates his entire argument on the examination of the historic distance between these two social systems, emphasizing the existence of the period of transition and the dictatorship of the proletariat as the political regime of this transition period. Traditionally Marxists divide the situation after the overthrow of the bourgeois system by means of a workers’ revolution into two main phases: the lower phase of communist society or socialism, and the upper phase or communism. The difference between these two phases in communism is explicated by Marx in The Critique of the Gotha Programme and by Lenin in The State and Revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the political regime of the transition period between capitalism and communism, or, in other words, the lower phase of communist society, i.e. socialism. This is a correct expression and is accepted by all serious Marxists at this level.
But considering what we said about “revolutionary periods” in the limited sense and the difference between these periods and the transition period in the broader sense, we must add that the above division and the concept of “transition period” is not yet concrete enough. Another question can still be posed: would society enter the “lower phase” of communist society immediately after the bourgeois state machinery is broken down? Do not more concrete phases exist in the process of transition and in the dictatorship of the proletariat as the state of the transition period?
I think here we should bring another arrangement of phases into the analysis. The dictatorship of the proletariat (or the transition period in general) comprise two important and more or less distinct periods. The first stage is the period of the political establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the second is the period of social transition under the “stabilised” dictatorship of the proletariat.
The first stage is one that begins immediately after the formation of the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is a period in which the workers’ state acts as a revolutionary provisional state of the workers, “a state of the revolutionary period.” The basic task and priority of this state, like any state resulting from the insurrection, is the suppression of the inevitable and to the death resistance of the defeated reaction, i.e. the bourgeoisie, which endeavours for the restoration of its political power. The main characteristic of this period is the continuation of revolutionary crisis, the existence of an organised bourgeois counter-revolution, which would resort to force against the revolution, the objective possibility of the restoration of bourgeois power by political and military means, political instability, lack of confidence in the stabilization of the political power of the proletariat, and so on. To the extent that the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat should succeed in breaking down the resistance of the bourgeoisie, and should secure the political domination of the working class, this period would draw to a close. In other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat during the period is the “provisional government” of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the attributes of a revolutionary provisional government to which we referred earlier. The character and the methods of this state are characters and methods that are naturally linked with the process of the revolution and the insurrection itself. The organs of this state, the organisation of authority in this state, the legal and practical relation of the state to its own class, the component forces of this state and its leadership, are all formed naturally and in continuation of the process of the revolution, and are marked by the leadership, relations, component forces of the camp of the revolution.
The second period corresponds to the political stability of proletarian power. This is a period in which the dictatorship of the proletariat acts as a state in a “non-provisional” sense. Here the well-known Marxist definitions about the dictatorship of the proletariat as the direct organisation of the entire working class as the ruling class and the establishment of the most comprehensive proletarian democracy practically materialize. This is a “state” which has discarded its “crutches,” has wiped out the marks of the process of its birth and inception, and displays in itself the political dominance of a social class in the real sense of the word, and the direct presence of the masses of this class in the process of decision-making and the running of the affairs. Here there is no longer any “provisional” element present in this dictatorship, unless in the general sense of the withering away of the state. This is no longer a “revolutionary provisional state,” but the state corresponding to certain economics and social relations, and should be the direct reflection of these developing relations, and the guarantee for their development and completion.
The phases that we speak of here, in other words, correspond to two periods in the life of the dictatorship of the proletariat. First, the revolutionary period, i.e. the period in which the survival of the proletarian state is politically and militarily at risk, and the suppression of the political and military resistance of the bourgeoisie and the stabilization of the political victory of the revolution has priority. And the second period, the period of stability, in which the dictatorship of the proletariat can engage in transforming the economic foundations of society. In the first period we are faced with the dictatorship of the proletariat as a “state of revolutionary period” and in the second period with the dictatorship of the proletariat in the classic, comprehensive sense of the term, i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat as the political superstructure of the entire period of transition between capitalism and communism. Obviously these two periods are not separated from each other with mathematical precision, but become distinct by virtue of the priority of different tasks for the dictatorship of the proletariat. These priorities are not arbitrary, but stem from objective conditions and the balance of forces of social classes. The distinction itself is not new to Marxism; may be what is new in our discussion is our conclusions and the importance we put to this phasing. Lenin’s different references during the October revolution prove that he has had such a classification about the attributes and the tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat in mind:
“The first task of every party of the future is to convince the majority of the people that its programme and tactics are correct. This task stood in the forefront both in Tsarist times and in the period of the Chernovs’ and Tseretelis’ policy of compromise with the Kerenskys’ and Kishkins’. This task has now been fulfilled in the main, for, as the recent Congress of Soviets in Moscow incontrovertibly proved, the majority of the workers and peasants of Russia are obviously on the side of the Bolsheviks; but of course, it is far from being completely fulfilled...
“The second task that confronted our party was to capture political power and to suppress the resistance of the exploiters. This task has not been completely fulfilled either, and it cannot be ignored because the monarchists and Constitutional-Democrats on the one hand, and their henchmen and hangers-on, the Mensheviks and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, on the other, are continuing their efforts to unite for the purpose of overthrowing soviet power. In the main, however, the task of suppressing the resistance of the exploiters was fulfilled in the period from October 25, 1917, to (approximately) February 1918, or to the surrender of Bogayevsky.
“A third task is now coming to the fore as the immediate task and one which constitutes the peculiar feature of the present situation, namely, the task of organising administration of Russia. Of course, we advanced and tackled this task on the very day following October 25, 1917. Up to now, however, since the resistance of the exploiters still took the form of open civil war, the task of administration could not become the main, the central task.” (The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, April 1918, Vol. 27, pp. 241-242. Italic in the original)
Indeed, the coming through of the state of the Soviets and the nullification of the militaristic and conspiratorial activities of the bourgeoisie, both internal and international, to overthrow this state took much longer than the period between October 1917 and February 1918. The point is also clear that after the “second task” (or the first task after assuming power), the dictatorship of the proletariat should have given priority to more than just “the administration of affairs” of Russia, and it did so. But at any rate this formulation, i.e. the distinction between tasks which are given priority in turn and beyond the will of the vanguard party of the working class into the two categories of “suppressing the resistance of the exploiters” and “running the affairs,” indeed correspond to the same description that we gave in our arrangement of periods. The first period is the period in which proletarian power should establish itself unquestionably, and vanquish the bourgeoisie in a battle of force. The second period is the period of “administering” or in the broader sense, of the organisation of society according to the political sovereignty of the proletariat, or the period of transition in the broader economic, social, and cultural sense. Note that these “priorities” in tasks are not the product of the deliberate choice of the party, but a situation inevitably necessitated by the very resistance of the bourgeoisie and the intensity and form of this resistance. In the same article, Lenin gives a more condensed formulation of this division into phases in the dictatorship of the proletariat:
“In every socialist revolution, after the proletariat has solved the problem of capturing power, and to the extent that the task of expropriating the expropriators and suppressing their resistance has been carried out in the main, there necessarily comes to the forefront the fundamental task of creating a social system superior to capitalism, namely, raising the productivity of labour, and in this connection (and for this purpose) securing better organisation of labour. Our soviet state is precisely in the position where, thanks to the victories over exploiters – from Kerensky to Kornilov – it is able to approach this task directly, to tackle it in earnest. And here it becomes immediately clear that while it is possible to take over the central government in a few days, while it is possible to suppress the military resistance (and sabotage) of the exploiters even in different parts of a great country in a few weeks, the capital solution of the problem of raising the productivity of labour requires, at all events... several years.” (Ibid, p.257)
Here again we are going to bypass the question whether the state of the Soviets in April 1918 had indeed left the first stage, i.e. that of the suppression of the exploiters behind, also whether “raising the productivity of labour” and only “to this purpose,” “the better organisation of social work” is the suitable expression for the “ordinary” tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat. For the moment, the main point for us is the interest Lenin shows in the division into phases and the historical sequence of practical priorities and the tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat – a division which we think should have been given, theoretically, a more important role in formulating the viewpoints of the Bolsheviks about the tasks and perspectives of the October revolution.
The first practical conclusion for us in emphasizing this division of phases in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat is in fact a defence of the Soviet state in Lenin’s time against the “democratic” critics of this state. Secondly, in the same context, this division of phases allows us to place Lenin’s views and formulations in the period after the October revolution in its real historical context, and therefore study more carefully Lenin’s viewpoint and practical methodology in the course of this process. Thirdly, this division of periods would allow us to better scrutinize and analyse some decisive weak points in the movement of the Bolsheviks, which eventually brought about most undesirable consequences in the course of the October revolution. And, fourthly, we are able on the basis of this division of phases to give a relatively clearer picture of the practical strategy of the proletariat after assuming power – a vital task if the frustrations of proletarian revolutions are to be avoided. Here I shall not deal with these in any detail, but will briefly refer to some headings and leave further explanation to later occasions.
If we look into Lenin’s work carefully we see two distinct approaches to the dictatorship of the proletariat, or, in other words, two different formulations of this state. If we do not consider the different phases, these formulations may even appear contradictory. In the light of making a distinction between these periods, this contradiction will clear itself up. It is said on the one hand (and Lenin himself is a major theorizer of this view) that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the direct and organised mass and proletarian democracy. The multitudes of the working class appear directly in their mass organs of power as legislators, executors of the law, and judges. The state loses its character as a special organ of force and turns into the organisation of the working class as the ruling class and the general organisation for the running of society. This is the picture of the dictatorship of the proletariat that we ourselves give concisely in the programme of the Communist Party. On the other hand we observe, both in the literature and in the practice of the Bolsheviks, interpretations and methods which in the first look appear the opposite of this formulation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. For example, it is Lenin himself who says, in discussions about the management of production units and the controversy between factory committees and unions over the workers’ control, that the dictatorship of the proletariat can manifest itself in the “dictatorship of the party” and even “dictatorship of an individual.” In practice also we see that Lenin and the Bolsheviks, i.e. the supporters and banner-bearers of the Marxist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of the superior proletarian democracy, in many instances taking position in favour of steps which increased the control of the party and the Council of the People’s Commissariats and the state in general over the economy and politics of the society, and, at that, against the control and the direct enforcement of the will of the masses, and their directly elected institutions such as the soviets. Historians habitually account for this second approach by the “backwardness of Russia” and “the pragmatism” of the Bolsheviks, and the “democratic” critics of the Bolsheviks find in it the “beginning of bureaucratism” and “the violation of Marxist principles.” These latter interpretations and what actually took place even at the time of Lenin’s life towards the formation of a centralized state power more or less beyond the direct action of working-class masses, has fed various critical trends which criticized the socialist October revolution from a “democratic” stand. Council Communists, the Workers’ Opposition, and the Democratic-Centralist faction (inside the Soviet Union itself), the New Left, Trotskyism, Eurocommunism, and others all share this “democratic criticism” of the Russian experience.
Making a distinction between the two above-mentioned periods in the process of the proletarian revolution would to a large extent explain the reason for these “dual” and apparently “pragmatic” interpretations of the Bolsheviks. Indeed most of the “centralist” steps taken by the proletarian state in the first few years of the revolution as well as the economic steps which were wrongly labelled “War Communism” (as well as the NEP after that) were actions consistent not with the dictatorship of the proletariat in the broad and comprehensive sense of the term, but with requirements of ascertaining and consolidating proletarian power, i.e. “the provisional government” of the dictatorship of proletariat in Russia. It is possible today, from the vantage point of seventy years of re-examination, to think of “better actions” feasible for the Bolsheviks even in this very framework, but at any rate, what was carried out was the political, administrative, and economic acts of a provisional revolutionary proletarian state, i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat in the revolutionary period, for the maintenance and establishment of the political power of the working class against the resistance and the conspiracies of the bourgeoisie, not actions suited to the promised, pre-defined tasks and objectives of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the comprehensive sense. The same force which organises the insurrection, places the soviets in the position of accepting a fait accompli, the same force which leads and relies on the vanguard section of the working class, the same force which despite opposition from other sections of the working class under the influence of the Mensheviks and peasants who support the S.R.s, has introduced the idea of transferring the power to the soviets, and organised the act of force to overthrow the bourgeois state and the real transference of power, the same force, inevitably and obligated by objective political conditions, finds itself naturally in the position of leading the process of the continuation of the revolution “from above” and suppressing the armed resistance of the bourgeoisie, and must carry out the task with the same degree of decisiveness. It is in the nature of any real revolutionary provisional state to be the organisation of the most active section of the revolutionary classes, i.e. that of the actual insurrectionary masses. The “democratic” expectation that the dictatorship of the proletariat have an elective, democratic structure on November 8, 1917, and be the “democratic” organisation of the working class as the ruling class, as Marx and Lenin themselves describe, is the wrong expectation. This is a wrong assumption in which the attributes of the revolutionary period and the character of the revolutionary state as the product of an uprising in such a period are ignored. In this kind of “criticism” the difference between the attributes of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the revolutionary period immediately after the insurrection, and the proletarian state in the conditions after the stabilization of workers’ power is forgotten. The condition for the establishment of the latter is the formation of the former, on the basis of the ability and the energy of the most advanced section of the working class by means of maintaining the continuity between revolutionary ranks before and after the uprising. “Insurrection in the two capitals,” and that with the help of soviets that had just turned to Bolshevik positions, naturally made the proletariat of “the two capitals” and the Bolsheviks who had risen, into the material and the main source of the immediate force of the provisional revolutionary state and its foundations. Naturally the forms of the functioning of this state could not be immediately anything other than the continuation of the traditions and methods of struggle hitherto used by the forces which had risen.
If we bring the above-mentioned division of phases in the period of transition into our analysis, we can better understand the reason for the duality in Lenin’s concepts of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Concepts which refer to the party, to centralism, the inevitability of action “from above” the democratic institutions, etc. all refer to this “provisional state” and the conditions of the revolutionary period, particularly the risk of the restoration of bourgeois power. The broader and more basic concepts which characterize the dictatorship of the proletariat with the element of extensive working-class democracy, refer to the more comprehensive, long- term meaning of this dictatorship, after the dictatorship of the proletariat is ascertained and established.
The same duality in concepts can be observed in the economic tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat or the economic condition corresponding to the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the one hand we have the Critique of the Gotha Programme and general pictures of the lower phase of communism (socialism), as well as various statements by Lenin himself about building “an economic system superior to capitalism,” and on the other hand we have concepts which can, for instance, induce the idea that the economics of “the period of transition” can be “state monopoly capitalism.” Here, once more, these ambiguities can largely be erased by distinguishing between two phases in the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the first phase, where economy is practically and by virtue of objective political conditions, only a back-up for politics and a factor in maintaining the power of the workers’ state in the process of suppressing the bourgeoisie, various forms, including state monopoly capitalism or even the alternative of the Workers’ Opposition, may be accepted as the economic method which should temporarily be implemented, through the expropriation of the expropriators and in place of the abolished bourgeois ownership. But in the second phase organising of an economics in keeping with “the organisation of the working class as the ruling class” and with direct democracy and workers’ decision-making through the soviets concerning their political and economic destiny, and with planning according to needs, etc. should seriously be undertaken. No doubt War Communism, NEP, or state monopoly capitalism cannot be the goal for whose sake Marx has taken the trouble in the Critique of the Gotha Programme to explain the outlines of the first phase of communist society, and which Lenin calls “the economic system superior to capitalism.”
Unfortunately this division into periods of the dictatorship of the proletariat was not emphasised in the discussions of the Bolsheviks as it should have been. Lenin, in fact, did not live for the proletarian state to enter the second phase. During the major part when Lenin was still alive, the dictatorship of the proletariat was practically threatened politically and militarily by the bourgeoisie and at any rate not only did the proletariat not find the opportunity to start a period of economic and social “construction” in its own way, but was practically all the time facing the economic consequences of the world war and the period of civil war, which had lowered the real level of production and consumption to much below that of the 1913 Russia. Nonetheless Lenin personally and other Bolshevik thinkers provided concepts in explaining the actions of the first years of the workers’ state and the methods that were forced upon the state in the political, administrative and economic spheres, which were wrongly extended to the characteristics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in general. In my view a large part of Lenin’s work in relation to these actions should be read with the assumption that he is explicating emergency steps and administrative relations suited to a revolutionary period. That Lenin himself does not bring more seriously and conspicuously into his analyses his views in 1905 about the difference between the “provisional revolutionary government” and “states which would implement the tasks of the revolution in general,” that he does not use as he should the distinctions quoted above as a very important theoretical source in adapting a more cohesive strategy for the process of the development of the proletarian state in Russia, is itself the outcome of a historical condition in which he is placed. First, according to Bolshevik thinking “the second phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat” was practically visualized in the context of a world revolution and was never practically and concretely -except in the years 1924-26 in the discussions on socialism in one country – seriously attended to and concretely analysed. (And in 1924-26 it was in effect given a bourgeois answer). Hope in the world revolution caused the Bolsheviks to draw their horizons as far as “maintaining power” and “doing the maximum possible” until the advent of the world revolution in the near future, and pay no great theoretical attention to the issue of the details of the social, administrative, and economic transition in the confines of Russia. (This itself is yet another indication of the fact that in expressing his views on the economic and administrative content of the dictatorship of the proletariat, particularly where he gives limited formulations of the issue, Lenin actually has the “first phase” in mind). Second, it is the nature of revolutionaries to act in the revolutionary period instead of theorizing. In studying Lenin’s views in this period we should note that as a political leader he is always engaged in promoting desirable processes and discarding undesirable ones, and his speeches and articles, therefore, are not at all times positive theoretical papers, but in most cases political defences of certain practical policies and positions. The basis of all these statements is a principled theoretical Marxist approach. There is no doubt about that. But these very speeches and articles do not in themselves give a positive and detailed explanation of this theory. For example, the statement: “socialism means electrification plus soviet power” is not a new theoretical formulation and definition of socialism. It is a political and agitational campaign to build the new economy. It is a practical struggle for socialism. To understand Lenin’s theoretical viewpoint during this turbulent period, we should study his statement and practice in the context of real historical conditions. It is here that I believe that any careful study of Lenin’s work unambiguously proves and emphasises his coherent theoretical stand about the attributes of the proletarian state in revolutionary periods, of which I gave only a few examples here.
At any rate, the absence of a clear picture of the process of development of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the passing of this dictatorship through various stages, turned into a serious theoretical weakness of the Bolsheviks in facing the future problems of the proletarian revolution. To this I shall refer later. Here it is necessary to emphasise a few points to prevent possible ambiguities and problems:
First: what I said does not in any way mean that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not in the first stage “the organisation of the working class as the ruling class.” On the contrary, the issue consists entirely of the fact that the various forms of the organisation of the proletariat as the ruling class in these two periods should be distinguished. The Bolshevik state in Russia was the dictatorship of the proletariat and the organisation of the working class as the ruling class, in a period when this class is organised to suppress the resistance and conspiracies of the bourgeois counter-revolution. This is that specific form of the organisation of a class which is historically possible and vital. The relation of the class to the state is not basically dependent on any process of election and representational institution. Even if all soviets had actually voted to bring this state to power, the real authority of this state and the real allegiance of this state to the working class is proved by virtue of the real mobilization of the masses of the workers in supporting this state and under its leadership for the final suppression of the bourgeoisie. This is of the same kind of relationship that the revolutionary party establishes with the broad masses of its class. In the first phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat the proletariat’s vote for its own government is declared not by means of representational institutions, but by the actual mobilization and organisation of the entire class around this state.
Second: pointing the “unavoidable” limitations and peculiarities (not in detail) of the proletarian state in the revolutionary period is by no means to justify the entire activities of the first years of the October revolution. Nor does it mean underestimating the necessity and importance of workers’ direct action by means of organs of mass power in these periods. On the contrary, again, separating these two periods would allow for the real importance of the direct action of the masses and proletarian democratism to be recognised and emphasised in each period. Our purpose was to emphasise in the first place the legitimacy of the role that the Bolshevik party assumed immediately after the October uprising in the state and organs of workers’ exercise of power in Russia. Lenin’s state was the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Our discussion is a slice of a refutation of the subjective, perfectionist, and idealistic criticism levelled against the practice of the Bolsheviks in the first years of the October revolution from a basically “democratic” rather than socialist stand. Separating these two periods allows us to draw our line with this “democratic” criticism, and avail ourselves of one of the principled components of a socialist critique of the Soviet experience. At any rate at the end we shall refer to the problem of the importance of democracy and democratic institutions of proletarian power in the first period.
Third: In the present discussion we spoke of the proletarian revolution “in one country.” The question is that the proletarian revolution in one country, that is, obtaining political power, should, in its continuation, be linked to a world revolution against capital. Does not this fact create any changes in the “phasing” of the dictatorship of the proletariat? In other words, is not the idea of the beginning of the second period in “one country” contradictory to a world revolution against capital? Should not the first phrase of the dictatorship of the proletariat find its continuation in the extension of “the revolutionary period” on a world scale? We hope that real history should follow this course next time, but theoretically it cannot be proved that the political victory of the proletariat in one country should deterministically, or according to the will of the proletarian state in mind, coincide with the world revolution. This did not happen in 1917. The proletariat must recognise the course of development of its state in one country. Our discussion deals with this issue. As for the world revolution, I must say at least this, that in my opinion the proletariat which can really in the shortest interval possible begin the “second period,” i.e. a proletariat which can as a ruling class, be organised on the basis of extensive proletarian democracy, and begin the “organisation of an economy superior to capitalism” would definitely be a more active, effective and consistent element in the arena of international battle with the bourgeoisie than the working class which pressed by the bourgeoisie, painfully holds its rule together by means of emergency economic and administrative measures “waiting for the world revolution to occur.” That in Russia “the organisation of the national economy” eventually replaced the economic tasks of the proletariat in the transition period, should not cause any serious Marxist to draw the conclusion that inevitably the revolutionary organisation of the post-revolutionary society in its economic and administrative dimensions is contradictory to internationalism. The proletariat should not have to account for the practices of the bourgeoisie. The more decisively and comprehensively the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country should act in carrying out its political and economic tasks, the more would there be the real possibility of turning this political and economic power into a source of international revolution. This at any rate is an issue which lies beyond our specific discussion about the proletarian state in the revolutionary period.
It is necessary at the end to refer to the practical importance of the theoretical weakness in the Russian revolution. The absence of a clear formulation of the various stages of the development and evolution of the dictatorship of the proletariat, both in the programme of the Bolsheviks and in the general education of vanguard and revolutionary workers in the October revolution, was an important factor in the theoretical unpreparedness which played a part in the final failure of this revolution. To begin with, the methods of the “provisional” revolutionary state were in some cases theorized as the methods of the revolutionary proletarian dictatorship in general. The “provisional” aspect of the character and practice of the state in the particular conditions of the first years after the revolution were less appreciated. This allowed opportunist and anarchist interpretations to grow in the party. Opportunism and bureaucratism turned into the common form of responding to anarcho-syndicalist tendencies and criticisms, and anarcho-syndicalism and liberalism in turn turned into the common form of criticism of bureaucratism and reformism. The principled Leninist position, which came from a correct understanding of the immediate requirements of the dictatorship of the proletariat was not expressed clearly and strongly enough against these two poles. For instance, the need for strengthening centralism in the party, the inevitability of the relative correspondence of the functions of the party and state, and the need for concentration and the speed in decision-making in a certain temporary period was not defended in a principled way and by drawing the broader perspective of the revolution. These methods, in the absence of analyses which would in a principled way make the temporary character of these steps reliant on the various stages of the political development of Russian society and the process of the transition of the dictatorship of the proletariat from the revolutionary period to the period of political stability, were fortuitously generalized and turned into more or less unchangeable principles. For example, particularly in discussions about workers’ control and the administration of production units, the principled positions of the Bolsheviks (in its basic points) consisting of subordinating the demand of workers’ control from below to the principle of raising the coherence, scope of action and authority of the workers’ state in the critical period 1917-21, were introduced by means of such eclectic and unconvincing formulations that in practice a large proportion of the most active and advanced workers’ leaders in the factory committees, i.e. a section of the best elements of the industrial proletariat in Russia were disappointed in the party and estranged from it. Secondly, the Bolshevik state, as the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the revolutionary period, did not draw out the material and practical conditions of the real transference of all the power to the soviets and organs of mass power. Had the distinction between the revolutionary period and the period of stability, and the character and attributes of the workers’ state in these two periods been made conspicuous, the process of the extensive organising of mass organs, and even more important, the increasing consolidation of their decision-making role (in contrast to the actual process that occurred) could and must have been seriously promoted in the very first phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the workers’ state actually broke down the power of the internal and international bourgeoisie, and in the years 1923-28 turned to the main discussion around the economic and administrative problems of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the new period, i.e. when the revolutionary state practically reached the end of the revolutionary period in the limited sense of the term, the lasting organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the soviets and the large masses of advanced and revolutionary workers were practically removed from the scene of active and direct participation in the decision-making process on the political and economic destiny of society. In the absence of sufficiently clear and formulated understanding of the transitional character of their tasks in relation to creating the dictatorship of the proletariat in the comprehensive and broad sense of the word, the Bolsheviks were practically prevented from consciously and consistently forming structures and institutions of this state and preparing ground for the transition from a provisional to an established state of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Russian proletariat, unlike the French proletariat of the previous century, managed somehow, though deficiently, to complete the first phase of its dictatorship; it broke down the obvious resistance of the bourgeoisie, but it did not prepare itself for the period after this stage, and therefore lost the battle in the face of new forms of the offensive of the bourgeoisie in the area of ideology, economics, administration, and culture. Thirdly (and theoretically this may be the most important aspect of the problem) confusing the economics of the revolutionary period with that of the period of transition in general caused the absence of a clear perspective and accurate analysis of the economic tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the state of the transition period. Both those who called the existing situation and the New Economic Policy (NEP) a condition and policy towards the building of socialism (Stalin and Bukharin) and those who pointed to the capitalist and temporary character of these steps (Zinoviev, Kropskaya, and others) failed to define the revolutionary economic tasks specific to the dictatorship of the proletariat in the transition period. Both the bourgeois economic nationalism and industrialism which, eventually in the name of socialism in one country by the majority in the Party under the leadership of Stalin started and completed the process of capitalist industrialisation in the real sense of the term in Russia, and the current of United Opposition (Trotsky-Zinoviev) who started from the same economic premises, and hid its lack of alternative in this area behind the slogan of world revolution, flourished in the theoretical vacuum created in the absence of a clear and polished Leninist theory about the long-term economic tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat. That such a theory was non-existent, or at any rate failed to become a material force, that Leninism was not represented in the economic discussions of 1924-28, can partly be explained by the fact that the horizon and perspective of transition from the dictatorship of the proletariat in the revolutionary period, when economy is subordinated to politics, into a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the broad sense of the term and with the task of an “economy superior to capitalism” was not seriously set before the conscious vanguard of the Russian working class. As was mentioned before, Lenin recognised the distinction between these different periods, and had referred to it on many occasions even during the October revolution in the periphery of other discussions. But the crucial discussions of the years 1924-28 suffered from the absence of this most able theoretical authority of the proletariat in the present century. Had Lenin been there, we would almost certainly be now equipped with a much clearer picture of the economic tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat, because the 1924-28 discussions were exactly those which took place at the transition point of the dictatorship of the proletariat from the revolutionary period to the period of stability and “ordinary” functioning.
And finally there is a question to answer. If the existence of differences in tasks, character, and attributes of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the revolutionary period and its later stage is inevitable, natural, and acceptable, what assurance exists, or can exist, that this provisional proletarian state, with its specific methods and limitations, would give place to the dictatorship of the proletariat in the comprehensive sense. The answer is that the practical assurance of this process, like ensuring any other revolutionary change, lies entirely with the revolutionary practice of the advanced and conscious section of the working class. What was presented here is that having a clear political perspective and accurate understanding of the mechanisms of the development of the revolution and the objective stages that the proletarian revolution would inevitably, even though in various forms and with relative ease or difficulty, pass through, is a basic condition for the correct, and “assuring” practice. If an understanding of the difference between these two distinct forms of the embodiment and realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat should not automatically ensure anything about the successful transition from these stages (and it won’t) failure to understand this would certainly insure failure. The proletariat which in the years 1924-28 was disarmed against bourgeois nationalism in Russia, and was totally defeated in the next decade, had various theoretical and practical shortcomings. One of these was the absence of an accurate economic, political, and administrative picture of the dictatorship of the proletariat after the breakdown of the open resistance of the bourgeoisie. This understanding could only be formed when the proletariat could clearly recognise the temporary character of the form of the state in which it had so far embodied its class dictatorship, and prepared beforehand for its substitution with forms suited to the new period. The question of the state in revolutionary periods is a small part of a vast area that should be studied to avoid previous defeats. Our discussion here is merely an effort to introduce the question as an important theoretical problematic.
Besooy-e-Sosyalism. I.e., Towards Socialism, the theoretical-political journal of the organisation of Unity of Communist Militants published from July 1980 until August 1983. After the formation of the Communist Party of Iran in September 1983 it was published as the theoretical journal of the CPI – Translator’s note.