Leon Trotsky

Results and Prospects

VI. The Proletarian Regime

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive, a subarchive of the Marxists’ Internet Archive, by Sally Ryan in 1996.

The proletariat can only achieve power by relying upon a national upsurge and national enthusiasm. The proletariat will enter the government as the revolutionary representative of the nation, as the recognized national leader in the struggle against absolutism and feudal barbarism. In taking power, however, it will open a new epoch, an epoch of revolutionary legislation, of positive policy, and in this connection it cannot at all be sure of retaining the role of the recognized expressor of the will of the nation. The first measures of the proletariat, cleansing the Augean stables of the old regime and driving out its inmates, will meet with the active support of the whole nation, in spite of what the liberal eunuchs may say about the tenacity of certain prejudices among the masses of the people.

This political cleansing will be supplemented by a democratic reorganization of all social and state relations. The workers’ government will be obliged, under the influence of direct pressures and demands, to intervene decisively in all relationships and events ...

Its first task will have to be the dismissal from the army and administration of all those who are stained with the blood of the people, and the cashiering or disbandment of the regiments which have most sullied themselves with crimes against the people. This will have to be done in the very first days of the revolution, that is, long before it is possible to introduce the system of elected and responsible officials and organize a national militia. But the matter will not end there. Workers’ democracy will immediately be confronted by questions of the length of the working day, the agrarian question, and the problem of unemployment.

One thing is clear. Every passing day will deepen the policy of the proletariat in power, and more and more define its class character. Side by side with that, the revolutionary ties between the proletariat and the nation will be broken, the class disintegration of the peasantry will assume political form, and the antagonism between the component sections will grow in proportion as the policy of the workers’ government defines itself, ceasing to be a general-democratic and becoming a class policy.

Though the absence of accumulated bourgeois-individualistic traditions and anti-proletarian prejudices among the peasantry and intellectuals will assist the proletariat to come into power, it is necessary on the other hand to bear in mind that this absence of prejudices is due not to political consciousness but to political barbarism, social formlessness, primitiveness and lack of character. None of these features can in any way create a reliable basis for a consistent, active proletarian policy.

The abolition of feudalism will meet with support from the entire peasantry, as the burden-bearing estate. A progressive income-tax will also be supported by the great majority of the peasantry. But any legislation carried through for the purpose of protecting the agricultural proletariat will not only not receive the active sympathy of the majority, but will even meet with the active opposition of a minority of the peasantry.

The proletariat will find itself compelled to carry the class struggle into the villages and in this manner destroy that community of interest which is undoubtedly to be found among all peasants, although within comparatively narrow limits. From the very first moment after its taking power, the proletariat will have to find support in the antagonisms between the village poor and village rich, between the agricultural proletariat and the agricultural bourgeoisie. While the heterogeneity of the peasantry creates difficulties and narrows the basis for a proletarian policy, the insufficient degree of class differentiation will create obstacles to the introduction among the peasantry of developed class struggle, upon which the urban proletariat could rely. The primitiveness of the peasantry turns its hostile face towards the proletariat.

The cooling-off of the peasantry, its political passivity, and all the more the active opposition of its upper sections, cannot but have an influence on a section of the intellectuals and the petty-bourgeoisie of the towns.

Thus, the more definite and determined the policy of the proletariat in power becomes, the narrower and more shaky does the ground beneath its feet become. All this is extremely probable and even inevitable ...

The two main features of proletarian policy which will meet opposition from the allies of the proletariat are collectivism and internationalism.

The primitiveness and petty-bourgeois character of the peasantry, its limited rural outlook, its isolation from world-political ties and allegiances, will create terrible difficulties for the consolidation of the revolutionary policy of the proletariat in power.

To imagine that it is the business of Social Democrats to enter a provisional government and lead it during the period of revolutionary-democratic reforms, fighting for them to have a most radical character, and relying for this purpose upon the organized proletariat – and then, after the democratic programme has been carried out, to leave the edifice they have constructed so as to make way for the bourgeois parties and themselves go into opposition, thus opening up a period of parliamentary politics, is to imagine the thing in a way that would compromise the very idea of a workers’ government. This is not because it is inadmissible ‘in principle’ – putting the question in this abstract form is devoid of meaning – but because it is absolutely unreal, it is utopianism of the worst sort – a sort of revolutionary-philistine utopianism.

For this reason:

The division of our programme into maximum and minimum programmes has a profound and tremendous principled significance during the period when power lies in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The very fact of the bourgeoisie being in power drives out of our minimum programme all demands which are incompatible with private property in the means of production. Such demands form the content of a socialist revolution and presuppose a proletarian dictatorship.

Immediately, however, that power is transferred into the hands of a revolutionary government with a socialist majority, the division of our programme into maximum and minimum loses all significance, both in principle and in immediate practice. A proletarian government under no circumstances can confine itself within such limits. Take the question of the eight-hour day. As is known, this by no means contradicts capitalist relations, and therefore it forms an item in the minimum programme of Social Democracy. But let us imagine the actual introduction of this measure during a period of revolution, in a period of intensified class passions; there is no question but that this measure would then meet the organized and determined resistance of the capitalists in the form, let us say, of lockouts and the closing down of factories.

Hundreds of thousands of workers would find themselves thrown on the streets. What should the government do? A bourgeois government, however radical it might be, would never allow affairs to reach this stage because, confronted with the closing-down of factories, it would be left powerless. It would be compelled to retreat, the eight-hour day would not be introduced and the indignant workers would be suppressed.

Under the political domination of the proletariat, the introduction of an eight-hour day should lead to altogether different consequences. For a government that desires to rely upon the proletariat, and not on capital, as liberalism does, and which does not desire to play the role of an ‘impartial’ intermediary of bourgeois democracy, the closing down of factories would not of course be an excuse for increasing the working day. For a workers’ government there would be only one way out: expropriation of the closed factories and the organization of production in them on a socialized basis.

Of course, one can argue in this way: we will suppose that the workers’ government, true to its programme, issues a decree for an eight-hour day; if capital puts up a resistance which cannot be overcome by the resources of a democratic programme based on the preservation of private property, the Social Democrats will resign and appeal to the proletariat. Such a solution would be a solution only from the standpoint of the group constituting the membership of the government, but it would be no solution for the proletariat or for the development of the revolution. After the resignation of the Social Democrats, the situation would be exactly as it was at the time when they were compelled to take power. To flee before the organized opposition of capital would be a greater betrayal of the revolution than a refusal to take power in the first instance. It would really be far better for the working-class party not to enter the government than to go in so as to expose its own weakness and then to quit.

Let us take another example. The proletariat in power cannot but adopt the most energetic measures to solve the question of unemployment, because it is quite obvious that the representatives of the workers in the government cannot reply to the demands of unemployed workers with arguments about the bourgeois character of the revolution.

But if the government undertakes to maintain the unemployed – it is not important for us at the moment in what form – this would mean an immediate and quite substantial shift of economic power to the side of the proletariat. The capitalists, who in their oppression of the workers always relied upon the existence of a reserve army of labour, would feel themselves economically powerless while the revolutionary government, at the same time, doomed them to political impotence.

In undertaking the maintenance of the unemployed, the government thereby undertakes the maintenance of strikers. If it does not do that, it immediately and irrevocably undermines the basis of its own existence.

There is nothing left for the capitalists to do then but to resort to the lockout, that is, to close the factories. It is quite clear that the employers can stand the closing down of production much longer than the workers, and therefore there is only one reply that a workers’ government can give to a general lockout: the expropriation of the factories and the introduction in at least the largest of them of State or communal production.

Similar problems arise in agriculture by the mere fact of the expropriation of the land. In no way must it be supposed that a proletarian government, on expropriating the privately-owned estates carrying on production on a large scale, would break these up and sell them for exploitation to small producers. The only path open to it in this sphere is the organization of co-operative production under communal control or organized directly by the State. But this is the path to Socialism.

All this quite clearly shows that Social Democrats cannot enter a revolutionary government, giving the workers in advance an undertaking not to give way on the minimum programme, and at the same time promising the bourgeoisie not to go beyond it. Such a bilateral undertaking is absolutely impossible to realize. The very fact of the proletariat’s representatives entering the government, not as powerless hostages, but as the leading force, destroys the border-line between maximum and minimum programme; that is to say, it places collectivism on the order of the day. The point at which the proletariat will be held up in its advance in this direction depends upon the relation of forces, but in no way upon the original intentions of the proletarian party.

For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution, of democratic proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry). The working class cannot preserve the democratic character of its dictatorship without refraining from overstepping the limits of its democratic programme. Any illusions on this point would be fatal. They would compromise Social Democracy from the very start.

The proletariat, once having taken power, will fight for it to the very end. While one of the weapons in this struggle for the maintenance and the consolidation of power will be agitation and organization, especially in the countryside, another will be a policy of collectivism. Collectivism will become not only the inevitable way forward from the position in which the party in power will find itself, but will also be a means of preserving this position with the support of the proletariat.

When the idea of uninterrupted revolution was formulated in the socialist press – an idea which connected the liquidation of absolutism and feudalism with a socialist revolution, along with growing social conflicts, uprisings of new sections of the masses, unceasing attacks by the proletariat upon the economic and political privileges of the ruling classes – our ‘progressive’ press raised a unanimous howl of indignation. ‘Oh!’ it cried, ‘we have put up with a lot, but we cannot allow this. Revolution,’ it cried, ‘is not a road that can be “legalized”. The application of exceptional measures is only permissible under exceptional circumstances. The aim of the movement for emancipation is not to make revolution permanent but to lead it as soon as possible into the channel of law,’ etc., etc.

The more radical representatives of this same democracy do not risk taking up a stand against revolution even from the point of view of already-secured constitutional ‘gains’. For them this parliamentary cretinism, preceding the rise of parliamentarism itself, does not constitute a strong weapon in the struggle against the proletarian revolution. They choose another path. They take their stand not on the basis of law but on what seems to them the basis of facts – on the basis of historical ‘possibility’, on the basis of political ‘realism’ and, finally ... finally, even on the basis of ‘marxism’. And why not? That pious Venetian bourgeois, Antonio, very aptly said:

‘The devil can quote Scripture to his purpose.’

These radical democrats not only regard the idea of a workers’ government in Russia as fantastic, but they even deny the possibility of a socialist revolution in Europe in the historical epoch immediately ahead. ‘The pre-requisites of revolution’, they say, ‘are not yet visible.’ Is that true? Certainly there is no question of appointing a dateline for the socialist revolution, but it is necessary to point out its real historical prospects.

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Last updated on: 22 February 2009