Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Ericson and Charles Loren

The Anti-Marxist-Leninist Line of Progressive Labor

An Anarchist Campaign Against the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The distinguishing truth of Marxism-Leninism is the theory and practice of the dictatorship of the proletariat. “Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is what constitutes the most profound difference between the Marxist and the ordinary petty (as well as big) bourgeois. This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism is to be tested.”[1] The petty bourgeois revolutionists say they are Marxist-Leninists and that the questions they raise concern only the correction and development of communist tactics. But the petty bourgeois revolutionists deviate from Marxism-Leninism on the central question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. An analysis of their views shows that they are not Marxist-Leninists but anarchists, liberals, and capitulators to the bourgeoisie.


On the matter of arms, how do the petty bourgeois revolutionists summarize the lessons of the first proletarian dictatorship, the Paris Commune of 1871? They say:

...the Commune abolished the standing army and replaced it with a mass workers’ militia, organized in local units. In this way effective power remained in the workers1 hands. (P. 92[2])

This is a complete muddle. The writer poses the question in terms of the organized state (“the standing army”) versus (!) the “mass” of workers organized in local units so that power remains “in the workers’ hands.” In fact, the great achievement of the Commune was that it organized the means of violence in a state. And its weakness was in failing to be thorough when using these means of violence against the bourgeoisie: most notably, the Commune failed to march on Versailles. The extension of class war to the arena of organized violent attack is entirely missing from the writer’s summary. Instead, he dwells upon a “mass” militia, disorganized if anything in “local units,” so that power “remained in the workers’ hands.” It was precisely failure to centralize the armed power at the disposal of the Commune–failure to coordinate the units of the various districts of Paris, failure to find a single firm will to install as a general (two men in succession proved utterly inappropriate), etc.–that made it easier for the bourgeoisie to suppress the Commune. But in anarchist fashion, the writer glorifies “local units,” imagining like Barry Goldwater that localism in organization means effective popular control. One should mark also the needless adjective used by the petty bourgeois revolutionists, “mass workers’ militia.”

The writer should be informed that the armed force of the Commune was under the control of the state. This naturally implies centralism, not localism. For example, in its first week the Council of the Commune disarmed units, of the National Guard loyal to the bourgeoisie.[3] Whether there were wage earners in these “local units,” so that the guns were in “workers’ hands,” does not matter. If units cannot be trusted, the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, disarms them, dissolves them, and screens any individual members who will be integrated into other units.

How did the armed force of the Commune come into being? During the German siege of Paris in the fall of 1870, arms were distributed to National Guard units throughout Paris. These units formed a Central Committee which led the resistance of the French working class when the French bourgeoisie, after signing a truce with Bismarck, attempted to disarm Paris. The attempt of March 18, 1871 to disarm the workers triggered the Commune. What is to be observed? 1. Under any state, arms are “in the hands” of the masses, since they always do the fighting. What changed was the reliability for the bourgeoisie of the working class, which awoke to its own class interest. 2. If anything, the distribution of arms among the population contracted slightly, as forces loyal to the bourgeoisie fled to Versailles or were disarmed. 3 There was no destruction of centralism in general; rather, bourgeois central control over the National Guard was destroyed and replaced by central control by the state of the proletariat, its dictatorship, the Commune, first through a Central Committee, then an all-Paris Council.

Like anarchists, however, the petty bourgeois revolutionists fear any state, including the dictatorship of the proletariat, and this leads them to overlook the class struggle right in the arena of armed struggle. Here is their more subtle, more distorted summary of the “lessons” of the Commune:

The abolition of a bourgeois-type standing army and the distribution of arms to the masses of people. The Commune correctly foresaw that a standing army could serve as a ’special repressive force’ only against the workers and other oppressed people and not against the bourgeoisie. (PL, November 1971, p. 9)

Or as the same thought is expressed with less clarity in the newspaper:

The need to destroy the bosses’ standing army. All arms distributed to the masses who can guard their interests without being repressed. (Challenge, April 15, 1971, p. 14)

In other words, no standing army! Instead, the author is worrying about repression of the people as if it were inherent in any organized military force. The task of a new proletarian state especially is to form reliable units to withstand and annihilate the forces under the control of the bourgeoisie. The line of demarcation here does not run between the bourgeoisie and “masses” of people. In a revolution, as before, the bourgeoisie is not numerous enough to staff its own armed force entirely; it organizes part of the population under its ideological and organizational control. The class-conscious proletariat must distinguish particularly in the matter of arms who is trustworthy and who is not.

If a short summary of the lessons of the Commune regarding armed force is needed, why not simply say something like, “The workers seize arms and smash the army of the bourgeois state, replacing it by a Red Army, the armed force of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” This formulation, it is true, does not express the petty bourgeois fear of all state repression, no matter by which class. That sentiment cannot be found in any Marxist-Leninist summary; however, it can be and is found in other petty bourgeois formulations, such as this one by a Trotskyite sect:

Among the first acts proclaimed by the Commune. . .were measures aimed at dismantling the repressive apparatus of the State. The standing army and police were abolished, to be replaced by a citizen militia with democratic control.[4]

Put “mass” in place of “democratic” and what is the difference?!

It appears that the petty bourgeois revolutionists have found support for their views in the counterrevolutionary “extreme left” of the Cultural Revolution in China. In a document of the extreme leftists which the petty bourgeois revolutionists have taken up with warmth, it is said:

...China will be a society in which the army is the people, the people are the army, the people and the army are united as one, and the army has shaken off the control of the bureaucrats.[5]

Of course, on that future day when the army is the people and the people are the army, there will be no army, since the state will have withered away. Until then, there will be an intermediary between the army and “the people”– the population conceived as a mass of individuals, ignoring the class struggle generated by imperialism, Kuomintang reaction, and the petty bourgeois influence of scattered rural economy. That intermediary controlling the army will be the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

If the real history of the Commune does not support the petty bourgeois revolutionists’ views, perhaps it is possible to scare up a quotation from Lenin? They quote from the third of Lenin’s “Letters from Afar,” written in March 1917:

We need a state, but not the kind the bourgeoisie needs, with organs of government in the shape of a police force, an army and a bureaucracy (officialdom) separate from and opposed to the people. All bourgeois revolutions merely perfected this state machine, merely transferred it. from the hands of one party to those of another.

The proletariat, on the other hand,...must ’smash’, to use Marx’s expression, this ’ready-made’ state machine and substitute a new one for it by merging the police force, the army and the bureaucracy with the entire armed people....the proletariat must organise and arm all the poor, exploited sections of the population in order that they themselves should take the organs of state power directly into their own hands, in order that they themselves should constitute these organs of state power.” (PL, November 1971, p. 29-30)

Is the dictatorship of the proletariat a state? Yes, it is a state, but it is not exactly a state. It is a state because it is a tool of suppression of the other class. But because it serves the interest of a majority, non-exploiting class rather than a minority exploiting class, it is not a state. The latter aspect, the “non-stateness” of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is a matter of transition from class society to communism. Lenin also said:

But in striving for Socialism we are convinced that it will develop into Communism and, hence, that the need for violence against people in general, for the subordination of one man to another, and of one section of the population to another, will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence and without subordination.[6]

Clearly, this is a long-term matter, one of generations. We shall discuss this more later, but it is a shame that the petty bourgeois revolutionists chose to emphasize this long-term development when discussing a revolutionary upheaval like the Russian Revolution of 1917. They try to make Lenin into an anarchist, who would oppose all states as bourgeois states to the unorganized “armed people.” But Lenin is not an anarchist. In concluding the second letter of the series, Lenin said that in his next letter,

I will try to show...that the formation of a militia embracing the entire people and led by the workers is the correct slogan of the day, one that corresponds to the tactical tasks of the peculiar transitional moment through which the Russian revolution (and the world revolution) is passing.[7]

Lenin argued for a slogan of the day, which applied in a “peculiar transitional moment.” Specifically, this was before Kerensky’s suppression of the workers in July, when the Soviets might have, if class conscious enough, told the Provisional Government to get out and liquidated the situation of ”dual power” simply by showing their might. If one reads the entire third letter, one sees that the Provisional Government had no troops nearby; it was a matter of the proletariat forming a militia in Petrograd to oppose a police force of “eight thousand students and professors.”

Furthermore, Lenin insists on a proletarian state, on the organization of such a state. The militia “must proceed to combine not only purely police, but general state functions with military functions and with the control of social production and distribution.” He demands an “organization of the proletariat, which must lead the entire vast mass of urban and rural poor, the semi-proletarians and small producers.” Lenin speaks of “the coming together of the soldiers who were mostly peasants with the workers...” so that the class-conscious proletariat may organize and lead the working people. When Lenin spoke of the armed people, he analyzed the relative strength of the classes and sought the paths of transition to enable the proletariat to smash the power of the bourgeoisie and set up its own. When the petty bourgeois revolutionists speak of the armed people, they think not of classes but of a mass of individuals, whose class character they do not analyze, who should not be organized by the proletariat, who without class consciousness should be handed guns and told that they, the masses, will lead the petty bourgeois revolutionist vanguard to victory. They literally say of proletarian revolutions, “They were all made and led by masses of people.” (p. 3)

After quoting Lenin in his own way, the writer goes on to make the slander:

Both the Russian and Chinese revolutions were made by armed masses of there is the fog-making phrase again workers and peasants. After victory was achieved, the decision was made in both cases to disarm the masses and concentrate weapons in the hands of a standing army. (p. 154)

What actually happened? This requires a class analysis, During the October Revolution, the working class in the cities took up arms and made the revolution. The Red Guards were organized in factories, drilling in factory yards. The peasants were either inert in the countryside or soldiers at the front. Then the class struggle spread to the countryside. Recruits for the Red Army were enlisted through Committees of Poor Peasants; that is, organization was used to find reliable hands for guns. These committees functioned during the latter half of 1918. In the war of intervention, almost all middle peasants followed the Bolsheviks1 lead once they saw that White Guard victories meant the return of the landlords. A worker and peasant Red Army was created. When the workers and peasants were fighting a common enemy, the landlords and imperialists, then a worker-peasant alliance based on military defense of the Soviet state could be formed, was essential, and was armed.

In China, a semi-colony dominated by several imperialist powers, things happened differently. Here, the working class had to go to the countryside and organize the “masses of” peasants from the start. All the fighting was organized under the banner of the Red Army; there were no spontaneous, local, uncoordinated bands, totally separate from the Red Army or the Chinese Communist Party, to speak of. The writer is smashing nonexistent castles in the air to pretend that there were and to claim that only after victory in 1949 were these imaginary units disarmed and a standing army formed only then.

But how do the petty bourgeois revolutionists understand things? They write:

What would have happened in Soviet Russia in 1929-30 if the masses of that phrase again peasants had been armed when the Party decreed collectivization...? (p. 157)

In other words, when the kulaks now cannot get arms from imperialism and cannot wreck economic transformation by introducing armed struggle, the petty bourgeois revolutionists demand that the dictatorship of the proletariat, with its armed force like every state, be given up! They would have distributed arms to everyone and shouted, “Go to it, slug it out!” This, of course, would have let the bourgeoisie restore its dictatorship. This is the logical issue of petty bourgeois revolutionism–counterrevolution.

To sum up, the question of arms is not a question whether arms are in the control of the people or the state. This is a phony, non-class approach that serves the bourgeoisie. The question is whether the state is a dictatorship of the proletariat or a machine of oppression in the hands of the bourgeoisie.


To speak about “local units” when summing up the Paris Commune in an allegedly Marxist-Leninist work is so extraordinary and so revealing that two more points on this topic may be made, one economic and one political.

The classic anarchist position on economics is given in the document of the counterrevolutionary “extreme left“ peddled by imperialist “China-watcher” Mehnert and the petty bourgeois revolutionists.

As a matter of fact, without the bureaucrats and bureaucratic organs, productivity was greatly 1iberated....The management of industrial plants by the workers themselves was impressive. For the first time, the workers had the feeling that it is not the state which manages us; but we who manage the state.[8]

This is pure anarcho-syndicalism, which demands that each individual factory be left to “its” workers. This happened in Yugoslavia, and the result was that a bourgeoisie grew and flourished, various capitalists basing themselves on domination of particular factories. In a socialist society, groups of workers in single factories do not set themselves apart from the socialist economy as a whole. The proletarian state directs all units to serve the interest of the working class. Both at the plant level and at the level of comprehensive planning, the struggle is between the socialist road and the capitalist road; but the extreme leftist statement opposes the workers to their state, trying thereby to cover up the bourgeois character of the anarcho-syndicalist program.

For a political action analogous to disarming certain National Guard units by the Commune, we may turn to the renegade Kautsky, as reported by Lenin:

Burning with profound indignation, our most learned Judushka Golovlyov tells the German workers that on June l4, 1918 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets resolved to expel the representatives of the Right Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties from the Soviets.[9]

To the anarchist, this is a crime: the Central Executive Committee (what could be more “far removed” from the–and this we won’t say–individual worker than a central committee “at the top”?) is eating its own roots, expelling representatives from Soviets at the factories and upward. To the class conscious worker, this was an absolute necessity: these parties were working with imperialism to overthrow the rule of my class, and the CEC had to expel them.

This example not only exposes the naivete of writing about “local units;” it reminds us of counterrevolutionary forces nestling among “the masses of” the workers1 and peasants’ Soviets.


We have seen that the petty bourgeois revolutionists identify the proletariat with “the masses.” With this phrase they oppose Marxism-Leninism from the “left” much as others oppose it from the right by speaking about “the people.” Both approaches are non-class. The petty bourgeois revolutionists obscure the differences between the various classes–the proletariat, the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie. They absurdly assert that peasants in conditions of scattered, isolated, largely self-sufficient rural economy are proletarians–that is, workers in collective, industrial plants. This particular folly of blind idealism is discussed in “The Peasant Question and ’New Democracy’” elsewhere in this book.

Here, we observe that the identification of the proletariat with “the masses” obscures differences in class consciousness within the working class itself. The petty bourgeois revolutionists forget that the bourgeoisie supports political and ideological backwardness in the working class–as fostered by the Mensheviks, for example.

In theses submitted to the Communist International, Lenin discussed Menshevik activity among the Russian workers in 1918-19:

It is very difficult for a foreigner who has not heard anything about Bolshevism to arrive at an independent opinion about our controversial questions. Everything the Bolsheviks assert is challenged by the Mensheviks and vice versa. Of course, it cannot be otherwise in the middle of a struggle, and that is why it is so important that the last Menshevik Party conference, held in December 1918, adopted the long and detailed resolution published in the Menshevik Gazeta Pechatnikov.[10]

It turns out that the Gazeta Pechatnikov, or Printers’ Newspaper, was a publication of the Moscow Printworkers’ Union that appeared from December 1918 to March 1919, when it was closed down. Now, the petty bourgeois revolutionists would have been as disoriented in this situation as the foreigner whom Lenin imagines. After all, the paper was published by workers, part of “the masses.” This incident, in turn, is a minor one in a whole series of Menshevik counterrevolutionary actions, from the period of Menshevik Soviets after the February revolution to the Kronstadt insurrection, to name only the most intense revolutionary period. When possible and necessary, the sternest dictatorship was exercised against Menshevism. The petty bourgeois revolutionists obscure all this with their talk of “the masses.”

Lenin discussed the uneven development of class consciousness among the people in general in an article of 1906 which he quoted again in 1920:

Finally, it is a dictatorship of the revolutionary people. Why only of the revolutionary and not of all the people? Because among all the people, who are suffering constantly and most cruelly from the exploits of the Avramovs, there are some who are physically wrecked and intimidated, some who are morally wrecked, for example, by the theory of resist not evil by violence, or wrecked, not by theory, but by prejudices, habits and routine, indifferent people, the so-called man in the street, the philistine, who is more inclined to avoid a sharp struggle, to pass on the other side, or even to hide from it (so as not to get into trouble.’). That is why the dictatorship is not exercised by the whole people, but only by the revolutionary people, who, however, do not in the least fear the whole people, and disclose to them the reasons for their actions and for all the constituent parts of these actions, gladly draw all the people, not only into the work of ’administering’ the state, but also into power, into the work of building up the state.[11]

The point at issue here, discussed in terms of finding reliable reserves and support among the masses, is really the same basic point which Kautsky obscured: the masses have always been a majority, yet they have also been exploited for thousands of years. Kautsky argued:

A regime which is so strongly rooted in the masses he is speaking of a proletarian regime has not the slightest reason for encroaching upon democracy.”[12]

And Lenin had to ask the elementary question: “Can There Be Equality Between the Exploited and the Exploiter?”

The exploiters have kept the masses deceived for thousands of years; an additional long period of transition, the dictatorship of the proletariat, is necessary because these ideas and habits do not disappear at once, but require protracted efforts in both the objective and subjective spheres of life.

Yet the petty bourgeois revolutionists oppose this work of transformation; they oppose the agencies for performing it, the proletarian state. They demand instead that the entire work of ideological transformation be done under bourgeois rule:

We reject the idea that it (socialism) must be inched forward by stages. If communists do not wage a protracted struggle for socialist ideology before and during the revolutionary period, impossible contradictions inevitably result after the revolution.” (PL, November 1971, P. 13)

That is, the mission of the dictatorship of the proletariat, socialist construction, is impossible. What the petty bourgeois revolutionists are also saying, although they do not advertise it, is that proletarian revolution itself is impossible. Lenin said:

...the idea, common among the old parties and the old leaders of the Second International, that the majority of the exploited toilers can achieve complete clarity of socialist consciousness and firm socialist convictions and character under capitalist slavery, under the yoke of the bourgeoisie (which assumes an infinite variety of forms that become more subtle and at the same time more brutal and ruthless the higher the cultural level in a given capitalist country) is also idealisation of capitalism and of bourgeois democracy, as well as deception of the workers. In fact, it is only after the vanguard of the proletariat, supported by the whole or the majority of this, the only revolutionary class, overthrows the exploiters, suppresses them, emancipates the exploited from their state of slavery and immediately improves their conditions of life at the expense of the expropriated capitalists–it is only after this, and only in the actual process of an acute class struggle, that the masses of the toilers and exploited can be educated, trained and organised around the proletariat...[13]

There is an interaction between the material and ideological changes in society. The approach of communists is 1) to make revolutionary changes in conditions when a revolutionary situation permits, and 2) to transform ideology as the concrete circumstances permit. This is the only practical path, based on materialism. However, the petty bourgeois revolutionists are not dialectical materialists but idealists and metaphysicians. Therefore, they make ideological change the motive force and neglect its interaction with revolutionary change of conditions. They actually go so far in their suggestions to the Chinese for a people’s militia and people’s war as to say:

A people’s war is as much agitational as military in the narrow sense. And even if defeated temporarily yes, merely “temporarily”.’ by an army equipped with superior firepower, the militia would have maintained the ideological consciousness of the masses and prepared them to continue their struggle against all their class enemies...” (PL, November 1971, P. 31) Placed in the safety of the petty bourgeois revolutionists, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be overthrown by the bourgeoisie in ten minutes. What distinguishes them from the Kautskyite Mensheviks is merely that the latter prevent revolution by a fetishism of the ballot, while the former prevent revolution by a fetishism of “winning the masses to socialist ideas”– before and during the revolution.


By substituting “the masses” for the proletariat, the petty bourgeois revolutionists refuse to draw a line of demarcation between the classes. They admit the enemy into the revolutionary camp (e.g., Mensheviks among the masses) and set impossible prerequisites for proletarian revolution (e.g., making all oppressed people Marxist-Leninists before a revolution).

There is more to this error. Instead of contrasting the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeois revolutionists counterpose the masses to cadres, the party, and leaders of the proletariat. They exclude the proletariat from citadels of power and deprive it of essential agencies for socialist revolution and construction. Dispensing with the class contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, they elevate contradictions of the masses/ cadres, the masses/the party, the masses/leaders from a secondary to a primary place.

Once again, the petty bourgeois revolutionists compress a great muddle about the Paris Commune into a single sentence. Here is one of the four lessons of the Commune as they summarize it:

Immediate recall of leadership by the masses if leaders failed to carry out the desires and aspirations of the working class. (PL, November 1971, P. 9)

Substantially the same appears in the newspaper of the petty bourgeois revolutionists:

...immediate recall by the masses if they failed to carry out the desires of the working class. (Challenge, op. cit.)

The working class is again equated to “the masses.” Further, the logical inference, one which pervades the views of the petty bourgeois revolutionists, is that leaders cannot be of the working class and cannot support and carry out a proletarian revolutionary line. Armed with such a view and the right mixture of superficial knowledge and profound ignorance, the petty bourgeois revolutionists serve the bourgeoisie with instant denigration of all efforts at socialist construction. They can, for example, identify Soviet Communists of the early 1920’s with capitalist Nep-men:

...communists were placed in the impossibly contradictory position of building capitalism. Profits and therefore exploitation were allowed. High living was tolerated.... Communist cadre and leaders soon began aping the old bourgeoisie. (PL, November 1971? p. 11)

This is not the occasion to go into Trotskyite errors on socialist construction. What is clear is that distrust of all leadership and authority overrides attention to the class line of the proletariat at the moment and whether cadres defend it and carry it out.

There is another error in the summary of the Commune’s lessons. The petty bourgeois revolutionists make no distinction between cadres and the highest leaders of the proletariat. All are subject, in an unspecified manner, to recall by “the masses.”

...any official could be recalled at any time. (p. 92)

The recall measures introduced by the Paris Commune and continued in the Soviets had two uses, neither of which include depriving the proletariat of its tested top leadership. First, recall is used in a situation, such as the dual power, in which the working class has set up Soviets but has not yet thrown off Menshevik leadership. As the Mensheviks revealed themselves from February to July 1917 as capitulators to the bourgeoisie, the workers recalled representatives of the Menshevik party and installed Bolshevik majorities in the Soviets.

Second, recall is used both as a potential resort and an actual measure in removing, if necessary, individual cadres and representatives who do not respond to their constituents’ criticism or who persist in a bourgeois political line. The rectification campaigns in China are a form of such criticism and replacement. The Cultural Revolution was such a campaign, which proceeded in a graded series of steps from bottom to top (the removal of Liu Shao-chi). Other concrete measures are nee led (submitting cadres to review, rotating back to manual labor at times, etc.). But for those who presuppose that 90% of all cadres are bad, and who identify the working class with “the masses,” such disciplined and protracted transformation under proletarian dictatorship is too mundane.

Not only do the petty bourgeois revolutionists have the liberal delusion that a proletarian dictatorship should open up its top leadership–and hence its political line–to peaceful counterrevolution (that is, modern revisionism); they harbor an absolute hostility to the existence of such leadership:

We believe that nuclear blackmail–as it was used by the Soviets during the Sino-Soviet border clashes–won’t work. It may have forced Chou En-lai & Co. to back down. But it will not intimidate the masses. (PL, November 1971, P. 21)


Various forces allied with Mao Tse-tung have portrayed the GPCR Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as ’personally led and initiated’ by Mao. This is a myth. The GPCR really began in the late fifties(!) , when masses of people rebelled against the new ’red’ bourgeoisie... (Ibid., p. 17)

To take the side of the masses versus a leader or vice versa is absurd and non-class. Obviously, both are needed, each has its own sphere of initiative and action, and communists should be concerned to work out the ways of integrating the two. The petty bourgeois approach is, as Lenin said,

...the height of political tactlessness, because, instead of appealing from bad leaders to good leaders, the author appeals from the leaders in general to the ’masses’....without the ’dozen’ tried and talented leaders..., professionally trained, schooled by long experience, and working in perfect harmony, no class in modern society can wage a determined struggle.[14]

This raises the party aspect of the question. Having failed to indicate the interrelation between masses and leaders, having garbled the lessons of the Commune, having vilified Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai, the petty bourgeois revolutionists do not reassure one in writing:

In the thinking of the international communist movement and the international proletariat, a one-party system (the Communist Party) became identical with the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was a grave mistake.” (PL, November 1971, p. 77)

...a system of worker’s rule with party leadership. .., rather than a system in which the party monopolizes all positions of power because it is not willing to trust in the masses.” (Ibid., p. 31)

Of course, a Soviet state system absolutely requires the Communist Party. As Lenin said:

After two and a half years of the Soviet power we came out in the Communist International and told the world that the dictatorship of the proletariat would not work except through the Communist Party. At that time, the anarchists and syndicalists furiously attacked us...[15]

Lenin said this at the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party, which fought a petty bourgeois anarcho-syndicalist deviation. He also said:

Marxism teaches...that only the political party of the working class, i.e., the Communist Party, is capable of uniting, training and organising a vanguard of the proletariat and of the whole mass of the working people that alone will be capable of withstanding the inevitable petty-bourgeois vacillations of this mass and the inevitable traditions and relapses of narrow craft unionism or craft prejudices among the proletariat, and of guiding all the united activities of the whole of the proletariat, i.e., of leading it politically, and through it, the whole mass of the working people. Without this the dictatorship of the proletariat is impossible.[16]

Here, we return to the point from which we started. The petty bourgeois revolutionists wanted to distribute arms to “the masses of people.” The absurdity of this suggestion, its failure to distinguish reliable from vacillating persons and groups, is apparent. Such distinctions must be made not only with respect to arms, but in politics and all other activities. A hundred-times-repeated incantation of “the masses” and an ignorant repudiation of all the experience in socialist construction and proletarian dictatorship, which has extended over more than fifty years and hundreds of millions of people, accomplishes nothing–except to identify these persons as anti-Marxist-Leninist, anti-proletarian, and anti-communist.


The petty bourgeois revolutionists do not see that every phenomenon, every situation, and every institution must be analyzed as to its class character. Instead, viewing society as a collection of individuals rather than a struggle of classes, they identify the proletariat with “the masses. This mistake enjoys a certain acceptance for at least two reasons. One, as an expression of individualism and anarchism, it remains with those petty bourgeois who pass some time in the revolutionary movement against imperialism and capitalism without transforming their world outlook. These persons, petty bourgeois in mentality, merely reproduce this mentality in taking up such views. Two, the petty bourgeois outlook is covered up to some extent by opportunistic elevation of the contradiction between the masses on one hand and leadership on the other hand from a secondary to a primary position.

We say “elevation” and not invention of this contradiction, for there is no doubt that socialist construction requires attention to contradictions between the masses and cadres. Such contradictions can only be solved, however, within the dictatorship of the proletariat (they certainly cannot under capitalism), and their solution does not dissolve but consolidates this dictatorship. The Chinese communists have devoted much attention to this contradiction, which they classify as contradictions among the people. Like class contradictions,

Their correct handling will result in the increasing consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the further strengthening and development of socialist society.[17]

The Chinese and Albanian parties have concerned themselves with the means for handling these contradictions correctly. The methods they have evolved should be studied with optimism about the historical outcome, so that lessons drawn will increase our means for maintaining the dictatorship of the proletariat, rather than fostering pessimism about the possibility of abolishing classes and class rule and achieving communism.

But such is not the approach of the petty-bourgeois revolutionists. They make the contradiction between masses and leaders primary and denigrate all efforts at socialist construction. They ignore the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a long period of transition. As such, it has two aspects.

First, it uses every instrument of social and political activity which class society has evolved. It needs dictatorship. It needs police. Here, the masses and the leaders should integrate their activities as much as possible to make effective use of these tools. For example:

...the people’s public security organs must always be under the leadership of the Party of the proletariat and under the supervision of the mass of the people. In the struggle to defend the fruits of socialism and the people’s interests, the policy must be applied of relying on the combined efforts of the broad masses and the security organs, so that not a single bad person escapes or a single good person is wronged.[18]

It is an anarchist deviation to deprive the proletariat of any instrument available in continuing the class struggle from a position of state power. Police, diplomacy, technical expertise– all these and much more must be used as necessary. The caveat is that power must remain in the hands of the proletariat–conceived as a class, not as masses of individuals. At times, this class basis of power may seem very thin. Six months after the Kronstadt insurrection, Lenin faced facts and said:

The bourgeoisie quite correctly takes into consideration the fact that the real ’forces of the working class’ now consist of the mighty vanguard of that class (the Russian Communist Party, which–not at one stroke, but in the course of twenty-five years–won for itself by deeds the role, the name and the power of the ’vanguard’ of the only revolutionary class) plus the elements which have been most weakened by being declassed, and which are most susceptible to Menshevik and anarchist deviations.[19]

Nevertheless, Lenin maintained the class point of view, while Trotsky degenerated into bourgeois pessimism. Socialist construction in the Soviet Union continued under Stalin.

Second, the dictatorship of the proletariat aims at the abolition of classes and all the phenomena peculiar to class society–individualism, elitism, power-seeking, specialization in mental or manual labor throughout one’s working life, male chauvinism, racism, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to take steps to overcome and liquidate such phenomena. As this is done, the dictatorship of the proletariat will be strengthened; socialist man will be formed. Communism is still one to several centuries away, and until communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat must remain and be consolidated. Indeed, it is by consolidating the proletarian state that it will wither away. The steps taken to overcome the phenomena of class society should never undermine the power of the proletarian dictatorship. If an eye is kept to these essentials, then it will be foreseen when taking a measure would undermine the dictatorship and when not taking a measure would weaken it.

These two aspects of the dictatorship of the proletariat need always to be watched. Anarchism openly rejects the use of all necessary machinery. The petty bourgeois revolutionists would covertly destroy the machinery of dictatorship “in the name of” the program of abolishing class phenomena.


[1] V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1965), p.40.

[2] Page numbers in the text not attributed to another source refer to the draft of “Road to Revolution III” distributed early in 1971 to members and certain friends of Progressive Labor Party. These articles appeared with some revisions in the November 1971 issue of PL magazine.

[3] Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1966), p. 155.

[4] Rick Sortun, “First Workers’ Republic,” Workers’ Power , March 12-25, 1971, p. 6. This newspaper is the organ of I.S., a Trotskyite splinter group descended through the notorious anti-communist Max Shactman.

[5] “Whither China?” in Klaus Mehnert, Peking and the New Left: At Home and Abroad (Berkeley, Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, 1969), p. 90. Mehnert spent World War 2 in the Nazi’s Shanghai embassy, was a correspondent for several Nazi newspapers, and was decorated with a Nazi war service cross.

[6] Lenin, State and Revolution , pp. 97-8.

[7] Lenin, “Letters from Afar,” Collected Works , vol. 23 (Moscow, Progress, 1964), p. 318.

[8] Mehnert, op. cit., p. 85.

[9] V. I. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1965), pp. 65-6.

[10] V. I. Lenin, “Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. First Congress of the Communist International,” Selected Works , vol. 3 (New York, International, 1967), p. 139.

[11] V. I. Lenin, “A Contribution to the History of the Question of Dictatorship,” Selected Works, vol. 7 (London, Lawrence & Wishart), pp. 254-5.

[12] V. I. Lenin, Renegade Kautsky , p. 31.

[13] V. I. Lenin, “Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International,” Collected Works , vol. 31 (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1966), p. 187.

[14] V. I. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?”, Selected Works , vol. 1 (New York, International Publishers, 1967), p. 197.

[15] V. I. Lenin, “Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.),” Collected Works , vol. 32 (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1965), p. 199.

[16] Ibid., p. 246.

[17] Editorial Departments of Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) and Honggi (Red Flag), On Khrushchov’s Phoney Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1964), pp. 95-6. Emphasis is added.

[18] Ibid., p. 103.

[19] V. I. Lenin, “New Times and Old Mistakes In a New Guise,” Collected Works , vol. 33 (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1966), p. 27.