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Historical Tasks of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

— Notes on studying ”A Great Beginning”

by Chou Szu

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #11, March 14, 1975, pp. 4-8.]

A GREAT BEGINNING is a brilliant work written by Lenin in 1919 in which he highly appraised the ”communist subbotniks” [voluntary labour on Saturdays]. On the basis of the fundamental Marxist theory of the state and the practical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat after the October Revolution, Lenin penetratingly expounded the historical tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Today, in the excellent situation when the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has won great victories and the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius has scored big sucesses, conscientiously studying this work by Lenin in conjunction with the concrete practice of China’s revolutionary struggle helps us deepen our understanding of the Party’s basic line, keep to the socialist road, persevere in continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat and win still greater victories.

The Only Road to Communism

The theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the quintessence of Marxism. Marx said: “Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. (Critique of the Gotha Programme.) It is a great forward leap in the history qf social development of mankind and a step of decisive significance towards communism that the proletariat becomes the ruling class after overthrowing the reactionary rule of the bourgeoisie and seizing state power. However, this is only the beginning of the revolutionary transition from capitalist society to communist society and, as pointed out in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, it is only “the first step in the revolution by the working class.” To fulfil its historical tasks, the proletariat must use its political rule to build, consolidate and develop socialism. Without the dictatorship of the proletariat, socialism cannot be built, and even if it is set up, socialism cannot consolidate and develop. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the only road to communism. It is imperative to uphold this dictatorship throughout the historical period of socialism, “like food and clothing, this power is something a victorious people cannot do without even for a moment.” (Mao Tsetung: Why It Is Necessary to Discuss the White Paper.)

What are the historical tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the whole historical period of socialism—the period of transition from capitalism to communism? In A Great Beginning, Lenin pointed out: “In order to achieve victory, in order to build and consolidate Socialism, the proletariat must fulfil a twofold or dual task: first, it must, by its supreme heroism in the revolutionary struggle against capital, win over the entire mass of the toilers and exploited; it must win them over, organize them and lead them in the struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie and utterly suppress its resistance. Second, it must lead the whole mass of the toilers and exploited, as well as all the petty-bourgeois strata, into the road of new economic construction, into the road to the creation of new social ties, a new labour discipline, a new organization of labour, which will combine the last word in science and capitalist technology with the mass association of class-conscious workers creating large-scale socialist production.” This clearly demonstrates that after leading the revolutionary masses to overthrow the reactionary rule of the exploiting classes and seize state power, the proletariat must use the political power already in its hands to resolutely suppress the resistance of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes, thoroughly remould the small producers, guide them to keep firmly to the socialist road, eliminate the vestiges left over from the old society, establish the new social system of socialism and march forward to the lofty goal of communism.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is the class struggle carried out by the proletariat with state power as its instrument. As Lenin pointed out, the proletariat should be engaged primarily in the main and fundamental task of “overcoming the resistance of the bourgeoisie, of vanquishing the exploiters, of crushing their conspiracy”; this is “natural and inevitable.” After seizing state power, the proletariat puts an end to the reacionary rule of the exploiting classes. However, its struggle against the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes does not end here. On the contrary, this struggle becomes more extensive, acute and violent. Not reconciled to their extinction, the overthrown exploiting classes inevitably turn their hope for restoration into attempts at restoration. With fury grown tenfold and hatred grown a hundredfold, they carry out a desperate struggle against the proletariat in a vain attempt to recapture their lost power and ruling position. In addition to taking the field themselves, they pay special attention to recruiting agents from within the Party of the proletariat, and through their agents, they try to change the Party’s line, practise revisionism, engage in splittist activities and intrigues and conspiracies so as to achieve their criminal aim of subverting the dictatorship of the proletariat and restoring capitalism. At the same time, they pin their restoration hopes on subversion and aggression by external enemies who always regard the reactionary exploiting classes overthrown by the revolutionary people and the agents of these exploiting classes within the proletarian Party as instruments for carrying out subversion and aggression. Therefore, throughout the period of socialism, there is the danger of capitalist restoration, the threat of subversion and aggression by external enemies. The proletariat must use the state machinery it has seized “to suppress the reactionary classes and elements and those exploiters in our country who resist the socialist revolution, to suppress those who try to wreak our socialist construction” and “to protect our country from subversion and possible aggression by external enemies.” (Mao Tsetung: On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People.) Only in this way can the rule of the proletariat be consolidated.

Lenin pointed out that simultaneous with the task of suppressing the resistance of the exploiters, “another task comes to the forefront just as inevitably and ever more imperatively as time goes on, viz., the more important task of positive communist construction, the creation of new economic relations, of a new society.” This task is greater and more arduous than the first one. After the victory of the October Revolution, the ”comniunist subbotniks” launched and organized by the worker masses on their own initiative after going through four trying years of imperialist war and another year and a half of still more trying civil war was a practical move to fulfil this task. Lenin therefore highly praised it as “the beginning of a revolution that is more difficult, more material, more radical and more decisive than the overthrow of the bourgeoisie,” it demonstrates that “here something quite new is beginning to emerge in the form of unpaid labour, extensively organized to meet the needs of the entire state, something that is contrary to all the old capitalist rules, something that is much more lofty than the socialist society that is conquering capitalism.” (Report on Subbotniks.) And it is “one of the cells of the new, socialist society, which brings to all the peoples of the earth emancipation from the yoke of capital and from wars.” Having become,the ruling class, the proletariat must guide all the expioited working people and petty-bourgeois strata to take the socialist road, firmly keep to this road and actively fight for the gradual realization of communism so as to liberate the whole of mankind and achieve the final liberation of the proletariat itself.

Thoroughly Sweep Away the Base of the Old System

Communism is the system under which classes and exploitation are abolished for good and the differences between the workers and peasants, between town and country and between manual and mental labour no longer exist. Under communism, people are not forced to obey the division of labour as slaves, labour becomes the primary necessity of life instead of a means in making a living, and most of the people have a high level of communist consciousness, having formed the habit of observing the basic rules of public life and performing their social duties without any special coercive apparatus, and unpaid work for the public good is a general phenomenon. Moreover, with the productive forces developed to a high degree, the principle of ”from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” will be implemented. Contradictions are the motive force in the development of things. There will still be contradictions and struggles in communist society, but they are different in nature from struggles between classes. Covering a considerably long historical period of transition from capitalist society to communist society, socialist society is built on the debris of capitalist society. Chairman Mao has said: “Before a brand-new social system can be built on the site of the old, the site must be swept clean.” (Introductory note to A Serious Lesson.) There is no construction without destruction. Communism cannot be realized without thoroughly sweeping clean the old site, the old system and the remnants of the old ideology reflecting it.

As our socialist society has just emerged from the womb of the old society, it is therefore in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society. For instance, on the economic front, although we have basically completed the socialist transformation of the ownership of the means of production, there are some parts of ownership where such transformation has yet to be completed. The remnants of private ownership still exist. In our economy characterized by socialist ownership by the whole people and socialist collective ownership by the working people, though the bourgeois right of prii@ate ownership of the means of production has been eliminated, “it does not yet abolish ‘bourgeois right’ which gives to unequal individuals, in return for unequal (really unequal) amounts of labour, equal amounts of products.” (The State and Revolution.) These can only be restricted under the dictatorship of the proletariat. The principle of ”to each according to his work” should still be implemented today as it still plays its historical role in the historical period of socialism; but after all it is not a principle of communism and it will inevitably be eliminated in the future. In the superstructure, including all spheres of culture, the influence of the ideology of the landlord and capitalist classes and the force of habit of the old society are still very strong. Every day, every hour they are impinging on the socialist system of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Especially in the case of the petty-bourgeois strata which are like a vast sea, after embarking on the road of socialism, it still has the spontaneous tendency towards capitalism which is incompatible with socialism. The, period of socialism is a period of struggle between moribund capitalism and growing Communism. This struggle is not only reflected by the overthrown reactionary exploiting classes’ resistance to the proletariat and the revolutionary people, but also by the resistance of the numerous survivals of small production and the enormous force of habit and conservatism linked with these survivals to the socialist road. Lenin described this resistance as “frequently passive; which is particularly stubborn and particularly difficult to overcome.” To realize communism, the proletariat must eliminate step by step the vestiges of the old society, vanquish traditional concepts and bad habits left over from the old society, and guide all the exploited working people and the petty-bourgeois strata to take the road of socialism and advance continuously along this road.

Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it is necessary to gradually wipe out the vestiges of the old society in order to develop socialism, prevent retrogression and thoroughly defeat the landlord and capitalist classes. This is of major significance in combating and preventing revisionism and in preventing the restoration of capitalism. As all vestiges inherited from the old society are products of old modes of production, they are the economic base and the superstructure of capitalism or feudalism. These are hotbeds for revisionism and the foundation for capitalist restoration, whether they are on the political front, economic front or the ideological and cultural fronts. Unreconciled to their defeat, the overthrown exploiting classes frequently use them to launch frantic attacks against the proletariat. If this were not so, then why are there people who accept the revisionist line when it appears? Why then did Lin Piao and plotters like him put out a complete, undisguised programme for restoring capitalism in such a counter-revolutionary plan for a coup d’etat as the Outline of Project ”571”? Why then is there still a market for the criminal activities of the overthrown exploiting classes to restore capitalism? Why then is it possible for class enemies to use certain people in the revolutionary ranks and among the masses to do bad things? Why then is it that the revolutionary unity and the sense of organization and discipline of the proletariat sometimes meet with interference and attacks? In order to thoroughly crush the resistance of the landlord and capitalist classes and prevent the restoration of capitalism, the proletariat must make determined efforts to eliminate the vestiges left over from the old society and overcome spontaneous tendencies towards capitalism and the force of old habits. This very arduous and long-term task cannot be accomplished at one stroke. This task, however, must not be neglected, and our struggle in this respect must not be relaxed. Only by thoroughly wiping out the vestiges remaining from the old society “will a reversion to capitalism become impossible, will Communism become really invincible.”

It was precisely because of this that Lenin gave high praise to the communist working spirit and pointed to its vast development in the future. Lenin said: “The ‘communist’ begins when subbotniks (i.e., unpaid labour with no quota set by any authority or any state) make their appearance; they constitute the labour of individuals on an extensive scale for the public good. This is not helping one’s neighbour in the way that has always been customary in the countryside; it is work done to meet the needs of the country as a whole, and it is organized on a broad scale and is unpaid…. If there is anything communist at all in the prevailing system in Russia, it is only the subbotniks, and everything else is nothing but the struggle against capitalism for the consolidation of socialism.” (Report on Subbotniks.) Chairman Mao in his essay Introducing a Cooperative with the same enthusiasm praised the revolutionary spirit of the people. He pointed out: “The communist spirit is growing apace throughout the country. The political consciousness of the broad masses is rising rapidly. The backward sections among them are exerting themselves to catch up with the advanced, which demonstrates that the socialist revolution in our country is forging ahead in the economic field (in those places where the relations of production have not yet been completely transformed) and in the political, ideological, technical and cultural fields.” This shows the great attention paid by Lenin and Chairman Mao to the communist creative spirit of the people under the dictatorship of the proletariat and to the new-born things which are expressions of their complete rupture with bourgeois ideology and habits.

An important content of the two-line struggle within the party of the proletariat has always been what attitude is to be taken towards the vestiges left over from the old society: whether to gradually transform and eliminate them or to protect and continue to enlarge them. After the victory of the October Revolution, Lenin enthusiastically supported the ”communist subbotniks,” pointing out that it was a great beginning for overcoming the habits left as a heritage to the workers and peasants by accursed capitalism, and for building the new socialist society. Contrary to this, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries sneered at the hopes the Bolsheviks placed on ”communist subbotniks” as ”a baobab tree in a mignonette pot” and did all they could from the Right and the ”left” to sabotage the fight waged by the Bolsheviks to eradicate the vestiges of the old society. The struggle over this question within our own Party also has been very sharp. Since the founcung of the People’s Republic of China, our great leader Chairman Mao has led the people of the whole country in the direction pointed out by Marxism-Leninism and carried out the socialist transformation of the ownership of the means of production, launched one revolution after another on the political and ideological fronts and at the game time adopted many revolutionary measures to combat and reject capitalism and to develop socialism. All this has brought the vestiges left over from the old society under heavy fire and advanced the cause of socialism. The ringleaders of the revisionist lines within the Party, from Kao Kang, Peng Teh-huai and Liu Shao-chi to Lin Piao, on the other hand, exerted themselves to protect and develop those old things and tried in vain to obstruct the proletariat and other revolutionary people from advancing along the socialist road. They frantically advocated ”retention of private ownership,” the ”four freedoms,”* san zi yi bao,** ”material incentives” and other revisionist wares, and preached the doctrines of Confucius and Mencius—the ideology of the moribund slaveowning class—and the bourgeois world outdook in a vain attempt to maintain the force and traditions of the old society and lure people to take the capitalist road. Hence it can be seen that what attitude is adopted towards the vestiges of the old society involves the important question of practising Marxism or revisionism.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution initiated and led by Chairman Mao is a great practice in continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the course of this revolutiormry movement, the two bourgeois headquarters of Liu Shao-chi and Lin Piao were destroyed, their plots to turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie were shattered, the resistance of the landlord and capitalist classes (including the newly emerging bourgeois elements) was energetically suppressed, and capitalism and revisionism were profoundly criticized. At the same time, a series of changes in the superstructure including all spheres of culture were effected, a large number of socialist new-born things appeared and a big clean-up was made of the remnants and vestiges of the old society. The current nationwide movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius is the continuation and deepening of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The deepening criticism of Lin Piao’s counter-revolutionary revisionist line and the doctrines of Confucius and Mencius which propagated restoration, retrogression and selling out the country will further sweep away the muck left over from the old society. It is not easy to effect a complete rupture with old traditions and old ideas. Where the broom of the proletariat does not reach, such rubbish will not disappear of itself. In the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius we must, in the light of the struggle between the two classes, the two roads and the two lines, carry out education in the Party’s basic line, eliminate the vestiges of the old society step by step, combat capitalist tendencies and firmly keep to the socialist road.

Fulfil the Tasks of Dictatorship of the Proletariat

To eliminate these carry-overs from the old society and build a brand-new social system is a great cause. This task is much more difficult than suppressing the resistance of the exploiting classes. “It cannot possibly be fulfilled by single acts of heroic fervour; it requires the most prolonged, most persistent and most difficult mass heroism in prosaic, everyday work.” This means relying on the revolutionary masses, revolutionary cadres and revolutionary intellectuals “working in a revolutionary way” at their posts. The old system and old ideology must be resolutely repudiated and, under the guidance of the Marxist-Leninist line, the revolutionary spirit of the proletariat must be given full play and work done enthusiastically. Socialist new-born things must be warmly supported and carefully nurtured. Erroneous things incompatible with socialism must be firmly opposed and boldly rejected. Proletarian discipline must be consciously upheld and hard struggle carried on in plain, everyday work. In a word, we should maintain the same vigour, the same revolutionary enthusiasm and the same daring death-defying spirit we displayed in the revolutionary wars to win political power and in the struggle to suppress the resistance of the exploiting classes in order to consolidate our political power, and we should actively take part in the practice of revolutionary transformation from capitalism to communism. Only through such indefatigable struggle can final victory be won in the cause of communism.

Like all other state power, proletarian state power is the instrument with which one class oppresses another class. What is different is that it is not a minority exploiting class oppressing a majority exploited class, but a majority exploited class oppressing a minority exploiting class, hence it is in essence different from other state power. Proletarian state power uses democratic means, that is, the method of persuasion and education, to solve questions of erroneous ideology among the people. Chairman Mao has said: “The people’s state protects the people. Only when the people have such a state can they educate and remould themselves by democratic methods on a country-wide scale, with everyone taking part, and shake off the influence of domestic and foreign reactionaries (which is still very strong, will survive for a long time and cannot be quickly destroyed), rid themselves of the bad habits and ideas acquired in the old society, not allow themselves to be led astray by the reactionaries, and continue to advance—to advance towards a socialist and communist society.” (On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.) In saying “on a country-wide scale, with everyone taking part,” Chairman Mao meant that this work of educating and self-remoulding includes the various classes and strata among the people and includes shaking off the influence of the bourgeoisie and domestic and foreign reactionaries from the midst of the workers and peasants. State power in the hands of the proletariat must suppress the resistance of the exploiting classes and at the same time it must be the instrument for sweeping away the vestiges of the old society, rejecting capitalist tendencies and drawing the non-proletarian working masse to the side of the proletariat. Lenin pointed out: “The ‘communist subbotniks’ have thrown a remarkably strong light on the class character of the state apparatus under the dictatorship of the proletariat.” This tells us that the attitude adopted towards the vestiges of the old society and towards the traditions, habits and bad ways of feudalism and-capitalism is a major question concerning the class character of the state apparatus. Personnel of state organs must conscientiously read and study, have close ties with the broad masses of the people, do their best to overcome their non-proletarian ideas and consciously repulse sugar-coated bullets and onslaughts of various perverse trends so that the functions of the proletarian dictatorship can be better carried out.

In A Great Beginning, Lenin emphasized the great significance of the ”communist subbotniks” to Party building. The Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) at that time was purging the Party, expelling those so-called ”Communists” who refused to go to the front to fight the armies of Kolchak, Denikin and other landlords and capitalists. Though there was a reduction in the Party’s membership, its strength and weight enormously increased. As soon as the ”communist subbotniks”—a new-born thing-appeared, Lenin immediately proposed using that great beginning to purge the Party. “A similar test should be demanded of all members of the Party who joined after October 25, 1917, and who have not proved by some special work or service that they are absolutely reliable, loyal and capable of being Communists.” ”Members should be accepted into the Party only after six months’, say, ‘trial,’ or ‘probation,’ at ‘working in a revolutionary way.’” From this it can be seen that after the seizure of political power by the proletariat, Lenin made bravely defending proletarian political power and actively applying the revolutionary spirit to revolutionary practice important conditions for members of the Communist Party. The historical task of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to suppress the resistance of the exloiting classes, clear away the foundations of the old system and build a brand-new society. How, therefore, can those who are not active and enthusiastic towards such a cause be Communists? Under the leadership of the Party Central Committee headed by Chairman Mao, our country, is waging a great struggle to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat and promote the advance of the cause of socialism in accordance with the Party’s basic line. All Party members and Party cadres should ponder carefully and see whether their thinking and actions are compatible with the development of the revolutionary struggle and with the demands of the Party, and whether they are worthy of the glorious title of vanguard fighters of the proletariat. Every Communist and revolutionary must closely unite around the Party Central Committee headed by Chairman Mao, conscientiously study the great theory of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought on the dictatorship of the proletariat, uphold the Party’s basic line and strive hard to fulfil the historical tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat!

(A translation of an article in ”Hongqi,” No. 2, 1975. Subheads are ours.)


* The ”four freedoms” are ”freedom to practise usury, hire labour, buy and sell land and engage in private enterprise.” —Tr. ** San zi yi bao means ”the extension of plots for private use and of free markets, the increase of small enterprises with sole responsibility for their own profits or losses, and the fixing of farm output quotas for individual households with each on its own.” —Tr.

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