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Context : Marxism

Quora Answer : Describe communism and the class struggle. How is the dictatorship of the workers meant to work in a communist society?

Feb 25, 2018

"Dictatorship of the proletariat" is an unfortunate, ugly phrase.

You have to remember that when Marx wrote it, working class men didn't have the vote. Nor did any women. Only men with a certain amount of property had the vote. (In fact, in the UK, men without property only got a vote in 1918)

So, we tend to hear the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat" with the emphasis on the "dictatorship". And think of it in contrast with a more widely representative "democracy". As though Marx was thinking about taking a system which gave power to everyone, and concentrating it in the hands of the workers.

This isn't how Marx would have thought of it at all. In his times it was both true and obviously true that power was already concentrated in the hands of a very few people. And he was advocating extending power. So that the working class got a say in how things ran.

Now, of course, as the workers are the large majority of the population, it was kind of "implicit" that if they all had a say, their power and interests would outweigh everyone else's. So in a sense, once the working class acquired power, it would "de facto" be a "dictatorship" by them. But the phrase really means a society "ruled by the proletariat". Not on some specific "dictatorship" kind of model.

So "rule by the proletariat" means rule by "more or less everybody". Because more or less everybody is proletariat. (Or was in the kind of rapidly industrializing 19th century that Marx was living through.)

Yes. This would overturn and throw down the power of the rich. That was kind of the point. But Marx absolutely wasn't hoping to put an alternative elite or oligarchy in the place of the capitalist one. He really expected "dictatorship of the proletariat" to be more like our ideals of universal suffrage today. (Even if he didn't believe that the specific institutions or mechanisms of the existing state could be repurposed.)

What did Marx think that the masses would do with their power once they had it? He didn't specify or presume to tell them. He just assumed that they'd work out what was in their own interest and do it.

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