Workers State Is A Weapon In The Class Struggle
By Mary-Alice Waters, in The Militant, Vol.61, no.34, 6 October 1997
This October marks the 80th anniversary of the Russian revolution - the first time the working class and its allies succeeded in taking and holding state power, opening the door to the task of building a new, socialist society. Below we reprint an selection that describes some of the immediate tasks that faced the working class, under the leadership of the Bolshevik party, in Russia.
The excerpt is taken from the article "Communism and the Fight for a Popular Revolutionary Government: 1848 to Today," by Mary-Alice Waters. The entire article appears in issue no. 3 of the Marxist magazine New International, which is copyright 408 Printing and Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission.
By leading the toilers to establish a workers' and peasants' government, the working class of Russia had made it possible to begin "wresting by degrees" all productive property from the capitalist class and concentrating it in the hands of the state, in order to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
In the 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx had explained that, "Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period," Marx wrote, "in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat."
Basing himself on this foundation of Marxist program and strategy, Lenin explained in his January 1918 speech to the Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets that, "The great founders of socialism, Marx and Engels, having watched the development of the labour movement and the growth of the world socialist revolution for a number of decades saw clearly that the transition from capitalism to socialism would require prolonged birth-pangs, a long period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the break-up of all that belonged to the past, the ruthless destruction of all forms of capitalism, the co-operation of the workers of all countries, who would have to combine their efforts to ensure complete victory."
Lenin went on to explain that the transition would be particularly difficult given the material conditions existing in Russia. "It goes without saying," he pointed out, "that the transition to socialism in Estonia, that small country in which the whole population is literate, and which consists of large-scale farms, cannot be the same as the transition to socialism in Russia, which is mainly a petty-bourgeois country," with agriculture just emerging from semifeudal forms of organization, and a low level of literacy.
Confiscation of capitalist property was initially limited to cases where capitalists abandoned their factories, engaged in sabotage and decapitalization, or refused to abide by legislation ensuring workers' control and better job conditions. The desire of the most militant workers to move faster with the expropriations required patient political leadership.
Often the Bolsheviks' job was to slow them down, while educating them to organize and prepare for future measures.
In the early months of the Russian revolution it was common for workers to get together and demand that their factories be expropriated. "I told every workers' delegation with which I had to deal," Lenin said, "when they came to me and complained that their factory was at a standstill: you would like your factory to be confiscated. Very well, we have the blank forms for a decree ready, they can be signed in a minute. But tell us: have you learnt how to take over production and have you calculated what you will produce? Do you know the connection between what you are producing and the Russian and international market? Whereupon it turns out they have not learnt this yet; there has not been anything about it in Bolshevik pamphlets, and nothing is said about it in Menshevik pamphlets either."
In pursuing this course, the Bolsheviks demonstrated their recognition not only that the transition from capitalism to socialism would take an entire historical epoch and was only possible on a world scale - the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat - but that even the transition in one country from capitalist to socialist property forms - that is, from private ownership to state property - would be accomplished over a more or less extended period, depending on the given country's degree of economic development.
It would take time for the Russian working class to acquire the consciousness, experience, and skills to begin managing state-owned factories and participating in the process of national economic planning. Meanwhile, it was to the benefit of the workers and peasants to take advantage of those few capitalists who would continue investing their capital in production, and, even more importantly, the much larger layer of managers and middle-class technicians whose skills were still needed by the revolution.
The decisive question was not the pace of the transition, but whose interests the new state power defended.
The class struggle does not end when the state power of the exploiters is overthrown, Lenin explained. "The dictatorship of the proletariat, is the continuation of the class struggle of the proletariat in new forms," he emphasized in the outline for a pamphlet on the dictatorship of the proletariat drawn up towards the end of 1919. "That is the crux of the matter."
There is one decisive new fact, however. The proletariat now fights with a powerful weapon in its hands - a state, an instrument of coercion now to be used against the exploiters instead of on their behalf.
"The state is only a weapon of the proletariat in its class struggle. A special kind of cudgel, rien de plus!"
A cudgel. Nothing more!
To get an introductory 12-week subscription to the Militant in the U.S., send $10 US to: The Militant, 410 West Street, New York, NY 10014.
For subscription rates to other countries, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the above address.