Marxist FAQ: Dictatorship of the Proletariat
There has been much confusion among non-Marxists when the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” is mentioned. Most people believe that this means dictatorship in the modern sense of an oppressive system led from the top down by one leader or a small group of leaders and they point to the use of the word “dictatorship” as proof. However I am here to clear up that confusion. The phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” was coined at a time before the rise of the modern dictatorship and as such has lost the contextual meaning that the phrase meant when the phrase was coined in the 19th century. When the phrase began to be used “dictatorship” meant absolute leadership. Thus the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” meant the absolute leadership of the proletariat. In practice however I think that the modern equivalent phrase should be “proletarian democracy” and I will use that phrase in the future.
Proletarian democracy is what Marxists are truly trying to establish. But what is proletarian democracy? In proletarian democracy the State operates on a democratic basis with the caveat that the proletariat is the only class that is allowed to participate. This is in contrast with modern liberal democracy where all classes are permitted to participate. Now is usually the point where liberals and conservatives alike cry out in terror “but you are quashing freedom!” In reality, no we are not. By only allowing the proletariat to participate who is truly being left out: the small group of wealthy people who don’t have to work at a job to ensure their livelihood. By removing the influence of the wealthy we can finally realize true democracy. Today the rich contribute to political campaigns and corrupt our political system to the core. By removing their influence we remove the corrupting influence of money in politics. This is not the only part of proletarian democracy for if it was then all we must do to institute proletarian democracy would be to do away with private financing of campaigns. Proletarian democracy would also prevent the rich from being able to be elected or seeking election. This ensures that the proletariat is represented in government by itself. Only by totally removing the wealthy from the political process at all levels can we achieve proletarian democracy. But again this is not all because this political system would be further coupled with the socialist ownership of the means of production. These three prongs together not only take away the influence of the wealthy but eventually ensures that they will become members of the proletariat as well. When there are no rich people left then proletarian democracy becomes true democracy in every sense of the word.
There are numerous schools of thought as to what a proletarian democracy would actually look like. Some view it as a single-party state led by a vanguard party. Some view it as a popular front of all leftist groups banding together to ensure leftist consensus and prevent the emergence of a ruling elite. Others of the more anarchist persuasion would do away with the State entirely and have proletarian democracy on a purely informal basis and only at the local level with participation being voluntary. There have been numerous attempted experiments in proletarian democracy but none has proved to be successful due to the corrupting influences of bureaucratism and the outside influence of capitalism upon socialist states. These influences have the effect of degrading proletarian democracy into bureaucratic, elitist systems that reward party loyalty and loyalty to the State over proletarian democratic initiative. Only when the world is transformed into a world of socialism will we truly be able to begin the great experiment in proletarian democracy.