Chattopadhyay on “Proletarian Dictatorship” vs. “Socialism”

Paresh Chattopadhyay, author of The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience, contributed a short piece to a recent issue of Economic and Political Weekly (published in Mumbai). Chattopadhyay criticizes an earlier piece by Markar Melkonian on the fate of socialism in the 20th century (“A Marxist Post-mortem of Soviet Socialism”, May 28, 2011). As is usual with Chattopadhyay, his critique is conducted on a much higher level than its object. A brief excerpt from the piece is presented below. The reference to Marx’s critique of Bakunin is to a much-overlooked notebook Marx made while reading Statism and Anarchy. It can be found in the “From the Prepatory Materials” section of Volume 24 of the Marx-Engels Collected Works. An excerpt is included in the Marxists Internet Archive.

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From “On a Strange Misreading of Marx a Note”

by Paresh Chattopadhyay, Economic and Political Weekly, September 24, 2011

Socialism in Marx

For Marx, socialism is conceived as the society succeeding capital(ism). Contrary to a widespread, but wrong idea, socialism is not a transitional society preparatory to communism. Socialism for Marx is communism (including the two stages). That socialism is a society distinct from and transitional to communism has no textual basis in Marx. Lenin, without himself originating this distinction, made it famous. For Marx, communism, socialism, Republic of Labour, society of free and associated producers or simply Association, Cooperative Society, (Re)union of free individuals, are all equivalent terms for the same society.

The victorious outcome of the workers’ self-emancipatory revolution is the socialist society, an “association of free individuals” – individuals neither personally dependent as in pre-capitalism nor objectively or materially dependent as in capitalism – which is a classless society. With the disappearance of classes, there is also no political power, no state, and so no “workers’ state” either in the new society. Indeed, the German Ideology emphasises that the “organisation” of the new society is “essentially economic”.

What about the idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which Markar Melkonian says is “synonymous with socialism”, and claims that this is also found in Marx’s Gotha critique? Now, the conquest of political power by the proletariat is not the end of the proletarian revolution, it constitutes, in fact, only the “first step (erste Shritt) in the revolution” (Manifesto) which continues through a prolonged period till the capitalist mode of production is replaced by the “associated mode of production”, the basis of socialism. This is the “revolutionary transformation period between capitalist and communist society” during which the proletariat exercises its dictatorship (Gotha critique, our emphasis). Marx reminded Bakunin (1874-75) that during this period capital as a relation (hence the proletariat) is still not eliminated. Hence, by definition, proletarian dictatorship cannot be “synonymous” with socialism.

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