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On the Question of the Relation Between the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Democracy - Alik Chaktraborty

17 December 2015
WHEN we discuss the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat the question of the State obviously comes to the fore. It is impossible to arrive at a correct analysis of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat without a proper approach to the question of the State. So we have to discuss the Marxist approach to the State. Since the demise of the so-called Soviet Union in 1989, the representatives of the bourgeoisie have been propagating more vigorously than ever that socialism is nothing but a utopia and dictatorship of the proletariat is a very repressive thing, brutally anti-democratic, etc. Vicious attacks on the Communist or Marxist-Leninist ideology, particularly on the question of dictatorship of the proletariat, came most vigorously particularly at that time.

Failing to fight out these attacks many erstwhile propagators of the dictatorship of the proletariat renounced their own stand and began parroting the bourgeois Pundits by asserting that since dictatorship is anti-democratic, ultimately the dictatorship of the proletariat will obviously develop into the dictatorship of the Party and then into the dictatorship of the highest leadership – the supreme leader – of the Party. These renegades assert that there should be no talk of ‘dictatorship’, they are all for democracy ..., so the aim should not be the establishment of dictatorship of the proletariat. According to them, we should say that we are fighting for democracy.

There is yet another section which maintains that though they are not against of the dictatorship of the proletariat, they choose to conceal their view because people don’t want dictatorship, people only want democracy.

Through these various ways the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat is contra-posed against democracy and put under attack not only by the bourgeoisie but by even those who claim to be fighting against the bourgeoisie. Citing some experiences from Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea they want to repudiate the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

I have already said in the beginning that to discuss this question we have to start with the question of the state. Communists are in favour of equality. That means communists are fighting to establish a society where no state will exist, where no discrimination between humans will exist, no oppression or exploitation of human by human will remain As Engels said, “The proletariat seizes state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with. But thereby it abolishes itself as the proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms, and abolishes also the state as state” (Engels, Anti Duhring).Communists know well that this aim cannot be achieved all of a sudden one fine morning, or through a straight line. Following the law of social development Marx and Engels declared in the Communist Manifesto: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

So the point is that Marxists or Communists know that without violent overthrow of the existing social order, without violent suppression of the existing exploiter class, without despotic expropriation of the propertied class, equality cannot be established. Similarly without smashing the existing state machinery and replacing it with a new one this cannot be achieved. The state is necessary as far as the necessity to suppress the exploiter class remains. So the point is that when we are talking about the necessity of proletarian state it is implied that we are in favour of a stateless society. Because we know that establishing the proletarian state is the first footstep towards a stateless society. Achieving a stateless society is impossible without first establishing a proletarian state. Similarly, without establishing dictatorship of the proletariat, oppression of human by human cannot be eliminated. We can quote Engels regarding the necessity of state, “Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one’s enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people’s state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist.” (Engels, Letter to Bebel, 1875)

So the point is that to establish a stateless society free of exploitation and oppression, we have to establish a state, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Obviously this state will be fully different from all previous kinds of states. Actually this state will not be a form of any of the previous kinds of state that existed in history or of the kind of state which exists today. This has been explained by Engels in his summing up of the experience of the Paris Commune ‘semi state’.

Now we can enter the question of the dictatorship of proletariat. To deal with this first of all we have to be clear about what is dictatorship.

Some are raising the question that if the proletarian state is a semi state, then there is no need of any dictatorship. Only democracy will prevail. We shall come to the question of democracy later, now we are dealing with the first part of this question. First of all the essence of this dictatorship is also different from the dictatorship of other classes. All of us may be aware about the great debate on this question between Lenin and Kautsky. Karl Kautsky had said “Taken literally, the word signifies the suspension of democracy. But taken literally it also means the sovereignty of a single person, who is bound by no laws. A sovereignty which is distinguished from a despotism by being regarded as a passing phase, required by the circumstances of the moment, and not a permanent institution of the State. The expression ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, that is the dictatorship not of a single person, but of a class, excludes the inference that Marx thought of dictatorship in the literal sense.” (Karl Kautsky, Dictatorship of the Proletariat)

To this erroneous view, Lenin replied, “Dictatorship is rule based directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is rule won and maintained by the use of violence by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, rule that is unrestricted by any laws” (Lenin, Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky). We can understand the meaning of the dictatorship of proletariat from this but may misunderstand the actual process. To avoid such misunderstanding, it is better to quote the whole of Lenin’s answer to this.

Lenin said, “Kautsky chose to approach the question in such a way as to begin with a definition of the ‘word’ dictatorship. Very well. Everyone has a sacred right to approach a question in whatever way he pleases. One must only distinguish a serious and honest approach from a dishonest one. Anyone who wants to be serious in approaching the question in this way ought to give his own definition of the ‘word’. Then the question would be put fairly and squarely. But Kautsky does not do that. “Literally,” he writes, “the word dictatorship means the abolition of democracy.” In the first place, this is not a definition. If Kautsky wanted to avoid giving a definition of the concept of dictatorship, why did he choose this particular approach to the question? Secondly, it is obviously wrong. It is natural for a liberal to speak of ‘democracy’ in general; but a Marxist will never forget to ask: “for what class?” Everyone knows, for instance (and Kautsky the ‘historian’ knows it too), that rebellions, or even strong ferment, among the slaves in ancient times at once revealed the fact that the ancient state was essentially a dictatorship of the slave owners. Did this dictatorship abolish democracy among, and for, the slaveowners? Everybody knows that it did not.Kautsky the ‘Marxist’ made this monstrously absurd and untrue statement because he ‘forgot’ the class struggle... To transform Kautsky’s liberal and false assertion into a Marxist and true one, one must say: dictatorship does not necessarily mean the abolition of democracy for the class that exercises the dictatorship over other classes; but it does mean the abolition (or very material restriction, which is also a form of abolition) of democracy for the class over which, or against which, the dictatorship is exercised.But, however true this assertion may be, it does not give a definition of dictatorship.Let us examine Kautsky’s next sentence: ‘...But, of course, taken literally, this word also means the undivided rule of a single person unrestricted by any laws...’ Like a blind puppy sniffing at random first in one direction and then in another, Kautsky accidentally stumbled upon one true idea (namely, that dictatorship is rule unrestricted by any laws), nevertheless, he failed to give a definition of dictatorship, and, moreover, he made an obvious historical blunder, namely, that dictatorship means the rule of a single person. This is even grammatically incorrect, since dictatorship may also be exercised by a handful of persons, or by an oligarchy, or by a class, etc.Kautsky then goes on to point out the difference between dictatorship and despotism, but, although what he says is obviously incorrect, we shall not dwell upon it, as it is wholly irrelevant to the question that interests us. Everyone knows Kautsky’s inclination to turn from the twentieth century to the eighteenth, and from the eighteenth century to classical antiquity, and we hope that the German proletariat, after it has attained its dictatorship, will bear this inclination of his in mind and appoint him, say, teacher of ancient history at some Gymnasium. To try to evade a definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat by philosophising about despotism is either crass stupidity or very clumsy trickery.”(ibid)

When we are talking about dictatorship of the proletariat, it is obvious that we mean that this rule – unrestricted by the law and everything – must prevail in the interest of the proletariat. Lenin made this very clear. The law and the state system and all other things will be made under the dictatorship of the proletariat. A proletarian state will do everything in the interest of the proletariat. This is the dictatorship of proletariat. Without this dictatorship proletariat cannot conquer power suppressing the bourgeoisie. Not only is the dictatorship of the proletariat authoritarian against the bourgeoisie, revolution also is an authoritarian thing. We also know that revolution is a continuous process. Expropriation of bourgeoisie, abolition of bourgeoisie as a class cannot be done at one stroke. This is a process. Without this revolutionary dictatorship, revolution cannot be sustained for one day. So, like revolution,which Marx termed as the “most authoritarian thing”, this process will continue through the whole of the transitional period. So we can conclude about the necessity of the dictatorship of proletariat recollecting Marx’s famous words, “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 in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”(Marx-Engels, Critique of the Gotha Programme).

Reading up to this, the people who are rejecting the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat may say loudly, “See how despotic these communists are! They are openly advocating suppression of their opponents. But when the bourgeoisie are suppressing them they cry foul and allege that the bourgeois are despotic. Is this not an anomaly?”Discussions of this type are flourishing all over the world. In the face of such an onslaught at the ideological level, many so-called communists are opting for the easy way out and simply rejecting the concept of the dictatorship of proletariat, without analyzing the proper relation between democracy and dictatorship. When we say that the dictatorship of proletariat is rule based directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws we are saying that this is the rule of the proletariat. Even Kautskywas not able to oppose the question of the class. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not the dictatorship of any individual or any oligarchy. This is the dictatorship of a class, the dictatorship of the majority of the population. If any rule is based on the interest of the majority of the people, and is conducted by the majority of the people, then is it not democratic?

Let us now deal with the question of the relation between state and the dictatorship of proletariat.

Is dictatorship a form of government or not? Kautskyhad argued that dictatorship is a form of a government. Citing the example of Paris Commune he said that dictatorship of a class cannot be authoritarian. It should be democratic, because Paris Commune was democratic! Repudiating this argument Lenin clearly said that dictatorship is not a form of government. It is a form or type of state. To quote Lenin, “Dictatorship is not a ‘form of government’; that is ridiculous nonsense. And Marx does not speak of the ‘form of government’ but of the form or type of state. That is something altogether different, entirely different” (Lenin, Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky). That means when we are talking about the dictatorship of proletariat, we are actually talking about the type of state. On that basis the government can be established.

It is extremely important to keep in mind this distinction between the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is a type of state, and the government thereof. Why am I raising this point? In general, a government can be an autocratic or democratic government, but that is not the index of the dictatorship of a class. A class can be ruled in an autocratic or democratic way. But a definite class dictatorship can run smoothly only under a particular form of government. In feudal society, monarchy was the suitable form of government for the dictatorship of the feudal class. In capitalism, parliamentary democracy is the main (and arguably the best) form of government for the dictatorship of the capitalist class. And in socialism – in the period of dictatorship of the proletariat – the Soviet form or commune form of democracy is the most suitable (this is the essence of the form of government – other forms can also evolve from this essence).

In a class divided society, the democracy that prevails is actually of the ruling class. So in the debate on the question of the dictatorship and democracy between Kautsky and Lenin the main point was that Kausky was in favour of “pure democracy’’ which is independent of any class, and Lenin categorically stated that democracy always has a class nature. To quote Lenin, “If we are not to mock at common sense and history, it is obvious that we cannot speak of ‘pure democracy’ as long as different classes exist; we can only speak of class democracy.” And further, “‘Pure democracy’ is the mendacious phrase of a liberal who wants to fool the workers. History knows of bourgeois democracy which takes the place of feudalism, and of proletarian democracy which takes the place of bourgeois democracy.”

There is a difference regarding the explanation of democracy also. Lenin defined democracy as, “Democracy is not identical with the subordination of the minority to the majority. Democracy is a state which recognizes the subordination of the minority to the majority, i.e., an organization for the systematic use of force by one class against another, by one section of the population against another” (Lenin, The State and Revolution).When we talk about the democratic form of government, that government must be a representative institution. So Lenin said, “We cannot imagine democracy, even proletarian democracy, without representative institutions, but we can and must imagine democracy without parliamentarism, if criticism of bourgeois society is not mere words for us, if the desire to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie is our earnest and sincere desire, and not a mere ‘election’ cry for catching workers’ votes, as it is with the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, and also the Scheidemanns and Legiens, the Smblats and Vanderveldes.” Through these words Lenin made clear the essence of democracy and the difference between the bourgeois form and proletarian form of democracy. In both of these societies democracy may be the form of government but obviously of a definite class. We cannot imagine proletarian democracy without the dictatorship of proletariat. In bourgeois democracy the right of people is restricted to vote to elect the government. But there is no real right to participate in state affairs. This is why Lenin said that bourgeois democracy is hypocritical to the workers and intended to fool the workers. So democracy for the working class cannot be achieved without overthrowing, without expropriating the bourgeoisie.

To quote Lenin again, “Take the fundamental laws of modern states, take their administration, take freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, or ‘equality of all citizens before the law,’ and you will see at every turn evidence of the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy with which every honest and class-conscious worker is familiar. There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order’, and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner. Kautsky shamelessly embellishes bourgeois democracy and omits to mention, for instance, how the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie in America or Switzerland deal with workers on strike.” (Lenin, Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky)

Despite the fact that the bourgeoisie claims that their democracy is for all, the fact remains that uphold only the sovereignty of the representative body. Take Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy: “It is a government of the people, by the people, for the people. A government that is to be upheld by all freedom loving people and not just the select few who hold a seat in the state. It is also a government to be free of injustice that would violate the country’s laws and by-standards.” It is the best definition acceptable by bourgeois theoreticians. What is important is that here Lincoln does not talk of the sovereignty of the people – rather he emphasizes the sovereignty of a government, a government that is to be upheld by all freedom loving people! Can we imagine that freedom will exist where bourgeois property relations prevail? In a bourgeois democratic republic the main pillars of the state are the bureaucracy and army. Representative institutions are actually institutions of talk, not action. So the point is that bourgeois democracy is fully connected with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Working class right is permitted as far as the rule of the bourgeoisie is not jeopardized. When the rule of the bourgeoisie appears to be in jeopardy, the state violently suppresses the working class. That is the role of state, role of dictatorship and the law of class struggle also. So to win the battle of democracy, the proletariat has to violently overthrow the bourgeois class and impose its own rule upon them and only thus can the democracy of the proletariat be established.

So there is no antagonism between the dictatorship of proletariat and democracy. Actually in every state with the inception of the dictatorship of the proletariat, democracy expands to a qualitatively higher stage. The dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy complement each other. This is obvious. From Paris Commune to Russia and then China, the democracy of the people was qualitatively different from that in the previous society and it was more developed than the most developed bourgeois republic of that time. This is quite natural because bourgeois democracy is the democracy of a tiny section of the society but proletarian democracy is the democracy of the majority of the people of the society and in the interest of the majority of the people of the society. So Lenin said, “Proletarian democracy, of which Soviet government is one of the forms, has brought a development and expansion of democracy unprecedented in the world, for the vast majority of the population, for the exploited and working people... Take foreign policy. In no bourgeois state, not even in the most democratic, is it conducted openly. The people are deceived everywhere, and in democratic France, Switzerland, America and Britain this is done on an incomparably wider scale and in an incomparably subtler manner than in other countries. The Soviet government has torn the veil of mystery from foreign policy in a revolutionary manner.” (Lenin, Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky)

A thorough discussion of the practice of socialism is not within the purview of this article. But we can say in a nutshell that countries like Russia and China where socialism was practiced were far more democratic than the most advanced capitalist countries in all respects. That doesn’t mean that there were no shortcomings. But the nature of these shortcomings is not comparable with bourgeois democracy. For instance, bourgeois advocates go on and on about Stalin’s ‘ruthlessness’ citing the existence of CHEKA. But, what about the role of the CIA of America, the citadel of bourgeois democracy? What about the role of RAW in India? Are we not seeing how people are regularly killed by the military, the secret police, goons in the pay of the state, etc.?

So when bourgeois advocates talk about ‘un-democracy’ in socialist Russia, China etc. we can only laugh. We know that in Russia and China, where people were actually liberated by revolution, there was no existence of democracy before revolution. These countries reached socialism directly from autocracy. But what is unquestionable is that the rights of the people in these countries under socialism were far greater than those enjoyed by the masses in the highest developed capitalist countries. Voting right of women was established in Russia immediately after the revolution. At that time, this was something that could not be imagined in developed capitalist countries like England and America. Equal pay for equal work for women and men was established in Russia much before it was made statutory in the developed capitalist countries (in America the Equal Pay Act came into being only in 1963!). The Russian Constitution gave the people the ‘right to recall’, something which is still a dream in today’s world. It is well-known that the welfare system was adopted in imperialist and capitalist countries to keep the masses from being lured towards socialism. The welfare system in the then socialist countries had reached such a height that the imperialist countries were compelled to take this path to resist an upheaval in their countries. So when they talk about the loopholes of socialism, we can only laugh.

The apologists of bourgeois democracy argue that democracy did not exist in Russia and China because there was single party rule in those countries. Let us keep aside the question of Russia for the time being because that was a special case. The fact is that in China there still exists more than one party. But what about America? In the American Presidential election, we know that there are generally two parties that compete, often fighting neck to neck. But is there any basic difference between those two parties – the Republicans and the Democrats? Are they not both firm representatives of monopoly capital? Are they not both committed to implementing imperialist policies? So what choice do the people of America actually have even if they do have the formal right to choose between more than one party? The answer is clear – the American people have no real choice but to vote for the party they think will be a little less ruthless towards them. So the point is that the right to vote is only a formal right in all these countries. As Lenin said, “Take the bourgeois parliament. Can it be that the learned Kautsky has never heard that the more highly democracy is developed, the more the bourgeois parliaments are subjected by the Stock Exchange and the bankers? This does not mean that we must not make use of bourgeois parliament (the Bolsheviks made better use of it than probably any other party in the world, for in 1912–14 we won the entire workers’ curia in the Fourth Duma). But it does mean that only a liberal can forget the historical limitations and conventional nature of the bourgeois parliamentary system as Kautsky does. Even in the most democratic bourgeois state the oppressed people at every step encounter the crying contradiction between the formal equality proclaimed by the ‘democracy’ of the capitalists and the thousands of real limitations and subterfuges which turn the proletarians into wage-slaves. It is precisely this contradiction that is opening the eyes of the people to the rottenness, mendacity and hypocrisy of capitalism. It is this contradiction that the agitators and propagandists of socialism are constantly exposing to the people, in order to prepare them for revolution! And now that the era of revolution has begun, Kautsky turns his back upon it and begins to extol the charms of moribund bourgeois democracy.”(Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky)

So there is no point in asking whether dictatorship of proletariat is more democratic than the democracy existing in other countries or not? But when we discuss the problems of socialism, the shortcomings of socialist states on the question of democracy, it is a fully different matter. As explained above, it is absurd to compare how much democracy exists in capitalist states and how much in socialist states. The task of socialist states is to transcend bourgeois democracy. We know that Soviet Russia and other socialist countries tried their best. But it cannot be done in a single stroke. We know that democracy can be expanded in a peaceful situation. Democracy has to be squeezed when war is the order of the day. Those who are aware of the history of the development of the Soviet Union may know that from its very inception, Soviet Russia had to face repeated and vicious attacks. Millions of people sacrificed their lives to protect their socialist country. All of us know that it was Soviet Russia who played the key role in defeating the Fascists. In that situation if we try to go into a threadbare discussion of its shortcomings, of its supposedly undemocratic measures, it will be a great injustice to them. If there was no democracy was it possible to face the vicious attack of the Fascists?

However, despite all this, we still say that there were shortcomings. But those were shortcomings that could scarcely have been avoided in that day and age and in that infant state. We can say that those shortcomings were in the main historically unavoidable. Today, we need to evaluate those shortcomings, keeping in mind the concrete conditions of that time, and develop our struggle in a more prepared way. We have to take the lessons from them. We can recollect Engels to understand the problem. “In every revolution some follies are inevitably committed, just as they are at any other time, and when quiet is finally restored, and calm reasoning comes, people necessarily conclude: We have done many things which had better been left undone, and we have neglected many things which we should have done, and for this reason things went wrong.”(Engels, The Programme of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Paris Commune)

In a backward country where socialism was established, there were bound to be some mistakes. Lenin pointed out those problems in his last writing. To quote him, “What elements have we for building this apparatus? Only two. First, the workers who are absorbed in the struggle of socialism. These elements are not sufficient educated. They would like to build a better apparatus for us, but they do not know how. They cannot build one. They have not yet developed the culture required for this; and it is culture that is required. Nothing will be achieved in this by doing things in a rush, by assault, by vim or vigour, or in general, by any of the best human qualities. Secondly, we have elements of knowledge, education and training, but they are ridiculously inadequate compared with all other countries.” (Lenin, Better, Fewer but Better)

So the point is when we discuss the mistakes of socialism we have to point out the positive features first. Then we can develop the whole theoretical understanding. Making a big to-do over the problems of the construction of socialism in Russia under the leadership of Stalin, Khruschev and Co. finally rejected the socialist path. The mistakes committed by Stalin were only an excuse for them. In the Great Debate, the Communist Party of China took the correct approach regarding this. They said in a letter to the Russian Party, “Communists must adopt an analytical attitude to errors made in the communist movement. Some people consider that Stalin was wrong in everything; this is a grave misconception. Stalin was a great Marxist-Leninist, yet at the same time a Marxist-Leninist who committed several gross errors without realizing that they were errors. We should view Stalin from an historical standpoint, make a proper and all-round analysis to see where he was right and where he was wrong, and draw useful lessons there from. Both the things he did right and the things he did wrong were phenomena of the international communist movement and bore the imprint of the times. Taken as a whole, the international communist movement is only a little over a hundred years old and it is only 39 years since the victory of the October Revolution; experience in many fields of revolutionary work is still inadequate. Great achievements have been made, but there are still shortcomings and mistakes. Just as one achievement is followed by another, so one defect or mistake, once overcome, may be followed by another which in turn must be overcome. However, the achievements always exceed the defects, the things which are right always outnumber those which are wrong, and the defects and mistakes are always overcome in the end.” (The Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the proletariat, Renmin Ribao)

Actually we can see there were various forms of government in various socialist countries but in case of all those countries the objective was the same – to expropriate capitalists and establish equality. But at a certain time when the dictatorship of proletariat was confined in a clique or an oligarchy or the leadership was snatched by the agents of the concealed bourgeois elements then the situation became different(this will be discussed in another article later). But in every place we can see the rights of the people expanded, livelihood of the people achieved a qualitative difference and improvement. But still the power was snatched by the bourgeoisie. Why? Is the dictatorship of the proletariat to be held responsible for this? No. Actually, the failure to develop the revolutionary movement in those countries, alienation of the state from the people, and shortcomings in fighting against bureaucratic development in those states were the factors responsible for this. When the class is alienated from the state then there will arise problems in exercising the dictatorship on their behalf. Obviously, failure to expand the democracy was also a problem. Similarly, failure to exercise dictatorship on the bourgeoisie was also a problem. We have to discuss these questions more thoroughly. Yes, we do have to discuss the questions of the relation between party and the state, existence of multi-parties in a socialist state, how a socialist state can come out from bureaucratic twist. All of these are relevant questions, particularly in this situation. But these cannot be discussed contra-posing dictatorship of proletariat with proletarian democracy.

In lieu of a conclusion we can quote Etienne Balibar, a French communist who fought against the French Communist Party’s effort to discard the concept of dictatorship of proletariat. He clearly stated that relevance and correctness of the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be made to depend on the practice in the Soviet Union. He tried to provide an orientation of thinking. Thus he wrote, “I want to concentrate on this idea, even though I have had to present it schematically, because it plays a crucial role in the thinking of many Communists. And here again the question of the Soviet Union arises. It is this idea for example which might lead us to say: from the ‘economic’ point of view, essentially, socialism is the same everywhere, its ‘laws’ are universal; but from the ‘political’ point of view, it can and must be very different, since Marxism teaches the relativity of the superstructures, the relative independence of the political superstructures and of the State vis-à-vis the economic base. And it is this idea too which might lead us to say: the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union resulted in catastrophic consequences from the point of view of the political régime, it resulted in the establishment of a political régime which is not really socialist, which contradicts socialism, because, from the political point of view, socialism implies the widest possible liberty and democracy. But, it will be argued, this did not prevent the development of socialism as an ‘economic system’, or at least it only held it back a little, hindered it, made it more difficult, without affecting its ‘nature’, its essence. The proof: in the Soviet Union there is no exploiting bourgeoisie, monopolizing property in the means of production, no anarchy in production; there is social, collective appropriation of the means of production, and social planning of the economy. Thus the anti-democratic political régime has, it is argued, nothing to do with the ‘nature’ of socialism; it is only a historical ‘accident’. To which it is added, with an apparently very materialist air, that there is nothing astonishing about the fact that the superstructure is ‘lagging behind’ the base — such is the law of the history of human societies, which guarantees that, sooner or later, the political régime will come into line with the mode of production, will come to ‘correspond’ with the mode of production” (Etienne Balibar, On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat).

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.