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What will come after our revolution?

In the eighth part of a series of columns we ask how will society need to be organised after the revolution
Issue 2901

A rally in St Petersburg in Russia in 1917 after the February revolution

We cannot tell those who will bring about revolutionary change what kind of society they will build.  But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be said about the kind of society that could emerge from a revolution.

Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Vladimir Lenin looked at the experience of revolution to draw conclusions about what workers needed to create a new society.

Marx and Engels talked of a “workers’ state” or “the rule of the working class”. They mostly used these terms, and similar ones. They also used “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The phrase is much misunderstood. 

Importantly, the term was not conceived to oppose democracy but as a call to assume it. The working class can only rule through democracy organised from below.

Marx and Engels set the term against the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” over every aspect of life in capitalist society—the rule of capital. In place of capitalist dictatorship, workers must organise a dictatorship over capital. A number of revolutionaries in the 19th century and since saw revolution as a dedicated band of leaders that would seize power in the name of the people. 

They would exercise a revolutionary dictatorship and “educate” the people so they could learn to share power.

In contrast Marx and Engels were against this socialism from above. They saw the most complete democracy and self-government as the only way to achieve socialism.

As previous columns discussed, any workers’ state must take property from the capitalists and defend the revolution. It is the rule of the vast majority over the old capitalist dictators. Lenin sums it up as, “Democracy for the vast majority of people and suppression by force, i.e. exclusion from democracy, of the exploiters and oppressors of the people.” 

In all previous class societies, the minority exploited the majority and could only guarantee domination through the state. With the majority class in control, exploitation ends—along with coercion as a feature of society.

So the need for any form of state disappears. And “the dictatorship of the proletariat” starts to dissolve as society ceases to be a class society. Lenin wrote that as classes and exploitation were eradicated, the state would “wither away”. So long “as the state exists there is no freedom,” he wrote. “When there is freedom, there will be no state.”

This distinction can be seen as the difference between socialism and communism.

Marx noted, “What we have to deal with is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society.”

This new society would be “in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges”.

A socialist society would have one great advantage over capitalism. The relationship between individuals and what they produce would change. Individuals would collectively control the things they produce.

Working people would exercise control over all aspects of society. Marx then argued that as production developed in line with social and individual needs, human beings could begin to develop their humanity. Abundance would abolish competition between individuals and all that comes with it.

He talked about how in this communist society anyone can “become accomplished in any branch”. Society will regulate “the general production and thus make it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic”.

Most of us can probably think of better things to do. But nonetheless work itself ceases to be a chore from which we crave release. It becomes, as Marx put it, “life’s prime want” — a necessary but fulfilling relationship with each other  and the world around us. It is what Marx called “the end of pre-history” and the beginning of humanity’s real history.

This is the eighth part of a series of columns that discuss What We Stand For, the Socialist Workers Party statement of principles, printed every week in Socialist Worker (see page 12). For the full series go to tinyurl.com/WWSF2024

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