At Last! What is the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’?

Errico Malatesta
Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, Vol 1 No 5

A straight talker at long last!

Up to now, whenever we said that what the socialists term dictatorship of the proletariat is only, in fact, the dictatorship of some men who, with the assistance of a party, superimpose and impose themselves on the proletariat, they used to treat us as if we were little short of slanders.

Flying in the face of all probability and all known facts the insistence was that in Russia the whole problem of a squared circle – that is a government truly representative of the interests and the wishes of the governed, had already been solved.

Consequently, Moscow had become the Mecca of the proletariat; the source of light, and, as well as light, peremptory orders as to the ideas that those who, with permission from their betters, wished to call themselves communists ought to profess and the conduct they should observe.

As a result of this marvellous Russian-made discovery of a government made in the image and likeness of the people and for the people’s (or proletariat’s as one might say) benefit, all that emanated from Russia seemed to be invested with a miracle working virtue and it was enough to call them Soviets, Russian-style for any Council or Committee to reach the exalted position of the supreme factor of revolution.

But here I have it – the spell is broken.

This time it is not we – we, the anarchists, those irreverent defamers if ever there were any – who strip away the mask. No, this time it is the official Italian Socialist Party daily, up to now the most authorised mouthpiece for the word from Moscow:

It is Avanti! on the 26th that says:

”In Russia, under the Soviet regime, the Party really directs all State policy and all public activities; individuals as well as groups being utterly subordinated to the decisions of the Party, so that THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT IS REALLY THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT AND, AS SUCH OF ITS CENTRAL COMMITTEE.”

Well now we know what we have to look forward to: the dictatorship of the Leadership of the Socialist Party, or of the as yet unborn Communist Party or, to be more specific, of D’Aragona and his accomplices!

But the leaders of the Socialist Party, those aspiring to the dictatorship ought to understand that, in Italy at least, tthat is impossible; it is impossible because of us, the anarchists and syndicalists being present.
If we were outnumbered by the socialists to the same degree as our comrades maybe inside Russia, nothing would be simpler: the dictators would get rid of us by all the methods used by all dictatorships, gallows and jails and would keep on going until brought to a halt by revolution or reaction.

But we are now a force to be reckoned with and what’s more we are growing rapidly, favoured by circumstances and what Avanti! terms the generous temperament of the working masses. And we are determined not to submit.

It is not that we think the masses are always right and that we shall always want to follow them in their changeable attitudes. We have a programme, an ideal to make victorious and this sets us apart from the mass and we are party men. We want to act upon the mass, to prod them towards that course we believe best, but, as our end is one of liberation and not domination, we want to get the masses used to thinking for themselves and acting for themselves.

We believe that liberty educates to freedom and solidarity and thus we abhor any authoritarian set-up whether it be in society generally or any particular party or association.

The socialists want to prepare the people foor liberty through authority.

And so: if, to take a hypothesis we do not accept, it were true that if the revolution is to succeed and the new society structured, public powers need to be concentrated in the hands of a few, if it were true that it is necessary for someone to give the orders, then let the Socialists note this well, we would want it to be us who gave the orders and we would not submit, except by force, to the orders of those who are, in our view, mistaken.

It follows from this that in Italy a revolution made with an authoritarian outlook with dictatorial objectives would, of necessity, lead to a war between revolutionary and revolutionary.

We do not want that: the socialists should not want that.

This being so then, theories aside, and taking a realistic view of things it would behove the socialists to drop all dictatorial claims and accept the libertarian view of revolution; of a revolution developing variously in accordance with the various moral and material conditions in the different regions, communes and corporations; which would assume a varying complexion according to which party held sway in the various locations, this party or that, and which would reach a common end through the gradual harmonization of interests and wills, and not through authoritarian imposition from above.

Were the socialists to accept this programme – freedom for all – much mutual suspicion would vanish and we should be able to co-operate to bring down the current régime and help ourselves tomorrow towards a happier development of the revolutionary future.

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