Ancient Debates

I realize the time of intense theological disputes between Marxists has long gone (the only Marxists who retain any influence in the world are critical theorists, whose work permeates academia but doesn’t allow people to think clearly about much of anything), but I’ve always been at a loss to understand what Marxists mean (or meant) by the term “dictatorship of the proletariat.” (What they really mean…) I find this from Pinson’s book on Germany to be, well, interesting. Pinson is describing Socialist attitudes in 1919 toward revolution and the Soviet state in Russia:

Hugo Haase, respected by his political opponents as well as by his followers as a man of indisputable integrity and of statesmanlike qualities, retained his adherence to the Marxist goal of world revolution and world socialism. Like left-wing Social Democrats throughout the world at that time, he viewed the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia as a positive step forward toward the goal of international socialism. But he, like [Rudolf] Hilferding, [Karl] Kautsky, and [Wilhelm] Dittmann, was repelled morally by the brutality and terror of the Russian regime. These Independent Socialists were not opposed to dictatorship per se, but they wanted a dictatorship resting not upon a minority, as in the case of Russia, but upon the will of the majority of the people. The Independent Socialists were objective and honest enough to admit the great bulk of the German workers were in the ranks of the Majority Socialists. All that the Independents could do under the circumstances, therefore, was to pursue a program of educational propaganda in order to develop revolutionary clarity and revolutionary energy among the masses and to hope thereby to win them over to their side eventually. The U.S.D.P. [the Independent Socialists], declared [Arthur] Crispien, wants a soviet system based on the free will of the masses and not on a militarily disciplined obedience, as in Russia. “By dictatorship of the proletariat,” he maintained, “we understand … not the setting up of a reign of terror, but the exercise of political power by a working class led by scientifically schooled Socialists with a considered and conscious planning and organization imbued with the highest form of socialist ethics.” (p.376-377)

Not a reign of terror. But sweet, gentle democratic socialism? The bureaucratic, managerial welfare state? I am I reading this right? Is that the “dictatorship” Marxists had in mind, or were they thinking of something else entirely?

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