M. Pablo

Stalin Switches Slogans

“People’s Democracy” and “Dictatorship of Proletariat”

(January 1949)

From Fourth International, Vol. 10 No. 4, April 1949, pp. 116–119.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the Fifth Congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party held in Sofia last December, a major speech was delivered by Dimitrov, who has been the spokesman of Stalinist strategy since the rise of Hitler and the close of the “third period.” His report made public the new orders received from the Kremlin concerning the “problems of the New Democracy.”

The first part of his speech was devoted to a condemnation of the entire policy of the Communist parties and the Third International before 1934, that is, prior to the launching of the “peoples’ front” line.

Dimitrov charged the Communist leaderships of that time with having forgotten the Leninist teaching “of the necessity of revolutionary compromises.” According to Dimitrov, this required the building of broad alliances with “as many other non-Communist parties as possible” so as to enable the working class first to help these “fronts” accomplish “the bourgeois-democratic revolution.”

A Discredited Theory

It is only after this revolution succeeds and the working class attains a “dominant position” that the party (the Communist Party) representing the workers can turn against its erstwhile allies. This is the half-century old Menshevik theory – put to a sanguine test by Stalinism on the backs of the Chinese masses in 1925–27 and of the Spanish masses in 1935–38 (to mention only two examples). According to Dimitrov, this is “the theory of the two tactics formulated by Lenin and applied by Stalin.”

Naturally it was not surprising to the falsifiers trained in the Stalinist school that Dimitrov in condemning the Communist leaderships before his “era” should accidentally forget two small facts: a) That these “arguments” refer in reality to the criticism of the “third period” which extended from 1929 to 1933. This followed a period (1925–28) of the crassest opportunist errors of the entire Third International, a period in which “compromises” not only were not excluded but on the contrary pressed to their ultimate consequences. We need only mention the policy applied during the Chinese Revolution of 1925–27 and that of the Anglo-Russian Committee during the great general strike of the English miners in 1926. b) That those responsible for this policy, in 1925–28 as well as in 1929–33, were not only the Communist leaderships subordinated to the Kremlin, but above all the Kremlin and its master Stalin. But has “comrade Stalin” ever displayed the slightest sign of “self-criticism, a primary duty of every true Bolshevik”?

In reality this type of “criticism,” a posteriori of the policy of the past, and the whole flood of “self-criticism” which the various Stalinist leaders, from Thorez to Zachariades, have been pouring forth since the condemnation of Tito by the Cominform, is only a device to permit “theoretical” readjustments which are necessary to justify the new exigencies of Stalinist policy throughout the world and especially in the “buffer-zone” countries. (This policy is dictated by the Kremlin and in the first place serves the special interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.)

Anyone duped by the “ideological” and “theoretical” presentation of this policy, who would seek to clarify his ideas by means of the Stalinist texts of “criticism” and “self-criticism,” would introduce the greatest confusion in his mind, most perilous to normal reasoning.

Let us rather examine the second part of Dimitrov’s speech which transmits the latest “theoretical” directives Dimitrov had recently obtained from Stalin, after a long visit with him prior to the Congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party. In Dimitrov’s words, they are intended to “aid all the people’s democracies in solving their theoretical problems.” These “theoretical” directives can be reduced in essence to one point: Stalin concluded, after long meditation, that from the “Marxist-Leninist” standpoint “the people’s democracy” is after all only a “form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The Stalinist “theoreticians” used up a great deal of grey matter in theoretically “digesting” the social content of this formula which was issued on the day after the Second World War ended. Moreover in the absence of clear-cut directives from the Kremlin they generally avoided concrete definitions, contenting themselves with insipid rhetoric (as for example did Duclos who defined the “New Democracy” as “an enlarged and renovated democracy, concrete and living, invigorated by the people whose millions of heroes, martyrs and fighters have sculptured its luminous features,” etc.). Others have bogged down in the most embarrassing equivocation: a hybrid, transitory, original regime, known for the “first time in history,” etc. The one exception, it is true, has been the Yugoslav “Titoist” leadership which has always professed that the “people’s democracy” is a distinct “stage” of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

This enabled Tito to say with some justice in his speech at the Second Congress of the Serbian Communist Party (Jan. 21, 1949), that

Comrade Dimitrov in his speech at the Fifth Congress of the CPB set forth what we had assumed were the formulations on the character of the power in the people’s democracies. However this had already been stated in our documents before and during the Congress of our party which was held several months prior to the Congress of the CPB.

Yesterday’s Snows

Nevertheless, despite the equivocation which prevailed before the Sphinx spoke, the Stalinist theoreticians were inclined to the view that it was better not to confound “people’s democracy” with “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The evidences of this are numerous. Let us cite a few of them. Franz Marek, a theoretician of the Austrian Communist Party, wrote in Weg und Ziel (No. 2, Feb. 1947, Vienna):

There are different roads to socialism but each of them signifies the struggle against capital and the liquidation of the state apparatus which serves the interests of capital. In our time, the people’s democracy offers a new possibility of attaining socialism without civil war and without the dictatorship of the proletariat as it was introduced in Russia ... The people’s democracies follow another road to socialism than the Bolsheviks.

E. Varga wrote in his article A New Type of Democracy:

The social organization of these states (people’s democracies) is different from anything we have known up to now, it is absolutely new in the history of humanity. It is not the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie but neither is it the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Democratie Nouvelle, No. 9, Sept. 1947, Paris)

A. Leontiev wrote in his article The Struggle Between the Old and the New:

It is sufficiently well known that Marxism-Leninism conceives the socialist transformation of society as taking place principally through the dictatorship of the proletariat which the working class establishes by the revolutionary method of overthrowing the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie ... But at the same time the classics of Marxism-Leninism have emphasized many times that the passage from capitalism to socialism presupposes an immense variety of social forms ... Neither Marx nor Lenin foresaw nor could they have foreseen this form (of liberation from imperialism and movement toward socialism represented by the new democracy). (Democratie Nouvelle, No. 9, Sept. 1947, Paris)

The same Leontiev underscores the distinction between “the Soviet Union which has built socialism on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat” and the “people’s democracies” which are building socialism by “other ways.”

Finally let us quote the testimony of M. Thorez, which is no less indicative of the conceptions held by the Stalinist leaders up to now on the people’s democracy:

This people’s democracy, Dimitrov stated, is neither socialist nor soviet. It is the passage from democracy to socialism. It creates favorable conditions for the development of socialism by a process of struggle and labor ... Every country will traverse to socialism; through its own road. The advantage of this people’s democracy is that the passage to socialism is made possible without the dictatorship of the proletariat. (In the Service of France, speech at the Strasbourg Congress, June 25, 1947)

Dimitrov Buries the Past

With the most nonchalant air Dimitrov wrecked this conception from top to bottom. The people’s democracy, he explained

is in fact the dictatorship of the proletariat in a new form ... According to Marxist-Leninist principles, the’ Soviet system of government and the system of government in the countries with peopled democracies are only two forms of one and the same power – the power of the working class in alliance with the toiling peasantry and leading it. They are alternate forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat ... (The) people’s democracy assumes the functions of the Soviet power.

Thus is elucidated the enigma of the people’s democracy whose advent was made possible, Dimitrov tells us again, “thanks only to the liberating mission of the Soviet Union.”

Since this speech, the idea of the identity of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the people’s democracy is discreetly making its way into the Stalinist press. One after the other, Stalinist leaders and journalists, exhibiting the same assurance they showed yesterday in placing the stress on “the diversity of ways for building socialism,” now emphasize the basic identity which is hidden under the “diversity of political forms of power,” the dictatorship of the proletariat.

So for example, Anna Pauker, leader of the Rumanian CP, writes in the organ of the Cominform, For a Lasting Peace! For a People’s Democracy!, Jan. 15, 1949:

The regime of the people’s democracy victoriously realizes the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the functions of eliminating the economic positions of the exploiting classes, of crushing attempts to reestablish the old order, of attracting the laboring population in the work of building socialism under the leadership of the proletariat. In other words, the regime of the people’s democracy is a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Pospelov, editor-in-chief of Pravda, speaking at a Lenin memorial meeting held in Moscow on January 21 gave his view:

Basing themselves on the help of the USSR and on the people’s-democracy nations, personifying the power of the toilers led by the working class, [the regime of people’s democracy] fulfills the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat in suppressing and liquidating the capitalist elements and organizing the socialist economy. It fulfills the tasks of the transition period from capitalism to socialism. (L’Humanité, Jan. 24, 1949.)

What Is Behind the Shift?

What are the shifts and motivations for this very important turn in the “theory” of the people’s democracy? It is indisputable that the “people’s democracies” are now at a much different level of political and economic development than they were from their inception to around the middle of 1948. The Communist parties now control and administer the state exclusively while the measures of nationalization and state control over the remaining private sectors of the economy (particularly the peasantry) have been extended everywhere.

This evolution can permit them to say that in the present stage (and not at the beginning) the power of the people’s democracy is identified with the dictatorship of the proletariat – I am referring of course to those who hold the Stalinist concept and practice of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But the principal reason which impels the Kremlin to make this turn is certainly not their concern with adjusting theory to facts. Since the explosion of the Tito affair and the development of the centrifugal forces in the “buffer-zone” countries in a more tangible form, the Kremlin has been constantly preoccupied with fastening its grip in all domains, political, economic, ideological.

The unity of doctrine on people’s democracy is necessary to bring to a halt any possible wandering in “diverse ways [permissible until now] for building socialism” and to once again reassert the principle of the primacy of the Soviet Communist Party and its “experience in the building of socialism” over all the others. Dimitrov was categoric on this point:

All Communists must realize the importance of a complete coordination of the activities of all the Communist parties in the world under the leadership of the Russian Communist Party. All Communist parties have a common policy and recognize the great Russian Communist Party as the leading party of the international workers movement.

The same idea is even better formulated in his article which appeared in the organ of the Bulgarian CP, Rabotnichesko Delo, December 18, 1948:

It must not be forgotten – despite the fact that the Communist International no longer exists – that all the Communist parties in the world form a single Communist front under the leadership of the most powerful and experienced Communist Party, the party of Lenin and Stalin; that all the Communist parties have a common scientific theory as a guide for action, Marxism-Leninism; that all the Communist parties have a leader and a teacher recognized by all, Comrade Stalin.

Unity of doctrine on people’s democracy follows the same general direction as the greatest possible political coordination (Cominform) and economic coordination (Council for Mutual Economic Aid) and ideological coordination now pursued by the Kremlin to consolidate and maintain its control over all the “buffer” countries.

It is not excluded, on the other hand, that unity of doctrine on “the real basis” of people’s democracy, which has now been discovered as the dictatorship of the proletariat, will prepare the road for structural assimilation, at least of some of the “buffer” countries and their incorporation in one form or another into the USSR. It is interesting for example to note the consequences of the change in the concept of people’s democracy in Rumania, among the most backward of the “buffer-zone” countries at this time but nearest to the USSR and easier to digest than the others. Teohari Georgescu, Minister of the Interior, on January 12, 1949, placed before parliament a law providing for the creation of People’s Councils. He declared: “We, the government of those who toil, declare the dictatorship of the proletariat launched.” The law provides for the constitution of “soviets” modeled on the USSR pattern (long since purely decorative). Until “elections” are held, these “soviets” will operate through appointive executive committees and will have as their principal task the protection of “the socialist order in local life, the mobilization of the masses for the realization of economic plans, the defense and development of the people’s property.”

Real power will in fact remain in the hands of the party, that is to say, in the hands of the uncontrollable, all powerful leadership of the party which is responsible solely to its masters in the Kremlin. In Stalinist language, such an organization of power is called “dictatorship of the proletariat” (whether or not it takes the form of people’s democracy). Naturally, the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as formulated by Lenin, practised in Russia in his day, and now defended by our movement is an entirely different one.

What Lenin Wrote

Lenin, in his famous theses on bourgeois democracy and the proletarian dictatorship presented to the First Congress of the Third International, wrote:

The essence of the Soviet power consists in this: that the constant and unique base of all governmental power is the organization of the masses formerly oppressed by capitalism, that is, the workers and the semi-proletarians.

These are the masses who, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, while enjoying equality under the law, were in reality removed by thousands of customs and maneuvers from all participation in political life, from all exercise of democratic rights and liberties and who are now called upon to take a considerable and mandatory part, a decisive part in the democratic administration of the state.

Soviet power, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat, is conceived of in a way that binds the laboring masses to the governmental apparatus. The same aim is intended in the fusion of the legislative and executive power in the soviet organization of the state as well as the replacement of territorial election districts by the units of work such as the factories and the shops.

These principles were genuinely applied by Lenin in Russia in building a pyramid of power based on real, living, democratic soviets which effectively administered and controlled the state as against the present chimera of power which is in reality concentrated in the hands of an omnipotent and uncontrollable bureaucracy.

For us as for Lenin, the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat are conceivable in no other way than as the organisation of the proletariat as a genuinely ruling class. But for all the Dimitrovs, the “people’s democracy” is transformed into dictatorship of the proletariat” when control becomes absolute not only over formations of the bourgeoisie, yesterday’s allies, but

also over the proletariat whose dictatorship they confound with the real dictatorships of the bureaucracy of the parties and the states they direct.

January 1949

Pablo icon
Michel Pablo
Marx icon
Marxist Writers’

Updated on: 10 April 2015