“Dictatorship” is generally considered a very bad thing. The very word “dictatorship” scares people. But, in fact, as I spoke to in the article Dictatorship And Communism—Facts And Foolishness: “not all dictatorships are bad.”1 It depends on the nature of the dictatorship: who is exercising dictatorship, with what methods, in whose interests and toward what goal. This, of course, is a very controversial statement. So, here I am going to bring out some more basic truth about this.
With a scientific communist understanding, the essence of dictatorship is not absolute rule by a single person, or a small group of people; dictatorship is the monopoly of political power, concentrated as a monopoly of “legitimate” violence, exercised by and in the interests of one ruling class or another.
Let’s dig further into what this means, and why it is so important to correctly understand this.
As explained in the Preamble to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America,2 which I have authored, so long as society is divided into different classes (and other groups) with interests that are objectively antagonistic (where the interests of the one can only be achieved at the expense of the other), there will be a state. State here refers not to a part of this country like California, New York, or Illinois, but to the institutionalized power over society, embodied in the armed forces and police, the courts and prisons, the executive power and the government bureaucracy. This state will serve the interests of the class which holds the dominant position in society, fundamentally because of its dominant role in the economy, based on its ownership and control of the major means of production (land, factories and other production facilities, machinery and other technology). Such a state is in fact a dictatorship—the power to rule society, backed up and enforced by institutions of armed force.
A bourgeois dictatorship is what we have in this country: this dictatorship is exercised by, and in the interests of, the bourgeoisie: the capitalist-imperialist ruling class.
As also explained in the Preamble to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America:
This is why in this country today—in this so-called “greatest of all democracies”—no matter what “rights” people seek to exercise, and no matter which politicians people vote for, nothing fundamental changes—horrific oppression and exploitation, and vicious state violence against masses of people continue. And wherever people pose a threat (or are seen as posing a threat) to the rule—the dictatorship—of the capitalist-imperialist class, the violent power of its dictatorship is brought down on them with a vengeance. One very clear and sharp example of this is the continuing murders of Black people, as well as Latinos and Native Americans, by police—an exercise of what is declared the “legitimate” armed force and violence of this system, for which the police are almost never punished, with this brutal violence repeatedly ruled “justifiable.”
What we need, in opposition to this, is a dictatorship that genuinely represents the interests of those who were exploited and oppressed under the capitalist-imperialist system, and the broad masses of people overall—in other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat—or another way to say this is: socialist state power.
The Preamble to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America also spells out the essential ways in which the exercise of dictatorship in a genuine socialist society is radically different than the dictatorship of the capitalist-imperialist class, under which we are now forced to live. First of all, this socialist dictatorship is brought into being as the result of a revolutionary struggle by masses of people which defeats and overthrows the violent power of the oppressive and exploitative system—a revolutionary struggle whose goal is putting an end to oppression and exploitation. And with this socialist dictatorship there is a profound difference in how dictatorship is exercised, who is relied on in the exercise of this dictatorship, and most fundamentally the goal for which this dictatorship is aiming—the achievement of communism with the elimination of all divisions into exploiting and exploited classes in society, of all oppressive social relations (such as racial and gender oppression), and all the political institutions and processes that enforce this exploitation and oppression, along with the revolutionary transformation of all the ideas and the culture that are an expression of, and serve to reinforce, this exploitation and oppression.
In socialist society it is the masses of people who, through the socialist state and the overall governmental system representing their interests, have ownership and control of the means of production and exercise political power in society.
The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America further explains this about the fundamental nature and purpose of the ruling power in this socialist society:
the governing bodies and processes of this socialist state, at all levels, must be vehicles for the furtherance of the communist revolution; and, as a key dimension of this, they must provide the means for those who were exploited and oppressed in the old society—and were effectively locked out of the exercise of political power and the governance of society, as well as the spheres of intellectual endeavor and working with ideas overall—to increasingly take part in these spheres, with the aim of continually transforming society in the direction of communism. All this is given expression through the principles and provisions, and the institutions, structures and processes which are set forth and provided for in this Constitution.4
In this socialist society, the state power gives backing and force to the struggle to carry out this unprecedented radical transformation of society. So, for example, instead of violently suppressing those in society who are waging the fight against any remaining elements of white supremacy or male supremacy, the power of the socialist state will be wielded to give backing to such a struggle.
And, as set forth in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, there is, within this framework of the socialist transformation of society, the basis and the provision for the broadest expression of democracy, with the right to dissent even for those who oppose this socialist transformation, so long as this dissent does not involve violence (or an active conspiracy to commit violence) against the government of this socialist republic or its citizens and other residents.
Well, then, against whom is this socialist dictatorship exercised, if it is not exercised against, but in fact represents and supports, the masses of people and the struggle to transform society in their interests? It is exercised against the overthrown capitalist-imperialist ruling class and against any forces which attempt to violently overthrow the socialist state and bring back the dictatorship of the capitalist-imperialist system.
At the same time, along with this essential role in backing the revolutionary transformation of the society, and preventing forces within socialist society from carrying out a counter-revolution to overthrow socialism and restore capitalism, this socialist state, through its revolutionary armed forces and people’s militias, defends the country and the people from aggression and attack by any capitalist-imperialist or other oppressive reactionary states which might remain in the world at any given time and which would seek to destroy the socialist state and subject the masses of people once again to the rule (the dictatorship) of exploiters and oppressors.
As also emphasized in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, this socialist state has the responsibility and the basis to provide backing and concrete support and assistance to revolutionary struggles internationally, in line with the orientation of giving “fundamental priority to the advance of the revolutionary struggle, and the final goal of communism, throughout the world.”5
Finally, the fundamental purpose of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat is
to get to the point where humanity is no longer divided into masters and slaves, where finally there is no need and no basis for dictatorship—no one with the interests and power to dictate to others, and no one in a position to be dictated over—which is precisely the point and the goal of communism.6
The truth is that, with the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, it is possible to achieve this historic, emancipating goal—and it is impossible to achieve this without this dictatorship.
It is for this reason that we can say, without hesitation or apology: Not all dictatorship is bad—and in fact the dictatorship of the proletariat is very good—is, in fact, great—it is what is required, and is urgently needed, to put an end to all exploitation and oppression, and bring into being “a world without white supremacy and male supremacy—a world where no one is regarded as ‘alien’—a world without war, where people from all over the globe, with a beautiful flowering of diversity, act together for the common good and are truly caretakers of the earth.”7