Workers Vanguard No. 864

17 February 2006


Capitalist "Democracy": Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie

(Quote of the Week)

In a document for the First Congress of the Communist International, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin described bourgeois “democracy” as the dictatorship of the capitalist class over the exploited and oppressed, pointing to the violent suppression of U.S. labor struggles as well as the anti-Semitic frenzy against French officer Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s. Polemicizing against social democrats who seek to reconcile the working class with its exploiters, Lenin defended the historic necessity for the proletariat to seize power through socialist revolution.

The history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries demonstrated, even before the war, what this celebrated “pure democracy” really is under capitalism. Marxists have always maintained that the more developed, the “purer” democracy is, the more naked, acute and merciless the class struggle becomes, and the “purer” the capitalist oppression and bourgeois dictatorship. The Dreyfus case in republican France, the massacre of strikers by hired bands armed by the capitalists in the free and democratic American republic—these and thousands of similar facts illustrate the truth which the bourgeoisie are vainly seeking to conceal, namely, that actually terror and bourgeois dictatorship prevail in the most democratic of republics and are openly displayed every time the exploiters think the power of capital is being shaken.…

In these circumstances, proletarian dictatorship is not only an absolutely legitimate means of overthrowing the exploiters and suppressing their resistance, but also absolutely necessary to the entire mass of working people, being their only defence against the bourgeois dictatorship which led to the war and is preparing new wars.

The main thing that socialists fail to understand and that constitutes their short-sightedness in matters of theory, their subservience to bourgeois prejudices and their political betrayal of the proletariat is that in capitalist society, whenever there is any serious aggravation of the class struggle intrinsic to that society, there can be no alternative but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dreams of some third way are reactionary, petty-bourgeois lamentations. That is borne out by more than a century of development of bourgeois democracy and the working-class movement in all the advanced countries, and notably by the experience of the past five years. This is also borne out by the whole science of political economy, by the entire content of Marxism, which reveals the economic inevitability, wherever commodity economy prevails, of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie that can only be replaced by the class which the very growth of capitalism develops, multiplies, welds together and strengthens, that is, the proletarian class.

—V.I. Lenin, “Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship
of the Proletariat” (March 1919)