Louis C. Fraina

Revolutionary Socialism

The Proletarian Revolution

THE theory of the gradual transformation of Capitalism into Socialism, of a peaceful “growing into” Socialism, depends upon two assumptions: the collectivism of State Capitalism is an approach to Socialism, that will gradually and of its own compulsion become transformed into Socialism; and State Capitalism, operating jointly with an enlightened and organized working class, will succeed in limiting and restraining the economic forces of Capitalism. Our analysis of actual facts and forces shows, however, that State Capitalism means Capitalism at the violent climax of its development, intensifying the subjection of the proletariat and the domination of the capitalist class. The economic forces of Capitalism have not been limited, they have burst forth in a violent upheaval, the most violent of the ages; and these forces will burst forth, in new upheavals unless directed into the channel of Social Revolution. Nor have the organizations of the workers succeeded in restraining the tendencies of Capitalism: the imperialistic Capitalism of Germany, France and Great Britain, in which operate powerful Socialist and labor organizations, have precipitated the proletariat and the world into a catastrophe the agony and oppression of which are inconceivable. If all this means a limiting of the forces of Capitalism and a “growing into” Socialism, then may heaven have mercy upon the world and the proletariat!

This theory often appears in pseudo-Marxian garb is, in fact, a distortion and a repudiation of Marxism.

Marxism conceives the Social Revolution as a dynamic process of proletarian struggles in a period when the forces of production in capitalist society come in conflict with the old relations of production, relations which develop into fetters upon the productive process. This conflict creates a social-revolutionary crisis, a revolutionary situation and a breach in the old order in which the proletariat breaks through for action and the conquest of power. All the developments of bourgeois society simply produce the objective conditions for the proletarian revolution out of which emerges Socialism; these developments alone never can and won’t bring Socialism. The process consists of two phases: the objective development of Capitalism and the subjective development of the proletariat. Historically these two phases of the process are one; actually, they are not necessarily a unity: Germany, with an intense development of Capitalism and an apparently mature proletariat, has not yet developed a proletarian revolution, in spite of the revolutionary activity of capitalistically inferior Russia.

The epoch of Imperialism, which means Capitalism at the climax of its development, meets the requirements of the Marxian analysis. All the violence, all the upheavals of Imperialism are symptoms of the revolt of Capitalism against the fetters placed upon the productive forces. The requirements of developing Capitalism are incompatible with the capitalist forms of production. The crisis is acute. Capitalism strives to break the fetters, annihilate the multiplying contradictions, through State Capitalism and Imperialism, only to strengthen the fetters and increase the contradictions, resulting in a mad, violent and destructive world war. The economic and social, the political and national bases of Capitalism are now fetters upon the forces of production: the fetters must be broken, they can be broken only by the Social Revolution; and Capitalism writhes in the agony of its struggles, a mad beast rending itself and the world. Imperialism, accordingly, introduces a new epoch in Capitalism, the social-revolutionary epoch. Objectively, a revolutionary situation prevails; subjectively, the proletariat must prepare itself for the final revolutionary struggle against Capitalism.

It is the tragedy of Imperialism that it can produce maggots only. It cannot, except temporarily, dispose of the contradictions implied in a fettering of the forces of production. The imperialistic nation seeks to broaden the base of its economic activity through conquest and the development of new territory; but in accomplishing this, the base is correspondingly narrowed for other nations, and for the world. And even the imperialistically triumphant nation secures only momentary relief: the new territory is developed, and again there is a surplus of commodities and of capital, again the vicious circle of production of means of production for new commodity production; and again within the triumphant nation itself there is a crisis, supplemented by still more acute crises within the defeated nations. A new upheaval arises, new and more violent wars, new and more intense waste. War becomes the normal aspect of Imperialism.

There is no alternative for the proletariat: either war and again war, or the Social Revolution.

The world war has brought Capitalism to the verge of collapse. It has compelled the state to lay a dictatorial hand upon the process of production, and the nation to negate its own basis by striving to break through the limits of the nation. It has compelled industrial necessity to subordinate itself to the overwhelming fact of military necessity. The debts of the belligerent nations are colossal, and they will fetter the nations, constitute a crucial problem in the days to come. The war has weakened Capitalism while it has strengthened a fictitious domination of the capitalist class. Contradications and antagonisms have been multiplied. War has become the normal occupation of Capitalism, and the transition to peace will shake Capitalism to its foundations, posing new and more acute problems for solution. Industry will have to adjust itself to a peace basis, and it will be a herculean task; the proletariat will have to adjust itself to the new conditions, new struggles and new problems, and the experiences of war are not calculated to make it submissive.

The proletariat will find upon the conclusion of peace that all its sacrifices have availed it naught, and that the old system of exploitation persists in intensified form. Capitalism will equally find that war has availed it naught: its old economic problems will not have been solved and new problems have been created. Will Capitalism answer with a feverish era of industrial expansion? But war debts will weigh upon the nation, and an era of expansion will simply hasten the new crisis and a new war. There is a point where Capitalism comes up against an impasse in the industrial process. The forces of production inexorably generate new contradictions and crises. Capitalism verges on collapse.

The fatalist uses these facts, and they are facts, as an argument for an inevitable collapse of Captalism and an equally inevitable coming of Socialism. The argument is as futile as it is fatalistic. The world war, in which millions of workers have sacrificed and died in the cause of Imperialism, is a warning of an alternative. The fatalist attitude in practice allows Capitalism to dispose of things in its own brutal way. And instead of a coming of Socialism, the world may see the coming of a new barbarism, the “common ruin of the contending classes.” If war becomes the normal state of society, if the proletariat as the modern revolutionary class has not the initiative and the energy to assume control of society, then instead of a new society we shall have a new era of rapine and conquest. Europe rending itself, Europe and America rending each other, and the two rending Asia, or Asia rending them all. A collapse of Capitalism, in one form or another, is inevitable; but the coming of Socialism is not equally inevitable. [1] It may become a collapse of all civilization.

What determined the supremacy of the bourgeoisie was its possession of actual material power, of the ownership of capital. It was a propertied class, and property as a class prerogative imparts power and ultimate ascendancy. The proletariat is a non-propertied, an expropriated class; what will determine its supremacy is revolutionary energy and integrity, and these alone.

The development during the war of Socialist social-reformism into social-Imperialism is an acute expression of a danger that besets the proletariat. Is it imaginary, is it inconceivable, in view of the unbelievable events in Europe, that the proletariat, instead of an instrument of revolution, might become an instrument of imperialistic conquest and spoliation? Only an uncompromising adherence to the revolutionary task, only the conscious and definite emergence of revolutionary Socialism, may avert the catastrophe. The subjective factor of a revolutionary proletariat alone will convert the objective conditions of Capitalism into Socialism. The proletariat will act, but its action must be directed. It may be skewed awry by petty bourgeois Socialism, as was unsuccessfully attempted in Russia and as was successfully done in Austria and Germany. The shortcomings of the dominant Socialism might convert proletarian action into a weapon of proletarian suicide. The tactics of petty bourgeois Socialism may not completely destroy the revolution, but they may hamper it and prolong the period of agony of imperialistic Capitalism.

In this epoch of Imperialism, of war and catastrophe, of actual and potential betrayals of the proletariat, the Socialist cannot swerve from the fundamentals of Socialism. Social-reformism means a paltering with the revolutionary task, social-Imperialism means a betrayal of the revolutionary task: and it is that way disaster lies. There are many dangers that beset the path of the proletariat, dangers that the Socialist must appreciate and guard against. The bourgeois revolution was, in a sense, automatic: its possession of property insured its ultimate supremacy. Indeed, the bourgeois revolution triumphed in spite of its cowardly hesitancy and vacillation, in spite of disastrous mistakes; its struggles were one long series of compromises with the feudal class, even on the verge of victory; and where the revolution was drastic and definite, as in France, it was because of the courage and action of the peasantry and the city proletarians. But mistakes may be fatal to the proletariat, because the proletariat is an expropriated class. The proletarian revolution is not in any sense of the word an automatic process: it will conquer only through uncompromising action, courageous and unrelenting adherence to the class struggle, and by developing the necessary clarity of understanding of the epoch we are in, an understanding that will avoid tactical mistakes and offer a definite, decisive program of revolutionary action to the proletariat.

The class character and independence of the revolution must be emphasized under any and all conditions; the proletariat must not be lured into compromises either with Capitalism or its own organiza i tions, compromises that invade its class integrity and palsy its action. On with the struggle, in spite of all and everything! The epoch is an epoch of revolutionary, uncompromising struggle and this struggle alone shall prevail.

The process of proletarian struggles will, under the impact of antagonisms and a revolutionary situation, develop into the great and final struggle, – an intense, violent and uncompromising struggle against Capitalism. This struggle will not break out as a conscious, organized struggle for Socialism: it will break out under the impulse of a crisis, through mass action. Itscharacter, of course, will initially vary in accord with prevailing conditions, although probably, at first, animated by petty or vague purposes. And its course will be determined by the sense of reality, consciousness of purpose and power of revolutionary Socialism, its capacity to propose and organize a revolutionary program around which the masses may rally for action and the conquest of power. Organizing and directing the revolution will become tbe supreme task of Socialism, a test equally of its uncompromising spirit and its sense of reality. The policy of revolutionary phrases is as disastrous as the policy of parliamentary rhetoric and dickering with the bourgeois state. Revolutions do not rally around dogmas, but programs; and the program of the proletarian revolution must be as practical and realistic as it is revolutionary and uncompromising. Reality and the revolution are one, united and made dynamic by the class character of the proposals and purposes of the proletariat in action.

The immediate objective of the proletarian revolution is the conquest of the power of the state and this means the annihilation of the bourgeois state, its parliamentary system and bourgeois democracy and the introduction of a new “state” comprised in the dictatorship of the proletariat. [2] In his Criticism of the Gotha Program Marx projected this phase of the proletarian revolution:

”Between the capitalist and the communist systems of society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. This corresponds to a political transition period, whose state can be nothing else than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.!”

The alternative to this dictatorship of the proletariat is the bourgeois state, its democracy and parliamentary system. To compromise with this system is to yield up the revolutionary task and to allow Capitalism to dominate. The parliamentary bourgeois state must be destroyed not simply because it is the ultimate purpose of Socialism to do away with the state as constituted in bourgeois society, but ecause it is immediately necessary in the process of disposing of the old society and introducing the new. It is a tactica1 necessity. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a revolutionary recognition of the fact that the proletariat alone counts, and no other class has any “rights.” The dictatorship of the proletariat places all power in the control of the proletariat, and weakens the bourgeoisie, makes them incapable of any concerted action against the Revolution. Organized in a dictatorship of the proletariat, the Revolution unhesitatingly and relentlessly pursues its task of reconstructing society on the basis of communist Socialism.

The parliamentary regime is the expression of bourgeois democracy, – each equally an instrument for the promotion of bourgeois class interests. Parliamentarism, presumably representing all classes, actually represents and promotes the requirements of the ruling class alone. Its trappings of army, police and judicijry are indispensable means of repression used against the proletariat, and the proletariat in action annihilates them all: in place of the army, the armed proletarian militia, until unnecessary; in place of the police, disciplinary measures of the masses themselves; in place of the judiciary, tribunals of workmen. The bureaucratic machinery of the state disappears. The division of functions in the parliamentary system into legislative and executive has for its direct purpose the indirect smothering of the opposition, the legislature talks and represents the pretense of “democracy,” while the executive acts autocratically. The parliamentary system is a fetter upon revolutionary class action in the epoch of the ftoal struggle against Capitalism. The proletarian revolution annihilates the parliamentary system and its divisionof functions, legislative and executive being united in one body, – as in the Paris Commune and in the Russian Councils of Workers and Peasants.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, moreover, annihilates bourgeois democracy. All democracy is relative, is class democracy. As an historical category, democracy is a form of authority of one class over another; bourgeois democracy is the form of expression of the authority and tyranny of Capitalism. Authority is an instrument of class rule, historically: Socialisni destroys authority. The democracy of Socialism, the self-government of the proletarian masses, discards the democracy of Capitalism relative democracy is superseded by the individual and social autonomy of communist Socialism. The proletarian revolution does not allow the “ethical concepts” of bourgeois democracy to interfere in the course of events: it ruthlessly sweeps aside “democracy” in the process of revolutionary transformation. Capitalism hypocritically insists upon a government of all the classes; the Revolution frankly and fearlessly introduces the government of one class, the proletariat, through a proletarian dictatorship. The proletarian revolution is inexorable; it completely and ruthlessly annihilates the institutions and ideology of the regime of communist Socialism. [3]

This problem of democracy is crucial in the proletarian revolution. Democracy becomes the last bulwark of defense of Capitalism, an instrument used by dominant Capitalism and the petite bourgeoisie in a last desperate defense of private property. Any compromise on the issue of democracy compromises the integrity of the Revolution, stultifies its purposes and palsies its action: it is an issue pregnant with the potentiality of fatal mistakes. And yet it is all simplicity itself: in the revolution, the proletariat may depend upon itself alone; it alone is necessary in the process of production; it alone is a revolutionary class, implacably arrayed against all other classes; it alone counts as a class in the reconstruction of society, – and, accordingly, the dictatorship of the proletariat refuses political “rights” and recognition to any section of the bourgeois class.

Through its dictatorship, the proletariat, organizes itself as the ruling class, acquires social supremacy. The basis of the new “state” is not territorial, but industrial: its constituents are the organized producers. The other elements of the people function in this proletarian government in the meqsure that they are absorbed in the new industrial scheme of things, become useful producers. The process of transformation into communist socialism is a process of the organized producers, and of these alone. [4]

The dictatorship of the proletariat, naturally, will have many acute problems press upon it. Civil war, a revolutionary war, problems of general social reconstruction, – all these are problems that will call forth all of the energy, clarity and capacity of the proletarian revolution. The central problem, of course, is the problem of economic reconstruction. The particular initial form that this reconstruction assumes will depend upon a number of factors, particularly the factor of the degree of industrial development. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels said:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie; to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state – that is, of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible. Of course, in the beginning this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.”

The proletariat, in short, lays a dictatorial hand upon production. The control of industry is centralized in the administrative norms of tEe new proletarian state.

The dictatorship of the proletariat does not, necessarily, dispose all at once of the capitalist; what it does dispose of immediately are the prerogatives of the capitalist as a capitalist. The society of communist Socialism does not come into being as Minerva out of the head of Jove: it is a process of transformation of the old into the new. The rapidity of this transformation depends on the degree of economic development, and the rapidity with which the organized producers develop their own administrators. In a concentrated industry, where the process of production is managed by the technical staff and administrators, the capitalist is abolished at once; where not, the capitalist is retained and impressed into service as an expert and administrator, temporarily, until the whole process works itself out in complete industrial communism. Proletarian control is transformed into proletarian administration in all its phases, as the necessary maturity and institutions are developed.

The old relations of capitalist production are not torn asunder as one tears up a scrap of paper. The process is one of adaptation of means to purposes and of purposes to means. This may appear as the argument of petty bourgeois Socialism; but there is all the difference in the world whether the process proceeds on the basis of bourgeois private property and under control of the bourgeois state, or whether it proceeds on the basis of proletarian control and a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The one promotes Capitalism and is a negation of Socialism, the other promotes Socialism and is a negation of Capitalism.

The proletariat’s dictatorial control of production develops, on the one hand, the forces of production; and, on the other, it develops the communist administration of the industrial process. At first, the administration of control functions through general organizations, Councils of Workers. These organizations are gradually integrated, adapted to industrial divisions; and it is precisely at this point that industrial unionism, whether actual or potential, functions in the construction of the new society. Industry as a whole is divisible into constituent units, – the production of coal, of steel, of textiles, agriculture, transportation, etc. Each industry will constitute a department of the industrial state; the workers in each industry will organize in Local Councils and these unite into General Industrial Councils coordinated with other General Industrial Councils into a central administration of the whole productive process. Industrial unionism, organizing the producers industrially, becomes the vital basis of the new communist society, together with other administrative norms necessary to co-ordinate the non-industrial activity of society.

The industrial administradpn of communist Socialism institutes all the centralization necessary and compatible with autonomy, and all the autonomy necessary and compatible with centralization. The central administration is directive, and not repressive; it co-ordinates the whole industrial process as the General Industrial Council co-ordinates each phase of its particular industry; its functions are comprised in the statistical regulation and directive control of the forces of production.

The division of the product is ultimately determined on a communistic basis: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is temporary, its necessity ceasing as the task of destroying the old order and organizing the new is accomplished. The rapidity of this development depends upon the maturity of proletarian consciousness and class power, upon the relation of social forces within the nation and upon the general international situation. The development of the proletarian revolution lets loose violent antagonisms within the nation, and the vitality of these antagonisms will affect the rapidity of development; the proletarian revolution, moreover, lets loose equally violent international antagonisms. As the revolutionary proletariat reconstructs society, it may find itself compelled simultaneously to wage civil wars and revolutionary wars. It may even, temporarily, meet defeat: the process consists of a series of revolutionary struggles. But the proletarian revolution, acting through the dictatorship of the proletariat, actual or potential, partial or complete, adhering firmly to the class struggle and revolutionary Socialism, is determined in a course of action against which nothing but betrayals can prevail.


1. Let there be no fatalism in our councils. The Socialist Republic is no predestined inevitable development ... The Socialist Republic will not leap into existence out of the existing social loom, like a yard of calico is turned out by a Northrop loom. Nor will its only possible architect, the Working Class – that is, the wage earner, or wage slave, the modern proletariat – figure in the process as a mechanical force moved mechanically. In other words, the world’s theatre of Social Evolution is not a Punch and Judy box, nor are the actors on that world’s stage mannikins, operated with wires ... The Socialist Republic depends, not upon material conditions only; it depends upon these – plus clearness of vision to assist the evolutionary process ... Is the revolutionary class of this Age living under ripened conditions to avail itself of its opportunity and fulfill its historic mission? Or is the revolutionary spark of our Age to be smothered and banked up till, as in Rome of old, it leap from the furnace, a weapon of national suicide? In sight of the invasion of the Philippine Islands and the horrors that are coming to light, is there any to deny that the question is a burning one? – Daniel De Leon, Two Pages From Roman History, 1902.

2. As to the revolutionary organization and its task, the conquest of the power of the state and militarism: From the praxis of the Paris Commune, Marx shows that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made machinery of the state, and wield it for its own purposes.” The proletariat must break down this machinery. And this has been either concealed or denied by the opportunists. But it is the most valuable lesson of the Paris Commune and of the Revolution in Russia of 1905. The difference between us and the anarchists is, that we admit the state is a necessity in the development of our Revolution. The difference with the opportunists and the Kautsky disciples is that we claim we do not need the bourgeois state machinery as completed in the “democratic” bourgeois republics, but the direct power of armed and organized workers. Such is the state we need. Such was the character of the Commune of 1871 and of the Council of Workmen and Soldiers of 1905 and 1917. On this basis we build. – N. Lenin, The Russian Revolution, The New International, June 30, 1917.

3. During the course of events in Russia, democracy was a fetter upon the development of the proletarian revolution; once this revolution was accomplished, democracy became a counter-revolutionary instrument used by the petty bourgeois Socialism of the Mensheviki and Social-Revolutionists of the Right through the Constituent Assembly. If the Soviet government had not dissolved the Constituent Assembly, it would have stultified itself and the Revolution. The Revolution, declared the decree of dissolution, created the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council – the only organization able to direct the struggle of the exploited classes for complete political and economic liberation; this Council constituted a revolutionary government through the November Revolution, after perceiving the illusion of an understanding with the bourgeoisie and its deceptive parliamentary organization; the Constituent Assembly, being elected from the old election lists, was the expression of the old regime when authority belonged to the bourgeoise, and necessarily became the authority of the bourgeois republic, setting itself against the revolution of November and the authority of the Councils; the old bourgeois parliamentarism has had its day and is incompatible with the tasks before Socialism, and that only such institutions as the Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils are able to overcome the opposition of the ruling classes and create a new Socialist state; “the central executive committee, therefore, orders the Constituent Assembly dissolved.”

4. “The economic activity of the modern state,” says Karl Kautsky in The Erfurt Program, “is the natural starting point of the development that leads to the Co-operative Commonwealth.” On the contrary; the natural starting point is the economic activity of the producers functioning industrially as an organized system.


Last updated on 14.10.2007