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New Left Review I/108, March-April 1978


István Mészáros

Political Power and Dissent in Post-revolutionary Societies

The question of political power in post-revolutionary societies is and remains one of the most neglected areas of Marxist theory. [*] The present article is an extended version of an intervention at the Convegno del Manifesto on ‘Power and Opposition in Post-revolutionary Societies’, held in Venice on 11–13 November 1977. Marx formulated the principle of the abolition of ‘political power properly so-called’ in no uncertain terms: ‘The organization of revolutionary elements as a class supposes the existence of all the productive forces which could be engendered in the bosom of the old society. Does this mean that after the fall of the old society there will be a new class domination culminating in a new political power? No. The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class, just as the condition for the liberation of the Third Estate, of the bourgeois order, was the abolition of all estates and all orders. The working class, in the course of its development, will substitute for the old civil society an association which will exclude classes and their antagonisms, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society.’ [1] The Poverty of Philosophy, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 6, London 1976, pp. 211–12 (emphasis added). And he was categorical in asserting that ‘When the proletariat is victorious, it by no means becomes the absolute side of society, for it is victorious only by abolishing itself and its opposite. Then the proletariat disappears as well as the opposite which determines it, private property.’ [2] The Holy Family, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 4, London 1975, p. 36 (emphasis added). But what happens to political power in post-revolutionary societies when the proletariat does not disappear? What becomes of private property or capital when private ownership of the means of production is abolished while the proletariat continues to exist and rules the whole of society—including itself—under the new political power called ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’? For according to Marx’s principle the two sides of the opposition stand or fall together, and the proletariat cannot be truly victorious without abolishing itself. Nor can it fully abolish its opposite without at the same time abolishing itself as a class which needs the new political form of the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to secure and maintain itself in power.

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Istvan Meszaros, ‘Political Power and Dissent in Post-Revolutionary Societies’, NLR I/108: £3
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