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New Left Review I/113-114, January-April 1979


Arghiri Emmanuel

The State in the Transitional Period

If by ‘socialism’ we mean what Marx used to call the higher stage of communist society, the question of the political superstructure that would be adequate to it is raised neither in theory nor in practice. [*] This article is based on a paper presented to a September 1977 Conference in Cavtat, Yugoslavia on ‘Democracy and Socialism in Western Europe’. In theory, because this society—to everyone according to his needs—is a classless society, hence unpolitical by definition. In practice, because not only does a society of this kind not yet exist in reality, but more importantly its very ‘problematic’, and indeed even the merest glimpse of the concrete conditions of its advent, are absent from the programmes of all revolutionary parties, whether in power or not. What has, however, constituted a crucial problem in the past, and still constitutes such a problem today, both in theory and in practice, is the political form which corresponds to the period of transition, in its two essential moments—the taking over of power by the proletariat on the one hand, and the substitution of co-operative production for the wage-labour system on the other. Since the publication of The Communist Manifesto, controversies on this theme have been at the centre of all schisms. The length and intensity of such disputes went together with a great ambiguity. The debates seem to have been polarized on two main issues. Can the proletariat come to power by peaceful means? And can it exercise power in a democratic way? Both are artificial problems.

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