The question of political power in post-revolutionary societies is and remains one of the most neglected areas of Marxist theory.footnote＊ 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.’footnote1 And he was categorical in asserting that ‘When the proletariat is victorious, it by no means becomes the absolute side of society, for it
It would be mere sophistry to try and get out of these difficulties by suggesting that the new political power is not ‘political power properly so-called’, in other words that it is not the manifestation of deep-seated objective antagonisms. For the existence of such antagonisms is painfully in evidence everywhere, and the severity of measures devised to prevent their eruption—by no means with guaranteed success—provides an eloquent refutation of all evasive sophistry. Nor is it possible to take seriously for a moment the self-justifying suggestion that the political power of the post-revolutionary state is maintained—indeed intensified—in function of a purely international determination, in that political repression is explained as the necessary consequence of ‘encirclement’ and as the only feasible form of defending the achievements of the revolution against external aggression and its complementary: internal subversion. As recent history loudly testifies, ‘the enemy within and without’ as the explanation of the nature of political power in post-revolutionary societies is a dangerous doctrine, which substitutes the part for the whole in order to transform a partial determination into wholesale a priori justification of the unjustifiable: the institutionalized violation of elementary socialist rights and values.
The task is, clearly, an investigation—without apologetic preconceptions—of the specific political antagonisms which come to the fore in post-revolutionary societies, together with their material bases indirectly identified by Marx’s principle concerning the simultaneous abolition of both sides of the old socio-economic antagonism as the necessary condition of proletarian victory. This does not mean, in the least, that we have to commit ourselves in advance to some theory of a ‘new class’. For postulating a ‘new class’ is only another type of preconception which does not explain anything—which, on the contrary, badly needs explanation itself. Nor does the magic umbrella term ‘bureaucratism’—which covers almost everything, including the assessment of qualitatively different social systems approached from
By the same token, it would be somewhat naive to imagine that we can leave these problems behind by declaring that the dictatorship of the proletariat as a political form belongs to the past, whereas the present and future are to be envisaged according to the principle of political pluralism—which, in turn, necessarily implies a conception of shared power as a ‘historical compromise’. For even if we accept the pragmatic viability and relative historical validity of this conception, the question of how to constitute and exercise political power which actively contributes to a socialist transformation of society, instead of postponing indefinitely its realization, remains just as unanswered as before. There are some worrying dilemmas which must be answered. In the framework of the newly envisaged pluralism, is it possible to escape the well-known historical fate of Social Democracy, which resigned itself to the illusion of ‘sharing power’ with the bourgeoisie while in fact helping to perpetuate the rule of capital over society? If it is not possible—if, that is, the political form of pluralism itself is by its very nature a submission to the prevailing form of class domination, as some would argue—in that case why should committed socialists be interested in it in the slightest? But if, on the other hand, the idea of pluralism is advocated in the perspective of a genuine socialist transformation, it must be explained how it is possible to proceed from shared power to socialist power, without relapsing into the selfsame contradictions of political power in post-revolutionary societies whose manifestations we have witnessed on so many occasions. This is what gives a burning topicality to this whole discussion. The question of political power in post-revolutionary societies is no longer an academic matter. Nor can it be left anchored to the interests of conservative political propaganda and dismissed by the Left as such. Quite unlike 1956—when these contradictions erupted in such a clamorous and tragic form—it is no longer possible for any section of the Left to turn its shoulders to it. Facing the issues involved has become an essential condition of advance for the entire working-class movement, under conditions when in some countries it may be called upon to assume the responsibilities of sharing power, in the midst of an ever-deepening structural crisis of capital
If there has ever been a need to go back to the original sources and
Thus we witness the complete transformation of Marx’s ideal into a reality which replaces the self-determining life-activity of freely associated social individuals by the forced association of men ruled by an alien political force. Simultaneously, Marx’s concept of a conscious social plan (which is supposed to regulate, through the full involvement of the freely associated individuals, the totality of the life-processes of society) suffers the gravest reduction, becoming a one-sided, technocratically preconceived and often unfulfilled mere economic plan, and thus superimposing upon society in a new form the selfsame economic determinations whose supersession constituted the framework of orientation of scientific socialism from the moment of its inception.
Furthermore, since now the two basic constituents of a dialectical unity, the association of producers and the regulatory force of the plan, are divorced from and opposed to one another, the ‘force of circumstance’—which is the necessary consequence of this separation rather than its cause, whatever the historically changing social determinants at work—becomes the unqualified cause, indeed the ‘inevitable cause’. And since the ‘inevitable cause’ is also its own justification, the transformation is carried even further, setting itself up as the only possible form of realization of Marx’s ideal: as the unsurpassable model of all possible socialist development. From now on, since the prevailing form of political rule must be maintained and therefore everything must remain as it is, the problematical notion of the ‘force of circumstance’ is used in the