Estrangement and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

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Sage Publications


As Marx's thought develops, we find a series of shifts, tensions, and perhaps even contradictions in the relationships between his theories of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the overcoming of estrangement, and of revolution. These are the issues which we propose to trace and to sort out. The aim of Marx's political writings, from 1843 on, was to overcome the estrangement of the modern state. The state should no longer stand over society, dominating it as a separate and independent power out of the control of its citizens.1 The state as an independent power should-to use Engels's later phrase-wither away. As Marx's political views developed, he came to propose a two-stage transition from the existing estranged state to the ultimate withering away of the state. Stage I, the transitional stage, he called the dictatorship of the proletariat-it has also been called the socialist stage.2 Stage II is full communism-the state having withered away. Marx makes this distinction in the Critique of the Gotha Program.3 It can also be found, if one reads carefully, in the Communist Manifesto.4