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The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ in Marx and Engels”: Harl Draper

The phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ first appeared in a series of articles by Marx, later titled The Class Struggles in France 1848-1850, published in what was then Marx’s own London magazine. The first article, written in January 1850, came off the press in early March. The expression or its equivalent appeared not once but three times – in each of the three installments (or chapters) that comprised the original series.

This work was Marx’s attempt to sum up the political meaning of the European revolution of 1848-49. Marx had taken an active part in this revolution in the German arena, as editor of the leading organ on the revolutionary left, at the same time closely following the turbulent developments in France and Vienna in particular. The revolution was now over, and Marx was thinking over its lessons.

The first question is: when it appeared in print in the spring of 1850, what did the phrase mean to Marx and to his contemporaneous readers?

The key fact, which was going to bedevil the history of the term, is this: in the middle of the nineteenth century the old word ‘dictatorship’ still meant what it had meant for centuries, and in this meaning it was not a synonym for despotism, tyranny, absolutism, or autocracy, and above all it was not counterposed to democracy.

Artículo Completo

Source: Chapter 1 of The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ from Marx to Lenin, by Hal Draper, Monthly Review Press, 1987.

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