But there is no doubt that Draper has a deeper purpose. He seems to be trying to rescue the Marxist kernal of the phrase, no doubt hoping to explore its meaning in the context of critics of revolution, on the left and right. The problem here is that the meaning of the phrase is one thing. How and why it was used is another. Draper has, particularly in the case of Lenin, abstracted the phrase from the context and undermined his own cause.
There is a lot of overlap with volume three of Draper's KMTOR. He begins, as he did there, by exploring the changing meaning of dictatorship. It is an important corrective, because he shows how its classical meaning, understood by Marx and Engels, but rarely today, is far from the modern interpretation. Instead it means an "emergency exercise of power by a trusted citizen for temproary and limited purposes". Marx rarely used the phrase except in specific periods. Draper explores these, but points out that until the Paris Commune, there "was not a single case of Marx's use of 'dictatorship of the proletariat'" in the preceeding two decades. When he does use it there, it is because "it was accepted as an example of the rule (or 'dictatorship') of the proletariat. The point is, Draper argues, that Marx was using the phrase despite the Commune not excercising dictorial power. Draper writes:
In the twentieth century, it was not uncommon to read that, according to Marx, a workeres' state might or might not be a 'dictatorship of the proletariat,' depending presumeably on how severly dictatorial it had to become. This interpretation is excluded by Marx's words: the workers' state 'can be nothing but; a dictatorship of the proletartiat; in other words the two terms are synonumous... For Marx this was a staetment about the societal content of the state, the class character of thre political power. It was not a statement about the forms of the government machines or other structural aspects of government or policies.
Later Marxists, Draper argues, miss this point and see the use of the D word simple as about method, not content. He repeatedly contrasts how these Marxists use the word and compares it to how Marx meant it. There is some usefulness in this, not least in exposing the limitations of many Second International thinkers. The problem comes when Draper gets to Lenin:
By the end of Year One, it was clear that Lnein was no longer using 'dictatorship of the proletariat' to denote a workers' state that was subject to the democratic rule of the working classes. It now meant a specially organised dictatorial regime, dictatorial in the sense that had become increasinly dominant, and increasingly counterposed to abstract democarcy... a number of Bolshevik spokesmen carried this process of theroretical degeneration even further, thus facilitating (though certainly not causing) the societal counterrevolution represented by Stalin.
Here Draper gives succour to the enemies of the Russian Revolution before Stalin's rise, because he undermines what Lenin was trying to do in this period. Despite a useful summary of the Revolution's isolation and economic collapse, he continues to judge Lenin by the classical definition of Dictatorship of the Proletariat understood by Marx. He then blames Trotsky and Bukharin for taking the theoretical lead in "gutting socialism" before Stalin.
Rather than trying to explore the real meaning of 'dictatorship' in the context of an isolated revolutionary movement and the needs of the struggle - which other Marxists not least Trotsky himself have tried to do since - Draper avoids this and spends his time in Marxology. Take this passage, describing how Lenin engaged with Marx's ideas:
The rather surprising outcome was that Lenin worked out for himself, or invented, a unique definition of 'dictatorship; which, as far as I know, came out of his own head. More than ever, different people discussing 'dictatorship of the proletariat' were using a different vocabulary, talking past each other.
But what is surprising about this is that Lenin developed some of the most vibrant and interesting Marxist works around related questions. But Draper judges him not on these works and their importance, but on his differences from Lenin. Indeed, the sections where Draper tracks the changing use of the phrase by Lenin were somewhat tiresome for me, as they felt more like heresay hunting than actual engagement with Lenin's revolutionary project.
Sadly this short volume falls short of the authors' ambitions. Hal Draper comes across as a smug writer, pleased that he alone has discovered Marx's true meaning and all others have fallen by the wayside. It would have been more useful if Draper had more deeply explored what Lenin's project was, rather than trying to damn him with faint praise.
Draper - Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution Volume 1: State & Bureaucracy
Draper - Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution Volume 2: The Politics of Social Classes
Draper - Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution Volume 3: The 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat'
Draper - Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution Volume 4: Critique of Other Socialisms
Draper & Haberkern - Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution Volume 5: War & Revolution